Baltimore Orioles Manager Ray Miller benched cleanup hitter Albert Belle for tonight's game against the Atlanta Braves, two days after Belle and Miller had a heated argument in the dugout during a game at Florida. According to a team source, Belle was not fined, and he will be back in the lineup Saturday.

Miller gave no reason for benching Belle, except that with Thursday's off day, "that's two days off for him, and hopefully he'll be fresh for tomorrow. . . . I don't want to get into the whys and wheres."

Miller also said Belle, who entered the game with the longest active consecutive-games-played streak (392) in the major leagues, would be available as a reserve. Jeff Conine was in Belle's usual cleanup spot and playing right field.

The argument between Miller and Belle occurred in the ninth inning of Wednesday night's 4-2 Orioles victory over the Marlins. Belle failed to run out a ground ball, when he might have been safe had he run hard, and Miller pulled Belle from right field on a double-switch. Miller and Belle exchanged expletives in the dugout, and Belle later had to be restrained by teammates.

While Miller's stern treatment of the Belle incident has won a measure of respect from the rest of the team, today Miller again defended Belle's lack of production in the middle of the lineup.

"Obviously, Albert hasn't had the stats that he wants or any of us wanted, and hasn't gotten towards pounding the ball like he normally does. He's struggling a little bit," Miller said. "When anyone's not going good there's a lot of pressure of anybody, especially when the club's not winning games."

Belle does not speak to reporters. But in a journal entry on his Web site dated June 6, Belle discussed his slump, which left him with a .244 average entering tonight.

"I need to make a few adjustments," Belle wrote. "I'm seeing that teams aren't going to let me beat them [and] I just need to be patient and take a few more walks. I'm going to take the walks because it will help the team in the long run [and] they're just putting another guy on base.

In defending Belle today, Miller also pointed out that number three hitter B.J. Surhoff and number five hitter Harold Baines have thrived this season, which Miller thinks is "directly related" to Belle's presence in the cleanup spot.

But on his Web site, Belle implied that the other hitters in the lineup have not done enough to help him.

"[S]ooner or later when the guys around me are hitting more, I'm going to start getting pitches and I'll start hitting the ball more," Belle wrote, "all of which will lead to more wins for the O's."

CAPTION: Albert Belle was kept out of Orioles starting lineup by Manager Ray Miller last night, two days after they had heated exchange during game at Florida. (Photo ran in an earlier edition)