Only one catch with Gil's statistics

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

2nd in AL in throwing out base stealers, but he leads league in passed balls

Notebook

August 02, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Orioles have been thrilled with rookie catcher Geronimo Gil's ability to throw out opposing base stealers. Now they would like to see him improve on the most fundamental aspect of his job -- catching the ball.

Among American League catchers, only Anaheim's Benji Molina has thrown out a higher percentage of opposing base stealers than Gil (36.9 percent).

This has been a significant development for the Orioles, who struggled to stop the running game last season with Brook Fordyce throwing out just 19.1 percent of those trying to steal.

But in 95 games at catcher last season, Fordyce had just eight passed balls.

Gil has played 78 games this season and leads the AL with 16 passed balls.

Putting that number in perspective, Orioles first base coach Rick Dempsey had just 61 passed balls in 24 seasons as a big-league catcher, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"Everything is important when you are catching," Gil said. "Sometimes you have bad days out there. When I don't block the ball, it's my fault."

Dempsey, who works with Gil on his technique, said it's mostly a matter of footwork.

"He sets up on his heels, and he needs to get up more on the balls of his feet so he can make that pivot a lot quicker," Dempsey said. "The biggest part is learning to throw, and getting in position to throw, and he has that. There are just a lot of little, bitty things he needs to adjust."

Gil has thrown out 12 of the past 18 runners trying to steal against him, and Orioles manager Mike Hargrove continues to start him in the majority of the games. The Orioles are 6-21 when Fordyce starts at catcher and 44-34 with Gil starting behind the plate.

"It's been addressed with him, and it'll be addressed again," Hargrove said of Gil's passed balls. "He's a good athlete, and it's something we're working on."

Conine nears comeback

Jeff Conine, shelved since June 15 with a strained right hamstring, is closer to making his return. He had a setback right after the All-Star break, but Hargrove said Conine might be ready to test the hamstring by running the bases either today or tomorrow.

Once Conine proves he can run full speed without pain, he will begin a two- or three-day minor-league rehabilitation assignment, to get his timing back with the bat. So the Orioles could feasibly have Conine back in the lineup soon after they return from this 11-game homestand.

"He's doing well," Hargrove said this week. "We might have this thing licked."

Hairston's hot streak

Orioles second baseman Jerry Hairston's career-high nine-game hitting streak ended last night. During the stretch, he was hitting .455 (15-for-33) and had raised his average from .240 to .271.

"I was hitting the ball hard most of the season," Hairston said. "I just wasn't getting any hits. But I learned last season, you just have to keep going."

After splitting time at second base with Brian Roberts for six weeks, Hairston has started seven consecutive games and 12 of the past 13.

"Offensively, this is as good as he's been all year," Hargrove said.

Around the bases

The Orioles are still awaiting word on possible suspensions stemming from Sunday's benches-clearing brawl against the Boston Red Sox. Bob Watson, baseball's new disciplinary czar, didn't rule yesterday but could today. ... The Orioles signed fifth-round draft pick Hayden Penn, a right-handed pitcher from Santana (Calif.) High. He will report to rookie-level Bluefield today.

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