O's look to take advantage of speed

Orioles looking to take advantage of speed

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The green light is on. The station-to-station approach to baserunning may finally be running out of steam, giving way to a more active style. Thanks to speedsters Brian Roberts and Corey Patterson, the Orioles are one of several teams expected to use the stolen base as a weapon this season.

"The guys that can run will steal a base," said manager Sam Perlozzo. "The first thing that you have to do is get on. That's what Corey did last year. He was very successful getting on base and then he was able to steal. I like that kind of game. I like some action out there.

"I don't like to be stupid about it. But if we got guys who can steal a base, we're going to let them do that."

Baltimore stole 121 bases last season, which ranked fourth in the American League and was the sixth-highest total in franchise history. Patterson (45) and Roberts (36) combined for more thefts than any other pair of AL teammates, and both are back to pick up where they left off. Roberts, in fact, said he can see a trend taking shape.

"Stolen bases are coming back, if you look at the numbers," he said. "Guys are stealing 40, 50 and 60 bases again. I don't think anybody's going to steal 100 again like those guys did [in the '80s], because of slide steps and all sorts of different things, but if you walked into every Spring Training, you'd see teams working on it.

"I can remember hearing [New York manager] Joe Torre and the Yankees saying they needed to get back to playing the way they were when they were winning, which was running and stealing bases. I think they thought they got away from it, waiting on the homer all the time. [Derek] Jeter's running more and [Alex Rodriguez] is running more."

The Yankees were the only team in the league to steal bases at a higher percentage than the Orioles last season, and both teams set their highest stolen-base totals since 2001. The strategy is more surprising in New York, where the Yankees have one of the most powerful teams in the league. In Baltimore, basestealing comes with the territory.

"When you don't have four guys that hit 40 home runs, it's a good way to generate offense -- especially from two different parts of the offense," said second baseman and leadoff hitter Roberts.

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"It's like anything else," added Patterson, who hits toward the bottom of the batting order. "It's just like hitting. You get in that rhythm and just keep going. Eventually, over time, teams are going to notice and they're going to adjust. You may have to make adjustments, too, but nothing major. That's the game, making adjustments."

Patterson made plenty of those last season, which was his first with the O's. The fleet-footed center fielder makes his living with his glove and his legs, and last year was a perfect example. Patterson led the league with 17 bunt hits, and he was safe on 26 of his first 27 stolen-base attempts. At one point, he stole bases in nine straight games.

That feat hadn't been accomplished since 1986, and Patterson had 30 stolen bases by the end of June. He slowed down markedly as the year wore on, but he still finished with the third-highest single-season total in club history. Only Luis Aparicio (57) and Brady Anderson (53) had topped his mark, but Patterson may reel them in this year.

"I'm looking to do the same thing this year, or hopefully better," he said. "I know that teams are going to be paying closer attention to me. I have to be a little bit smarter -- know when to go and when not to go. It all starts here, trying to get your legs in shape. And at some point, you start focusing on the pitchers and trying to learn their moves."

Roberts and Patterson both said they compare notes on stealing bases, but they also said there's no friendly competition as to who can steal more. Roberts gave Patterson some tips on how to better steal third base last season, and he often has to take an extra pitch or two to allow Patterson a chance to steal.

Those late-inning moments represent an interesting reversal for Roberts, who often has to choose the right time to steal without taking the bat away from the heart of Baltimore's batting order.

"If you can do it early in the count, when you can get to second or third base and the guy's only got one strike, that's no big deal," Roberts said. "And it could make a big difference in your at-bat. If you can get to third with less than two outs, hitters love that. And if you go from first to second, you keep your team out of the double play. You give a guy a chance to drive you in, and if there's no outs, you can play small ball."

Roberts said he thinks he can steal as many or 50 or 60 bases in a given season, but the circumstances would have to be exactly right to make it happen. If the context of the game allows it, he'd like to try.

Patterson's situation is a little different. He may not play as much against left-handers in 2007, which could limit his opportunities to get on base. But when he's on, he's virtually always a threat to take off. Patterson only stole 15 bases after the All-Star break last season, and he said all that running can wear on your body.

"At some point, it kind of hinders players a little bit -- especially if you play in the middle, which requires a lot of running," he said. "Sometimes, I think people don't really realize that. You're going to hit your ruts here and there, but you've just got to keep fighting and work your way through it.

"Playing the middle's not easy. You're always on the go, and it takes a lot out of you from time to time. You've just got to really concentrate and take care of yourself -- exercise, get your rest, eat right. It's a long year."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.