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Payton enters 1,000-hit club on down note

The Baltimore Sun

When a player collects 1,000 hits in his career, it can mean only two things. That is, when you're Orioles outfielder Jay Payton and you're doing the math.

"It either means you're old or you're young and really, really good," Payton said, one day after reaching the milestone. "And since I'm not young and really, really good, I guess that just means I'm old. But I've been able to stick around long enough to get it, so I'm doing something right, I guess."

Manager Sam Perlozzo was a little more generous in his praise.

"For me, it's someone who's been able to stay in the game for a long enough time and produce on a consistent basis. And that's pretty difficult to do," he said. "The really good players make adjustments ... so I think that's a compliment to him."

Payton, 34, had four hits in Wednesday night's 9-6, 11-inning loss to the Washington Nationals, including a checked-swing single in the ninth that tied the game and earned him a souvenir baseball.

"You make up for the line drives you do hit [that are caught], so I got one back there for a little checked swing," he said.

"It was bittersweet. You know, if we'd have won the ballgame ... but bottom line was we lost the game. So, it was kind of hard to really feel good about it. It was just another hit, really."

Payton, signed as a free agent in December, said he wasn't aware that his single was No. 1,000 until returning to the dugout, where hitting coach Terry Crowley broke the news.

"I had no idea," he said. "I'm more worried about us getting on the winning track."

Having won in the past, Payton finds it tough to deal with the Orioles' tumble into last place. Before last night, they had lost nine of 11 games.

"The main thing is that you want to be playing baseball in August with a purpose," he said. " ... We're headed the wrong way, so we need to turn it around so that you're not playing the last two months of the season for pride.

"You want to be able to go out there and play and think, 'Hey, if we put a little streak together, we're going to have a chance, whether it's the division or the wild card.' The main thing is, you want to get in the playoffs at the end of the season."

Is Ray rushing?

The Orioles have noticed that closer Chris Ray seems to rush his delivery from the stretch, which limits his effectiveness. It happened again Wednesday night when Felipe Lopez reached him for a bases-clearing triple in the 11th after Ray allowed a two-out bloop single and two walks.

"When he gets into the stretch position and becomes set, instead of sitting there for just a little more than half a second or so and gathering himself and then going, he gets to a point where he gets into the stretch and bounces and he's going to the plate," Perlozzo said. "I think if he just relaxes and slows the game down and becomes set, takes his time and makes a good pitch, he'd be better off."

Ray is coming dangerously close to committing a balk, which team executives Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette noted after Wednesday's game.

"You could be if you do it too quick," Perlozzo said.

A set lineup?

Once the Orioles return from their next road trip, which takes them to San Diego and Arizona, Perlozzo said he'll try to stay with a set lineup rather than continuing to rotate certain players.

"Rotating guys around is a lot easier when you have everybody hitting. It's just a fact," Perlozzo said. "You know, you can go and shoot four guys and rest one guy every fifth day, and you're playing four days in a row. But it's awful hard to justify one guy sitting and one guy playing when they're all struggling.

"I think that after we get back from that West Coast trip in the National League, we need a little bit more of a set way to go about this thing."

The current system isn't getting Corey Patterson in the lineup very often. He has started twice since June 5 and returned to the bench last night.

"I'm sure it's hard because, as competitors, we all like to be in there every day," Patterson said. "But he's the manager and he's trying to get all of us in there. He's communicated that to us."

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