Rookie Gil gets call as O's catcher

Stronger throwing moves him by Fordyce after 6 years in minors

O's allowed 157 steals in '01

.317 bat doesn't hurt

`everybody needs an opportunity'

March 31, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Orioles manager Mike Hargrove placed his pitching staff's fate in the hands of a rookie yesterday, naming Geronimo Gil as the starting catcher and moving veteran Brook Fordyce into a backup role.

The long-awaited decision ultimately came down to a comparison of throwing arms. The Orioles allowed the second-highest stolen-base total in the American League last season, with 157, and Hargrove made it a priority to change that.

Gil, 26, received the nod despite having just 17 major-league games on his resume, usurping Fordyce, 31, who will make $2.2 million this season.

"They both had good springs," Hargrove said. "You look for something to separate the two. I think Gil obviously has a stronger throwing arm than Brook. I hesitate to say he's a better catcher because I'm not sure that he is, but he does have a stronger throwing arm."

The Orioles have hoped Gil would become their catcher of the future since they acquired him in a July trade with the Dodgers for reliever Mike Trombley. Gil spent six seasons in the minors before getting called up to Baltimore in September and batting .293.

A native of Oaxaca, Mexico, Gil said he called home to his wife and mother after learning from Hargrove that he'd won the job. The Orioles open their season tomorrow at Camden Yards against the New York Yankees, and Gil will be calling the signals for pitcher Scott Erickson.

"I'm happy because I've been working hard," Gil said. "Everybody needs an opportunity. This is my opportunity."

Fordyce struggled last season both offensively and defensively. After signing a three-year, $7.7 million contract, he batted .209 and threw out just 19.1 percent of the opposing base stealers he faced.

This spring, Fordyce did everything he could to keep his job, batting .381 and catching opposing base stealers at a 36.3 success rate. But Gil caught 50 percent of the base stealers he faced and removed doubts about his offensive potential by batting .317.

"You have to deal with it," Fordyce said. "It's baseball. The team's playing real well, and you have to keep the focus there. I'll be ready when I get the chance.

Gil threw out another runner yesterday in the Orioles' 3-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Louisville Slugger Field. Reds leadoff batter Todd Walker walked to open the game and immediately tried to steal, but Gil rifled a throw to second base that nailed Walker easily.

Fordyce later replaced Gil, and the Reds stole once in two tries against him.

The Orioles will carry a third catcher, Fernando Lunar, on their Opening Day roster. Considered the best defensive catcher of the three, Lunar played 15 games this spring without having an opposing base runner even attempt to steal. But he hit just .227 and made the roster because he is out of minor-league options.

Gil will get most of the playing time, and Hargrove said he wasn't sure exactly how much Fordyce will play.

"It may be one day this week and three days next week, I don't know," Hargrove said. "Traditionally, the backup plays once every 10 days, or a day game after a night game. I don't expect it going along those lines. I think he'll play more than that.

"But if Gil gets hot, I'll stay with him. And vice versa. If Brook gets hot, he'll get more playing time."

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