Few runs, fewer worries for O's

The Baltimore Sun

JUPITER, FLA. -- When does a stagnant offense become such a concern that it stirs up an entire team?

Apparently not in the final weeks of spring training.

Though only 11 days remain before the Orioles open the regular season, they haven't shifted into panic mode over their inability to score runs in bunches. It's too early, the regulars aren't playing the entire game, the wind is swirling. Pick your favorite excuse and apply it like spackle. It'll cover the holes.

"I'm very optimistic about the offense," hitting coach Terry Crowley said. "I hope every day that we stay healthy, and I hope every day that I can do my job in such a fashion that [manager] Sammy Perlozzo gets gray hairs trying to put guys on the field. You can only play nine guys a day, and I hope to have 12 guys, 13 guys ripping. That's something that Sammy, hopefully, is going to have to deal with."

So far, it hasn't been an issue.

Before yesterday, the Orioles had a .254 team batting average this spring. Their seven home runs were tied with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for fewest in the majors. The leaders, the Chicago White Sox, had 30.

Only the Devil Rays had scored fewer runs than the Orioles' 74 - a total that jumped to 78 with yesterday's 4-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

It's nearly impossible to find anyone in the organization who's losing sleep over it.

"I think the media, fans, everybody, puts way too much emphasis on that in spring training," said Aubrey Huff, whose three hits raised his average to .415. "You don't have your nine guys together all the time, and when you do, you haven't played together in a while. We're getting toward the end, and we'll start playing the starting lineup more. But that's way too much to read into right now."

Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright retired the first 10 Orioles. Only three balls left the infield, and three players went down swinging.

Doubles by Melvin Mora and Huff broke a scoreless tie in the fourth, and two more runners reached - on an error and walk - before Wainwright got the final out.

The Orioles increased their lead to 2-0 in the sixth on Paul Bako's two-out single, assuring that they wouldn't be held to one run or fewer for the sixth time. A two-out, bloop single by Chris Gomez in the eighth moved the Orioles further ahead 3-1, and they padded the lead on a throwing error in the ninth.

Remove the two games played Saturday, and the Orioles hadn't scored three runs since March 11.

"On paper, we can be really good, but of course, you've got to go out there and produce," Huff said. "One through nine, you've got a nice balance of speed and power and on-base guys. The potential's there.

"It's a good lineup, it's solid, it's balanced. We'll see how we pan out."

Crowley used to fret over spring numbers, but he's entering his 21st season as a coach. Those days are long gone.

"I'm not saying that they're not working here, because everybody has worked real hard in camp. But there is something about that inner drive, that adrenaline, that comes to the forefront when the stadium lights go on," Crowley said. "No matter how hard you try, sometimes it's hard to get that feeling here in spring training."

The elements are a popular subject here, from the bright sun that challenges every outfielder to gusts that seemingly could knock down buildings as easily as fly balls.

"The wind blows in 30 mph here every day," Huff said. "It's been a bad, bad place to hit. I haven't seen a place like this. All you can do in spring training is hit the ball hard, and for the most part I think we've been doing that and getting good at-bats. It's not even a concern at all."

Said Crowley: "We must have hit at least 10 balls that were long home runs that went for outs down here. I feel sorry for guys who are fighting for a spot. When they hit a ball that should go for a double or a homer and the wind holds it up and somebody actually catches it, you get an 0-for-1 out of what should be a home run. I try to remember all those at-bats when we talk about it in staff meetings. I can stick up for the player a little bit.

"I've never seen the wind blow like this down here. I guess it's good if you're pitching. But there's been many more low-scoring games here this spring than in the past. But when we get north, that stuff evens itself out."

Corey Patterson didn't make the trip yesterday, leaving his average at .147 in 14 games. Jay Gibbons, batting .200 in 11 games, also stayed back, as did Miguel Tejada (.237). Kevin Millar is 1-for-20.

"Spring training is a funny time," Crowley said. "I've seen guys not hit well at all in spring training and then be lights-out when the season starts, and I've seen it go the other way, too. I've seen guys have tremendous springs and when the bell rings, they struggle for a while."

Said Perlozzo: "I think overall, as a general group, we need to score more runs this spring, especially toward the end. We need to win a few games to get things going. You prepare yourself to do well all the time."


Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

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