0-for Gruber counts progress, not his number of hits, in return 3 years away, he likens self to 'penned-up horse'

Orioles notebook

March 05, 1997|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Not everyone is marching in the Orioles' hit parade.

Kelly Gruber, trying to come back from a three-year layoff, is 0-for-11 this spring. Starting at second base yesterday, he didn't get the ball out of the infield in three at-bats.

"He's not overmatched by any means," said manager Davey Johnson.

For Gruber, who had fusion surgery two years ago for a herniated disk in his neck, the focus isn't on numbers anyway.

"I'm not looking at how many hits I have. I'm looking at how I'm feeling and how my body is reacting," he said. "Is it gaining momentum? Is it feeling stronger each day?

"It's still way too early for me to even put a finger on it. I'm going to give myself a real good opportunity, a real good chance. But I've got a long way to go. I didn't think it was going to be easy in any way."

It wasn't supposed to be for someone who hadn't played since appearing in 18 games with the California Angels in 1993.

"I'm battling more the patience. I'm trying to restrain myself from expecting too much," said Gruber, a former All-Star who hit 31 homers for Toronto in 1990. "I'm so anxious. I want to hit the ball and I'm out in front of everything. I want to do too much.

"It's going to be a battle. It's like a horse that hasn't been running for a while because he's been penned up. He wants to take off as soon as he sees daylight. You've got to pull back those reins and it wears you out."

Bordick blossoms

Shortstop Mike Bordick had his best offensive game yesterday, going 3-for-3 to raise his average to .385 (5-for-13). Batting second, he singled twice, doubled and knocked in a run.

"The first two fell in; I got a little lucky," he said. "I'm working on my timing, getting the good part of the bat on the ball. Today was obviously one of those days when they were falling in."

Being the player who bumped Cal Ripken to third base, Bordick said he's received more media attention in two weeks than during his entire career in Oakland, where he spent parts of seven seasons. "But it's been OK. I can separate it. Once I get on the field, it's pretty much business," he said.

Erickson gets down

In his first spring start, Orioles right-hander Scott Erickson complained that he couldn't keep the ball down. Yesterday, the Dodgers could barely touch him.

Erickson was superb in his two innings, allowing only a single to former Oriole Todd Zeile.

This was a drastic reversal from Friday, when Erickson kept getting the ball up against the Florida Marlins, and they kept hitting it. He allowed five runs and eight hits in two innings.

"The one ball I got up, the guy got a hit," he said of yesterday's outing.

Erickson took the bat out of a teammate's hands, as well, using Jeffrey Hammonds' model to lay down a sacrifice bunt off Dodgers starter Ismael Valdes. "I didn't get a chance to swing, but at least I didn't embarrass myself," he said.

The Orioles' young pitchers didn't embarrass themselves on the mound. Sidney Ponson, Billy Percibal, Giovanni Carrara and Armando Benitez each threw a scoreless inning, as did veteran Jesse Orosco. Percibal, who had major surgery on his right elbow nine months ago, struck out the side and walked two, and Benitez struck out two.

Nerio Rodriguez, who followed Erickson, got through the third inning unscathed before allowing an RBI single in the fourth.

"The best thing this spring has been the emergence of these young kids. Now you're starting to see their stuff," Johnson said.

Gillick refutes Irabu story

A report in USA Today yesterday stated the Orioles were among at least five teams that contacted the San Diego Padres about acquiring the rights to Japanese right-hander Hideki Irabu. When asked if this were true, general manager Pat Gillick shook his head no.

Later, he said, "I don't think there's anything to that."

Gillick confirmed that the Orioles had spoken with Irabu's agent, Don Nomura, "about some other stuff," and that the club had gotten "a little look" at Irabu. Assistant general manager Kevin Malone said his last conversation with Nomura was a week ago.

"I don't know why they'd trade a guy like that," Gillick said. "I'd think before you acquired his rights, you would basically have a deal done."

San Diego GM Kevin Towers reportedly has said he is not interested in trading Irabu's rights, which were assigned to the Padres in a move that was challenged unsuccessfully by the New York Yankees.

Gillick also said other Orioles trade talks were quiet.

Zeile has kind O's words

Zeile, who signed a three-year contract with the Dodgers in the off-season, said the brief time he spent as the Orioles third baseman last season was "probably the best experience I had in baseball in eight or 10 years."

"It kind of revived my love for the game," he said.

Zeile was acquired by the Orioles on Aug. 29 in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies. Though signing with the Dodgers brought him closer to home -- he was born in Van Nuys, Calif. -- Zeile said last year's playoff experience made it difficult to leave.

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