WEST PALM BEACH, FLA — WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Leo Gomez probably isn't going to win the Gold Glove at third base this year, but he says his defensive skills will continue to improve as he gains more experience at the position.
He was charged with his first error of the spring in the Orioles' 8-3 exhibition victory over the Montreal Expos yesterday, but that doesn't change the fact that he has improved his defensive game tremendously during the past 18 months.
Gomez knows that his skill with the glove was very much in question when he came to spring training last year. He had a brief audition there the year before, and it wasn't pretty. But when he replaced Craig Worthington as the everyday third baseman last summer, he made seven errors and finished third among American League third basemen in fielding percentage at .972.
"I'm more relaxed out there now," he said, "but I want to work at it some more. I'm going to keep working at it during the season because I want to get better every year. I was always taught that the more you work, the more God blesses you."
He got better as he went along, finishing the season with 46 consecutive errorless games, but a lack of range kept him from being recognized as a solid defensive player. To address that, the club sent him to the Florida Instructional League to work on his lateral movement.
"We worked on the first two steps being quicker," Gomez said. "In the first two steps, you know if you're going to be able to make the play. I'm going to try to get everything to my left, so I can help [Cal Ripken] Junior on that side."
The man responsible for Gomez's defensive education is Cal Ripken Sr., who has worked extensively with him on proper footwork and positioning.
"Senior works with me a lot," Gomez said. "He says, 'I want you to be a complete baseball player,' so I work, work, work."
The club says it is satisfied with his progress at the plate, where Gomez led major-league rookies with 16 home runs. He has not distinguished himself at the plate this spring, but he does not have to prove anything now that Worthington is out of the picture.
"I'm more relaxed because this is the first year I don't have to fight for a job," he said, "but that doesn't mean I don't have to keep working hard."