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Mora Looking to Shake the Doldrums

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 12, 2005; Page D10

NEW YORK, April 11 -- It may be Melvin Mora's bad luck that the hardest ball he has hit this season struck New York Yankees pitcher Carl Pavano flush in the head. Mora was barely able to run to first base out of concern for Pavano, making it impossible to enjoy his first hit in 19 at-bats and second of the season.

By the end of the day, Pavano was declared to be fine. Perhaps Mora, who singled again in the fifth, was as well. It has been a slow start for the third baseman, who last season won an American League Silver Slugger award -- awarded by managers and coaches to the top offensive player at his position -- after hitting .340 with 27 home runs and 104 RBI.

Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora, watching the Yankees' Ruben Sierra in his home run trot on Saturday, hit .340 last year but is off to a slow start. (Ray Stubblebine -- Reuters)

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But as he planted himself into the batter's box in the first inning of Sunday's game against the Yankees, Mora's average stood at a grotesque .048.

"I'm looking for something and seeing something else," said Mora, who now is batting .115 with no home runs and one RBI. "I'm looking for a fastball and getting a breaking pitch. I'm looking for a breaking pitch and swinging at the fastball late. I'm the same, they're pitching me kind of the same. They throw the ball right there. The only thing is that I'm not reacting to the ball. I'm not really thinking about what I'm doing at the plate. I need to get myself mentally [ready] first and then get to the plate."

Before Saturday's game, Mora approached Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who last season batted .172 in April, for advice.

"For me the strongest player mentally is Derek Jeter," Mora said. "I put that as an example. He was struggling last year and finished strong. That's an example I can use. He's the strongest man in baseball mentally. That's why I talked to him [Saturday]. He said, 'You'll be fine. I wasn't fine last year.' "

It was a short conversation between two players who first met in New York when Mora was still a utility player for the Mets. They were opposites then in terms of ability. Not so much now.

"Melvin Mora is in no stretch of the imagination in what I was in last year," Jeter said. "We've played what, how many games? I struggled for two straight months. If he goes out and has a few good games, he's hitting .300. Melvin has always been a good player, someone who plays different positions. Offensively he had an outstanding year. Last year was the year it came together for him."

Mora's slow start likely has its roots in spring training, when a flu-like virus caused him to be in and out of the lineup. The usually gregarious Mora was oddly quiet. He was taking several different medications, and the sickness wore on him. He had no energy and his timing at the plate was off.

"It affected me a lot, like 80 percent," Mora, 33, said. "I wasn't the same. Now I need to do something to get my body back and pump my body back again. I know it affected me because I felt weak. Everything is going to be fine. I'm going to work hard to help the club."

It appears he is slowly getting back to normal. When asked by a Spanish-speaking television station for an interview this past weekend in New York, Mora grabbed the reporter's microphone and started interviewing himself and some of his teammates.

Mora's toughest task may be to adjust to hitting in the second spot. Though he had success there last season, batting .354 with 13 home runs in 229 at-bats, this season Mora believes his approach has changed.

"I know people are going to pitch me different," Mora said. "For me it's kind of difficult because, believe it or not, all the teams think it's better to see me hitting second. The last couple of years I've been hitting third. Now when you're hitting second, everything changes. I don't want to change anything.

"But when you're hitting second and you have a man on second base, your swing is automatically going to change. Because if you try to hit the ball to left field, it's going to look selfish."

Mora's luck appears to be changing. In the sixth inning on Sunday he laced a line drive that ended up in the glove of New York third baseman Alex Rodriguez. No one was hurt.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company