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Surge in Power Restores Olerud's Confidence

June 01, 1993|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Last week was rough on John Olerud. The Toronto Blue Jays' first baseman simply didn't feel comfortable in the batter's box.

But the hits kept coming anyway.

Maybe that's why it seems laughable--even to Olerud--that he could go into Monday's game against the Angels with a five-game hitting streak despite batting some 40 points below his average in that span.

Hitting two home runs in Toronto's 10-5 victory over the Angels at Anaheim Stadium was bound to cure any lingering feelings of discomfort. If two 400-foot home runs can't snap Olerud out of whatever was troubling him, nothing will.

"Olerud's been off the last four or five games so it's nice to see him hit the ball well," Toronto Manager Cito Gaston said. "A lot people thought we wouldn't score a lot of runs because we lost (Dave) Winfield, (Kelly) Gruber and (Candy) Maldonado. But we've been getting power from Olerud, so we've been able to score pretty well."

Olerud isn't expected to lead the club in homers, but his ability to consistently hit the ball hard enabled the Blue Jays to trade Fred McGriff to San Diego in 1990.

Certainly, Olerud proved to be too tough for Angel starter John Farrell, who gave up a career-high four homers in falling to 2-6.

In the second inning, Olerud hit a down-and-in fastball from Farrell into the third row of the right-field stands for a homer. In the fourth, Olerud slammed an up-and-in changeup from Farrell into the second row in almost the same spot for a two-run homer. Looking for the hat trick in the sixth, Olerud hammered a ball to deep center, driving Chad Curtis to the 404-foot sign before it was caught.

"A little too close to my hands," Olerud said. "I didn't hit that sweet spot. It was the wrong part of the park to just miss it."

But what of the others, the rocket-like drives that seemed to jump from his bat, raising his league-leading average to .395 and pushing his home run total to nine?

"I felt a lot better today," he said. "A lot more relaxed. I got some good pitches to hit today. I hit them hard and they had the trajectory to get out."

Monday's show of power was unusual, and Olerud wanted to make that perfectly clear. "I think I can hit the long ball occasionally, but I'm not going to hit 30 to 40 home runs a year. I know I'm way ahead of my usual pace for home runs."

Olerud has never hit more homers in a season than the 17 he had in 1991, but this year everything seems to be falling the right way for him. He ranks among the AL leaders in multiple hit games (21), hits (68) and extra-base hits (25).

Keeping Olerud silent figured to be a difficult task for Farrell, and it was. Farrell, who has a 5.88 earned-run average, is trying to find some semblance of consistency in his first season back in the majors after missing two years because of arm surgery.

"I have to continue to battle and improve," said Farrell, winless since defeating the New York Yankees May 5. "It's an on-going battle."

That much was evident Monday.

Said Olerud: "I think the first pitch was a fastball down-and-in. The next time up, he was behind in the count and threw a changeup up-and-in. I'm sure he didn't want it there. It was a mistake pitch and I hit it good."

If Monday was any indication, Olerud has found his comfort zone again, although he seems capable of hitting even when all is not well.

"When I haven't been feeling that good, I've still been able to get a jam shot in there for a hit," Olerud said. "Definitely, things have been going my way."

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