Orioles notebook

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Hargrove goes on offensive to get Gil to become more defensive-oriented

Lapses behind plate cause concern for manager, who vows to `address' problem

Baseball

March 21, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. - Just when Orioles manager Mike Hargrove was convinced that Geronimo Gil's lapses behind the plate were in the past, his starting catcher allowed a run to score on a passed ball and struggled with other pitches in the dirt. The scene played out Tuesday in Viera, Fla. and Hargrove vowed to "address" the problem.

He still was doing it yesterday as Gil went through drills with first base coach Rick Dempsey in the bullpen about an hour before the Orioles' game against the St. Louis Cardinals, which ended in a 5-5 tie after 12 innings.

As a rookie, Gil led the American League with 19 passed balls last season, and he irritated Hargrove on Tuesday by allowing a Darwin Cubillan pitch to glance off his mitt in the ninth inning. It capped a bad day for Gil, who was much sharper yesterday.

"When Chief came into the game and had the difficulties catching, that concerned me," Hargrove said.

"He's worked very hard this spring. I think he's a better receiver this spring than he was all of last year. His energy level is certainly higher. All those good and positive thoughts are flowing, and all of a sudden he has a game like he did, you're caught between whether it's just one game, or are we getting back into that [stuff] again. I choose to think it was one game, until I see it the second time."

Gil's passed ball in Sarasota also cost the Orioles a run against the Cincinnati Reds. Again, it came on a pitch aimed directly at his mitt.

"It's tough to be perfect," Hargrove said. "But it's also hard to imagine how a catcher misses a ball in the air."

Site change

The Orioles' exhibition game against the New York Mets next Friday will be played in Fort Lauderdale instead of Camden Yards. Fans who purchased or received tickets can exchange them for any April game.

Ticket sales were slow for next Friday's game, which made it easier for the Orioles to change the location.

In a statement released by the team, vice chairman/chief operating officer Joe Foss said: "The severe weather conditions this winter hindered our ability to prepare the ballpark for this exhibition game as well as the season itself. Before more people purchased tickets for this game, we decided to have the teams play in Fort Lauderdale to allow our grounds crew, concessionaire and ballpark staff additional time to prepare Camden Yards for Opening Day on March 31."

Batista back in lineup

Tony Batista returned to the lineup after missing the past four games, but Melvin Mora didn't make the trip because of a sore throat.

Batista has been receiving treatment on his right knee, but he said a sore throat and fever caused him to be scratched from Saturday's game in Fort Lauderdale. Catcher Brook Forydce missed a week of camp because of swollen glands.

Among players expected to start on Opening Day, Batista had the fewest at-bats with 23 before yesterday. The Orioles have nine exhibition games remaining before opening their season on March 31 against the Cleveland Indians.

"It's important to get him at-bats, but I think we have plenty of time. I'm not real concerned about it," Hargrove said. "We've really been able to get a lot of our guys at-bats."

Batista singled twice yesterday.

Decision on Bigbie

Yesterday's game ended with Larry Bigbie still leading the club with 13 RBIs, two more than Jeff Conine. Will he be doing his bragging at Triple-A Ottawa?

The Orioles are reluctant to keep him as a reserve outfielder when he could be getting consistent at-bats in the minors. They want to do what's best for the club without stunting the development of a prospect.

"Common sense tells them Bigbie would be better served at Ottawa, with a likely call-up later in the summer. The stat sheet tells them he could be useful on the major-league roster.

"You have to look at everything and weigh the consequences of the decisions you make," Hargrove said. "Had [David] Segui not gotten hurt, then no matter what kind of spring Larry Bigbie had, it probably was a sure bet he'd be sent out. With Segui being hurt, that opens the door a little wider to where you have to consider Larry."

Tentative starter

Hargrove continues to list Sidney Ponson as the tentative starter for the third game. And he puts heavy emphasis on "tentative."

"If you write down that Sidney's going to be the three guy, that could be wrong," he said. "It's not written in stone that Sidney will start the third game. It very well could happen, but it may not."

Hargrove added that left-hander Omar Daal "probably" would follow Rodrigo Lopez in the rotation.

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