FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - If Jay Gibbons fails to remain with the Orioles this season, he'll go down swinging - and making solid contact.
Gibbons, 23, continues to push for inclusion on the 25-man roster. He shined again in yesterday's intrasquad game, driving in two runs with a sharp single to right and a sacrifice fly to deep right-center field.
A Rule 5 pick, Gibbons must remain on the roster all season or be offered back to the Toronto Blue Jays. The club might attempt to work out a trade so he can play at Triple-A Rochester, but Gibbons hardly looks like a minor-league talent when wielding a bat.
"We heard coming in that that was his one big plus, and he hasn't done anything to disprove that," manager Mike Hargrove said.
Gibbons hasn't batted below .300 in three minor-league seasons. He hit .321 with 19 homers and 75 RBIs at Double-A Tennessee last year, before the Blue Jays left him exposed.
If he heads north with the club, he'd be used as a spare first baseman and left-handed designated hitter. He also can play left field, a position that became comfortable to him this winter. The Orioles already have right-handed versions of Gibbons in Mike Kinkade and Jeff Conine, but the latter could be traded.
"He's going to be a real discussion," said Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations. "Just look at his track record. We knew he could hit, but he's also looked good at first base. He's very good at balls in the dirt. We'll have to see how he goes through the spring, but it's interesting. He's going to make a lot of people stay up late."
Said Hargrove: "Problems like that are good to have. Those kind of tough decisions are a lot more fun to make than the other way."
Other dramas continue to play out in camp, most notably involving Albert Belle, who started again in right field.
Belle doubled and scored a run, but didn't need to accelerate much at any turn. He coasted into second on his drive into left-center field off Sidney Ponson, and didn't attempt to run hard on Conine's single.
He twice had to chase balls into the right-field corner in the third inning that went for triples. On the second one, Belle threw to second baseman Steve Sisco, who nailed Mike Bordick at the plate.
Thrift and Hargrove said it might not be determined if Belle starts the season in right field or as the designated hitter until the end of spring training, even though the decision impacts players like Delino DeShields, Brady Anderson and Chris Richard.
"Ideally, we certainly don't want to wait that long," Hargrove said.
Coaching from crouch
With so many young arms in their spring-training stable, the Orioles are thankful to have a veteran presence behind the plate.
Catcher Brook Fordyce senses that his responsibilities have grown with the departure of Mike Mussina to free agency and the absence of Scott Erickson because of elbow surgery. The rotation will include at least one pitcher with little or no major-league experience. Perhaps two, if Chuck McElroy returns to the bullpen or is traded.
It seems that everywhere Fordyce turns, he sees someone else wearing a number in the 70s or 80s with aspirations to start or relieve in Baltimore.
"I'm hopefully going to help them with the mental part, to get ready. Physically, they have it, but just some things to think about or concentrate on out there to get them back on track," said Fordyce, who homered in his only at-bat of yesterday's intrasquad game.
"It'll be fun. I can make some suggestions. And it'll also be the veteran pitchers helping out. It'll be, not necessarily a challenge, but more interesting."
Bale's picture-perfect day
The Orioles were subjected yesterday to another rite of spring training: photo day.
Wearing their white game jerseys, players shuffled through a procession of photographers. John Bale, a left-hander trying to make the staff as a starter or reliever, took his place in line before returning to his locker - which he plans to decorate today with some photos of his own.
Bale hasn't seen his daughter, Madison Shana, since returning to the club Saturday, two days after her birth in Montreal. The only connections to her are the nightly phone calls and the pictures he planned on getting developed after yesterday's intrasquad game.
"It's going to be tough," said Bale, who leans heavily on his religious faith. "It's a test for me, but it also keeps me strong. She gives me strength to do well."
Bale, 26, was in the delivery room when Madison arrived at 8:02 p.m. Thursday weighing 7 pounds, 6 ounces.
"It was amazing," he said. "I can't even describe it. It really is a miracle."
Sitting on Julio's fastball
The Orioles almost hit for the cycle in the third inning yesterday against Jorge Julio, who allowed a single, double and two triples.
Julio's velocity was outstanding - his fastball has been clocked at 101 mph in the past - and he might have found better results if permitted to use his breaking ball. Like everyone else working their first intrasquad game, Julio was told to throw only fastballs and changeups.
Julio, 22, came to the Orioles from the Montreal Expos in the Ryan Minor trade after going 2-10 with a 5.90 ERA in 79 1/3 innings at Single-A Jupiter of the Florida State League.