Birds to play Gomez every day ... in Rochester

May 07, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When Leo Gomez walked out of manager Frank Robinson's office last night, it wasn't necessary to hear an official announcement from the Orioles.

The promising young third baseman, who has been struggling while trying to prove himself, got the good news and the bad news all at once.

The good news is that he's going to play every day. The bad news is that he's going to be playing for Rochester.

The decision was made before last night's game, the message (( having been sent on Sunday when Gomez wasn't in the lineup against lefthander Jim Abbott. But it wasn't until after the Orioles beat the California Angels 7-0 to split a four- game series that Gomez got the official word.

He has been optioned to Rochester, with infielder-outfielder Jeff McKnight being summoned to take his place on the big-league roster.

"Right now I'm not too happy," said Gomez. "I've waited this long to play in the major leagues, and now I haven't played that much. But, it's better for me,

"I want to play. I want to show these people I can play. They told me when I'm swinging the bat again, then maybe I'll come back here again."

With the Orioles, Gomez, 23, was caught in a difficult situation. Both he and Craig Worthington came into the season off strong spring performances -- then both got off to a slow start.

"He took it very hard at first," said Robinson. "It's tough. Nobody likes to go back. You work hard to get here, and you don't want to leave.

"We told him we weren't sending him down there to prove he could hit. He's going down there to get at-bats. We want him to get four or five at-bats consistently and get himself back in a good groove.

"Right now he's putting pressure on himself trying to prove he belongs. He's trying to do it all with every at-bat. That's a tough way to play. You can't do it like that. This game is tough enough without putting that kind of pressure on yourself."

The injury to Glenn Davis indirectly affected Gomez, even though it actually gave him the opportunity to get more at-bats. ++ With Randy Milligan no longer part of the outfield picture, Robinson was forced to play a lefthanded hitter against lefthanded pitchers.

"We were a little short out there," admitted Robinson about his outfield. "And McKnight fits into that picture. He's like two people because he can play the infield and the outfield -- and he's a switch-hitter with some speed.

"He probably would have made the club out of training camp if he'd had a good spring. And right now he's swinging the bat very well."

McKnight has been among the International League's leading hitters from the start of the season with an average well over .300. He is scheduled to report to the Orioles today in Oakland.

As disappointed as Gomez is, he wasn't wasting any time feeling sorry for himself. He accompanied the team to Oakland last night, then planned to fly to Baltimore today, pick up his family and drive to Rochester to meet the Red Wings when they return home tomorrow.

"He's very mature about it," said batting coach Tom McCraw. "He knows he needs to play, and he knows that Worthy needs to play.

"He told me he wasn't worried about money or anything like that, just that he got a chance to play and then let the club make up its mind," said McCraw.

There is also the possibility that Worthington will benefit from the move. "I really don't know about that," said Robinson. "But it might help him relax a little more, concentrate a little better.

"But I certainly don't want him to feel that he doesn't have to worry about the job," said Robinson, "because we still have somebody else who can play over there."

He was referring to Tim Hulett, whose presence also contributed to the crowd at third base.

Ironically, both Worthington and Hulett hit home runs last night as the Orioles finally showed some offensive firepower against the Angels. Worthington's two-run poke, his second of the year, started the scoring and preceded a blast by the red-hot Mike Devereaux (4) in the third inning.

Two innings later the Orioles came up with another two-homer inning as Hulett (2) and Cal Ripken (6) connected. The final touch of irony came when Gomez, pinch-hitting for Sam Horn, took a third strike to end the ninth inning, long after the Orioles had iced the victory.

But that was also long after a decision had been made on the young third baseman. One of the rituals of spring is the rookie being sent back to the minor leagues to complete his education.

Gomez left determined that this was not the end of a dream, merely an interruption of his major-league career. The Orioles hope he's right -- just as they hope Worthington can provide them with a very difficult decision to make about their long-range @plans for third base.

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