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Orioles ’97: Less power, more speed and defense

March 28, 1997

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ The Baltimore Orioles hit a major league record 257 home runs last season, a feat that made for many a leisurely stroll around the bases.

This year, they plan to hit and run.

By adding speed and defense to a team that still packs plenty of power, the Orioles expect to win even when the wind is blowing in and the opposition has its ace on the mound.

``In my estimation, we were kind of one-dimensional last year,″ manager Davey Johnson said. ``We pretty much stood there, and if we made contact we had a chance to hit the ball out of the ballpark.″

The Orioles rarely bunted and ranked 12th among 14 AL teams with 76 stolen bases; their idea of manufacturing a run was taking a few pitches before swinging for the fences.

``Last year we had to hit the ball out. When a good pitcher came up against us and didn’t give in, we had a hard time scoring,″ Johnson said. ``That’s why we weren’t as good against first-division clubs.″

The Orioles will still count on Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro and Chris Hoiles for home runs, but they’ll also attempt to score with the aid of a bunt or a grounder to the right side.

``Yes, it’s probably more like National League baseball. But it’s still good baseball,″ Johnson said. ``When you do those little things, you can win games against awfully good pitching because you can score runs without hitting a home run or even getting a hit.″

Within a hour of the final out in the Orioles’ humbling loss to the New York Yankees in the AL championship series, general manager Pat Gillick spoke about adding versatility to a power-heavy lineup.

During the offseason he signed Eric Davis, who stole 23 bases with Cincinnati last year and is a vast improvement in right field compared with the departed Bobby Bonilla. Also new is Mike Bordick, who has a career .258 batting average but is quite proficient at doing the things needed to move up a runner.

Gillick didn’t sign Bordick for his bat, though _ he’s good enough at shortstop to persuade Cal Ripken to take his two Gold Gloves and move to third base.

With Roberto Alomar at second base and Palmeiro at first, the Orioles won’t let too many grounders make it to the outfield.

``Alomar and Bordick, those two guys are artists,″ Johnson said. ``You put Ripken at third and Raffy at the other corner and you’ve got a dream team. That’s the best infield in the league, if not all of baseball.″

The outfield is filled with big names, too. Anderson may not hit 50 home runs again this year, especially after cracking a rib in spring training, but he’s certainly capable of getting 30 homers and 30 steals. Davis hit 26 home runs last season and, like Anderson, can also make it around the bases on speed alone.

Starting left fielder B.J. Surhoff quietly hit .292 with 21 homers and 82 RBIs in 1996, and backup Tony Tarasco plans to have a year that will make baseball fans forget about the kid who stole the ball out of his glove in right field during Game 1 of the ALCS.

One of the Orioles’ wisest offseason acquisitions was pitching coach Ray Miller, who returns to Baltimore after spending 10 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Miller’s confidence and easygoing demeanor have been a steadying influence on a staff that last season had a 5.14 ERA under deposed pitching coach Pat Dobson.

Mike Mussina heads a starting rotation that now has Jimmy Key as the No. 2 man instead of David Wells. The bullpen, hampered by injury last season, is one of the team’s strengths.

Outfielder Pete Incaviglia, who spurned better offers to stay with a pennant contender, said, ``I think this will be a very surprising, well-rounded team. We have the ability to do everything in terms of offense and defense, plus the pitching looks strong. I think we’re a team to be reckoned with.″

End Adv weekend editions, March 29-30.

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