BOWIE - Officially, second baseman Jerry Hairston remains hitless while on a rehabilitation assignment with the Bowie Baysox. Unofficially, he is feeling much better about it.
"I hit a couple of balls good tonight," Hairston said after going 0-for-3 with a walk in Bowie's 6-5 Double-A Eastern League loss to the Altoona Curve last night at Prince George's Stadium.
"I smoked that ball to right-center [a fifth-inning flyout] and hit it well in my final at-bat [a sharp grounder to shortstop on which he reached via error]. That's the best I've felt in a while. I can sense it coming back."
Hairston believed he might have deserved his first Baysox hit in two games in the eighth inning, but on a high throw to first base, Altoona's Kevin Nicholson was charged with a miscue.
"The last guy I faced [Ben Shaffar] threw some real good stuff," he said. "If you don't have your timing, your baby sister can get you out. I'm feeling much better about this."
Although his average remained at .000 in his first stern competition since fracturing his right ring finger while sliding headfirst during the Orioles' first exhibition game in Florida, Hairston scored two of the Bowie runs and also stole a base.
The slide into second and one later into home plate were both feetfirst.
"That's an accomplishment," he said of the conventional sliding technique. "I've been sliding hands-first my whole life. I've got a little bit of Pete Rose in me. I'll slide hands-first again."
His biggest gaffe came with Altoona's Ray Sadler batting to lead off the ninth. Sadler sent a soaring foul pop-up down the first base line that 6-foot-5, 305-pound Walter Young camped under, preparing to make the catch. Hairston instead took charge, caromed off Young and dropped the ball for an error.
"That was totally my fault," Hairston acknowledged. "It wasn't too bright to try to take that one. I should have let him have it. If I bounce off him [Young] 100 times, I'm going to lose 100 times."
Whenever he is ready, Hairston knows he faces stiff competition to regain a starting job in Baltimore from the red-hot Brian Roberts, who has been the Orioles offense's ignition switch.
"I'm not going to go up there and rock the boat," the five-year veteran said. "Sometimes, you do lose your job when you're not healthy. I'm going to get a chance to play again and I hope it's here in Baltimore. I've always been in the Oriole organization and I'd like to stay."
Hairston said he and Roberts have been good friends since they were on rehabilitation together at extended spring training in 2000.
"We live together, less than a mile apart, in Arizona. We work out together in the offseason. We'll be friends a long time after this thing is gone."
He is treating his current stay at Bowie as his spring training.
"I didn't have a spring training, so I'm really accelerating the process here," he said. "That's why I'm taking extra swings. I get only 10 days to get ready."