Against Rays, Huff puts end to his slump

The Baltimore Sun

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- As the Orioles packed their bags in the visiting clubhouse and headed home last night, nobody was less enthusiastic to leave Tropicana Field than Aubrey Huff.

The designated hitter-first baseman broke out of a slump in a big way in the three-game series, going 6-for-12 with two home runs, four RBIs and four runs against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Yesterday, Huff finished a triple shy of his second cycle of the season, going 3-for-5 with an RBI and two runs.

"He's become a Rays killer, huh?" said Devil Rays outfielder Carl Crawford, who was a teammate of Huff's here from 2002 to 2006.

Against Tampa Bay this season, Huff is batting .372 (16-for-43), compared with his .243 average against the rest of the major leagues. Four of Huff's eight homers this season have come against the Devil Rays. The 30-year-old, who lives in nearby Tampa, says it is coincidence that he does his best against his former team.

He attributed his success to a more upright batting stance that he started using earlier on the road trip.

"This is probably as good as I felt all year at the plate," said Huff, who was booed every time he came up in the series. " ... It's just something that I made an adjustment and it just happened to be against those guys.

"It's just a new stance and it feels great. It's something that feels powerful. Whether or not I'm hitting balls good or I'm swinging and missing, I feel like I've got something behind it and if I do hit it, it's going to do something."

Huff finished the six-game road trip 9-for-21 with six extra-base hits. Before the road trip, he had only four extra-base hits in his previous 23 games.

Counting down

The Orioles are down to 10 days to sign their first-round draft pick, Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters. If Wieters isn't signed by Aug. 15, he becomes eligible to re-enter next year's draft. The Orioles have been negotiating with Wieters' representation, a group headed by Scott Boras, and remain confident that a deal will get done before the deadline.

"There is going to be a strong effort on our part over the last 10 days to get this done, but it is going as planned," Orioles director of scouting Joe Jordan said.

Jordan also said the Orioles were working to sign their 39th-round pick, Joseph Yermal, a right-handed pitcher from McDonogh.

L. Hernandez optioned

To make room for the activation of third baseman Melvin Mora from the disabled list, the Orioles optioned shortstop Luis Hernandez to Double-A Bowie. Hernandez hit .333 (12-for-36) for the Orioles with four RBIs while making nine starts.

Manager Dave Trembley said Hernandez was sent down because he needs to play every day. The 23-year-old was claimed in October off waivers from the Atlanta Braves.

"He made a great impression," Trembley said. "He's been a real shot in the arm for our club, especially after we lost [Miguel] Tejada. ... I'd like to think he'd be back with us soon. I think he's got a chance to be a very good shortstop for a long time in the big leagues."

Second baseman Brian Roberts sat with Hernandez for a while in the clubhouse before yesterday's game and shared some of his experiences from when he was sent down to the minors.

"I was kind of telling him the situation when I was 23; I couldn't make the team out of spring training and they sent me down because they wanted me to play every day," Roberts said. "It's better than him sitting on the bench here. He opened a lot of eyes. He played well beyond his years."

Around the horn

Trembley said there are no plans to make any changes to the rotation after today's day off, meaning Brian Burres will probably make Friday's start at home against the Boston Red Sox. ... Former Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar threw out the first pitch before last night's game. ... Freddie Bynum (strained left hamstring) will play another rehabilitation game today at Single-A Frederick and might be activated for the start of tomorrow's homestand. Brandon Fahey is the most likely candidate to be sent down when Bynum comes off the DL.

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