Newcomer Becker buoyed by AL return Outfielder's familiarity breeds contentment after unproductive NL stint


Newest Oriole Rich Becker joined the club yesterday, thankful no longer to be in limbo or the National League.

Becker, 26, was claimed off waivers from the New York Mets after batting .190 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 49 games. Previously a career .267 hitter, he never adapted to the change in pitching after being traded by the Minnesota Twins last December.

"It's tough going to a new league and trying to familiarize yourself with pitchers you don't know. It's nice to be back where you know some people," he said.

Becker can play all three outfield positions, a valuable commodity for an organization still concerned about Brady Anderson's pulled right quadriceps muscle and the bone chips in Eric Davis' right elbow. Also, Jeffrey Hammonds remains on the disabled list with muscle spasms in his back.

"They've got some guys down. We'll see what happens," said Becker, who pinch hit for Davis in the eighth inning last night and popped out, then took over in right field in the ninth.

Another step for Key

Jimmy Key didn't report any soreness or other problems related to playing catch Tuesday for the first time since going on the disabled list with inflammation in his left rotator cuff. "I feel fine today," he said.

Key threw for about five minutes, another significant progression since receiving a cortisone shot from Dr. James Andrews last week in Birmingham, Ala. Key said he would do some exercises and stretching over the next few days, but wasn't sure when he'd throw again.

Meanwhile, reliever Armando Benitez said he could have pitched last night, if needed, after being unavailable Tuesday night because of a small cut near the tip of his right middle finger. Benitez scraped his finger while warming in the ninth inning of Monday night's game.

In the wake of last month's brawl in New York and yesterday's five-game suspension of Yankees reliever Mike Stanton for hitting Davis on Monday night, Orioles manager Ray Miller took the opportunity to propose a rule change that would punish anyone joining in a fight, and also assigned damage-control duties.

"I think the easiest rule to add is, any fight in the infield area, if an outfielder comes in, he's fined or suspended. If anybody from the bullpen comes in, he's fined for sure, suspended if he becomes involved. Anyone in the infield who participates other than pulling two people apart should be suspended or fined," Miller said.

"The managers and two bench coaches on both teams are the ones who are assigned to immediately break up a fight. I think you could have a semi-hockey rule."

Platoon catching on

Miller's game of musical catchers stopped on Chris Hoiles last night, pairing him as usual with pitcher Mike Mussina. Lenny Webster had started three of the past four games and was 5-for-8 in this series.

Hoiles hadn't played since going 3-for-14 on the trip to Philadelphia and Toronto, leaving his average at .197. He went 2-for-3 last night, rising to .208.

Webster had fallen to .238 before a commitment to being "lazy" perked up his numbers.

"Over the last week and a half or so, I may have been trying to hit the ball too hard or too far. I looked at some video. And I can tell, right after my at-bat, what I did that wasn't right," he said.

"What I did was, during batting practice I tried to just relax and make my approach a little lazy and not be so teeth-gritting, wanting to hit the ball so hard. I took a more laid-back approach and it helped me relax and not over-swing, basically just use my hands."

It was the same approach he used while hitting three homers in the season's first eight games. "Then I tried to hit more homers, and once that entered my mind, I started getting in trouble," he said.

"I'm the type of hitter who uses the whole field; pretty much take what you give me and if you make a mistake, I may hit a home run off you. I'm going to keep trying to get my average back up, then I can start trying to drive the ball."

The opportunity to drive in runs, Webster said, doesn't present itself much when batting eighth, as the club's catchers usually do. Webster and Hoiles have combined for 28 RBIs in 250 at-bats.

"When you're hitting eighth, a lot of times you're leading off an inning. You don't get a lot of chances," Webster said.

Around the horn

Last night's crowd of 48,269 was the largest for a regular-season game in Camden Yards history, and the total for the Yankees series (144,318) was the best for a three-game series As expected, the Orioles activated reliever Terry Mathews from the disabled list and optioned rookie left-hander Radhames Dykhoff to Double-A Bowie. Mathews last pitched for the Orioles on June 1 against the Seattle Mariners, then made two rehab starts in the minors. Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson, whose club was swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals, threw out the first pitch.

Pub Date: 6/18/98

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