- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 18, 2002

NEW YORK Jerry Hairston returned to the Baltimore Orioles' lineup last night after a five-day layoff, but not to his usual place in the batting order.
Hairston, who led off for the Orioles' first eight games before suffering a strained groin muscle, was at the bottom of the order for the first time this season. The switch reflected Hairston's early struggles at the plate and Melvin Mora's outstanding start.
"That's it, plain and simple," manager Mike Hargrove said. "Melvin's doing a good job right now in the leadoff spot, and we'll leave him there and play the string out."
Much was made over Hairston's conversion to leadoff hitter this spring, and the 25-year-old second baseman performed well in Florida, batting .315 with a .400 on-base percentage. That success has not carried over to the regular season, though. Hairston entered last night's game against the New York Yankees batting .156 with one walk in 34 plate appearances.
Meanwhile, Mora has been reaching base at an astronomical clip. The projected utility player, who has wound up starting the first 14 games of the season, holds a .342 average, 13 walks and a .537 on-base percentage that ranks second in the American League.
Mora batted leadoff for the sixth straight game last night and made his first start in center field, while Hairston returned to second base.
"It doesn't matter where I hit, I'm going to approach things the same way," Hairston said. "My job is to get on base, whether I'm hitting first, second or ninth. Obviously, Melvin's done an incredible job at the leadoff spot, and hopefully we'll win a lot of ballgames like that."
Hairston came out for early batting practice yesterday, working specifically on shortening his swing. If all goes well, Hargrove expects him to return to the top of the order.
"Jerry is going to be the leadoff hitter," Hargrove said. "We'll just play the string out with Melvin. Obviously, if Melvin continues this, he's going to stay there. But we haven't given up the idea that Jerry can be the leadoff hitter."

Singleton takes break
In order to keep Mora in the lineup, Hargrove benched slumping center fielder Chris Singleton and likely will do the same tonight when the Orioles face New York left-hander David Wells. Singleton, acquired during the offseason from the Chicago White Sox for minor leaguer Willie Harris, has just five hits in 49 at-bats this season a .102 average.
The Orioles aren't overly concerned, because Singleton has a history of slow starts. He hit .192 last April but still finished with a .298 average. He owns a career .245 April batting average, .283 overall.
"With veteran hitters, you have to let them have room and show them patience to allow their stroke to come around," Hargrove said. "Ninety-nine percent of the time it will. There's always the time it won't, but you've got to play the string out and allow them that chance. That's why track records are so important."

Extra bases
Jason Johnson, who complained of a "dead arm" after his 1⅓-inning start Monday in Chicago and said he planned to take 4-5 days off, threw in a side session and reported no problems. His next scheduled start comes Saturday at Tampa Bay. Rookie right-hander Rodrigo Lopez, who is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in long relief, will now pitch primarily in the back end of Baltimore's bullpen. Lopez joins Jorge Julio, Willis Roberts and Buddy Groom in that role.

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