Gibbons slams fence with glove instead of a drive this time


He's made great strides in outfield in 2nd year

wiser Ponson regroups


March 26, 2002|By Peter Schmuck and Joe Christensen | Peter Schmuck and Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

VERO BEACH, Fla. - When Jay Gibbons slammed into the right-field fence yesterday to rob Adrian Beltre of an extra-base hit, the impact had to send a shiver through the Orioles' organization.

No problem.

Gibbons hit the fence with his shoulder, not the glove hand that was surgically repaired last summer. The play didn't represent a threat to his playing time this year. It was a validation of the work he's done to become a good enough right fielder to play regularly out there.

"I've been working to be a better outfielder in general," Gibbons said. "I wanted to be in better shape and I wanted to get a better jump on the ball. I actually feel more comfortable in right this year than I did playing left field last year."

That's because he didn't get much spring playing time in the outfield a year ago. The emphasis was more on first base after he was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2000 Rule V draft.

Gibbons proved during the first half of 2001 that he could hit for power at the major-league level. He might have hit 25 homers as a rookie if not for the broken wrist bone that cost him the final two months of the season. Now, healthy again, he's displaying the all-around ability that could make him an everyday player in 2002.

"All systems are go," Gibbons said after yesterday's 7-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Holman Stadium. "I'm excited about getting out of Florida."

He'll likely start out as the everyday right fielder, because the Achilles' injury to David Segui has created a temporary opening at first base for Jeff Conine. If Gibbons comes out swinging, it will be hard to pry him out of the lineup.

"Segui's injury has afforded us the chance to play Gibbons more in right field," manager Mike Hargrove said. "I think he has played right field quite well."

So, everything seems to be falling into place for the 25-year-old outfielder, who had not played above the Double-A level before the Orioles snatched him off the Blue Jays' roster.

"I just thought at the time that might be my only chance," he said. "I told myself I've got to make the best of it. I worked my tail off, and I'm going to keep working and trying to improve."

Ponson confident

Right-hander Sidney Ponson had a maturity moment on the mound yesterday, but he showed that the growth process is continuing in a solid, six-inning effort.

Ponson, going six innings for the second time this spring, gave up two runs on six hits, but he briefly lost his cool - and rebuked himself for it afterward.

"In the fifth inning, I left some balls up and they got some hits," he said. "I got mad, which I'm not supposed to do. Mark Wiley came out and calmed me down and I got a double-play ball on the next batter. I was happy about that."

Cuts announced

The Orioles trimmed three more players from their spring training roster, sending outfielder Chad Allen, catcher Izzy Molina and third baseman Jose Leon to Triple-A Rochester. The moves will be made effective today, reducing the roster to 38 players.

Allen hit .208 this spring, trying to come back from major reconstructive surgery on his right knee. Hargrove said the decision came down to the knee's health, and Allen said he understood.

"It was my knee that didn't make the team," Allen said. "And as soon as I get healthy, if something happens, maybe I can get back up there."

The Orioles plan to trim to about 30 players before breaking camp for Friday's exhibition game in Atlanta. They must have their 25-man roster submitted before midnight Saturday night.

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