Roberts handles starts at second, eases transition

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Shortstop welcomes shot to make it in the majors

Kinkade hits two homers

March 16, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Brian Roberts made another start at second base for the Orioles yesterday, continuing his transition from shortstop and raising more questions about the club's long-term plans for him.

Roberts had been a shortstop most of his life, and the Orioles kept him there after selecting him between the first two rounds of the 1999 draft. An elbow injury slowed his progress. The emergence of shortstop Ed Rogers could change his future.

"We haven't really talked a whole lot about it," said Roberts, 23, who led the NCAA in stolen bases with 67 in 1999. "I know they want to make sure I'm able to play both positions, whether it's now or a year from now or whatever. They want to make sure I know how to play both.

"I don't really know the timetable or why. I haven't really asked and I haven't been given a whole lot of information. I'm just playing and I'll see what happens. I wish I knew more than I do, but I just go out there and play. Any way to make it to the big leagues is fine with me. I've always enjoyed playing short, but when you're in the big leagues, it doesn't really matter."

Roberts came into camp with some lingering stiffness in his right elbow after arthroscopic surgery in April in remove bone chips. His throws from short were wild, but he's been more accurate at second and fairly dependable with the glove.

"It's not too bad," he said. "The feed from second to short on a double play has probably been the hardest adjustment. I'm trying to get repetitions on that. The angle's a little bit different. It's really just getting adjusted to it more than anything."

"It's not going to hurt him to learn how to play second base," said manager Mike Hargrove. "It gives us another option with him, gets him in the lineup and continue to progress. There's no motive that if he plays shortstop and second base, then he'll be the utility player. I don't know that we want to do that with a 23-year-old kid. But it gives him a chance to be a versatile player."

The move hasn't caused any distractions at the plate. Roberts hit a three-run homer in the third inning yesterday, giving him seven RBIs in nine games this spring. He also walked twice.

Kinkade shows power

Mike Kinkade hit two more home runs yesterday, tying him with Cleveland's Russell Branyan for the American League lead. He also drove in five runs while increasing his batting average to .357 and his slugging percentage to .964.

"You look at big, strong guys like Mike and power doesn't surprise you," Hargrove said. "Everybody's had the same chance to hit the ball out of the ballpark, and he's done it five times. Nobody else has."

"I don't really focus on numbers," Kinkade said. "I'm just happy to get the opportunity to play."

Once considered a possibility to ease Jeff Conine out of a utility job, Kinkade is pushing for a steady diet of at-bats this season. He started at first base yesterday, and also can catch and play third base and left field.

"I'm pretty comfortable anyplace on the field," he said. "I haven't played a whole lot of short or second, so I might be a little nervous out there. And I'll never get on a mound."

Hargrove wouldn't commit to Kinkade making the club with 16 games remaining on the spring schedule, including two split-squad days.

"We still have two weeks to go," Hargrove said. "A lot can happen. We've got to play this out and see where it goes. He's certainly doing a good job and doing nothing to hurt his chances and everything to help them. But to say he's on the ballclub right now wouldn't be fair to him or the club, especially if something happens down the line in the next week to 10 days and you've got to go back on that."

Asked if he could imagine a scenario where Kinkade doesn't make it, vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift said: "I can't imagine even in your wildest dreams."

On Julio's chances

Could Jorge Julio, a pitcher who turned 22 earlier this month and went 2-10 at Single-A Jupiter last season, actually be included in the Orioles' bullpen on Opening Day?

It's no longer a ridiculous question.

Hargrove said it wasn't premature to speculate that Julio, with a fastball clocked at 98 mph on Wednesday, has a shot to make the club.

"Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? I don't know that, but it's certainly within the realm of possibility," Hargrove said.

Julio will be converted into a closer if sent to the minors. Hargrove gave him a little taste during Wednesday's game in Jupiter, bringing him in with two on and two outs in the ninth. Hargrove wanted to see how Julio would respond in a tight, save situation. The answer came with a four-pitch strikeout of Montreal's Randy Knorr.

Around the horn

THE NUMBER: 2 -- Pitchers used by the Orioles yesterday: Jose Mercedes went five innings and Josh Towers completed the last four. The club also summoned Miguel Felix, Jason Lakman, Anthony Shumaker and Jimmy Hamilton from the minor-league camp in Sarasota, Fla.

INJURY UPDATE: Utility infielder Steve Sisco aggravated a pulled oblique muscle during batting practice and is out indefinitely. Sisco suffered the injury about a week ago, preventing the Orioles from playing him at shortstop and determining if he could serve as a backup middle infielder. He's been taking ground balls at short, but has been used exclusively at second base in games.

Cal Ripken, coming back from a fractured rib on his left side, took ground balls yesterday but did not take a second consecutive day of hitting. It was thought that he might have live batting practice.

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