Daal gets nod to pitch season's 2nd game

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

He'll face Indians

pitcher in 3rd game still up in air

March 27, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Omar Daal, signed as a free agent in January to give the Orioles a left-hander in their rotation, will start the season's second game on Wednesday against the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards.

That's as far as manager Mike Hargrove would go yesterday in revealing his five-man rotation, which includes Opening Day starter Rodrigo Lopez, Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson.

It's still unknown whether Rick Helling or Pat Hentgen will pitch the third game. Hentgen's turn falls on that night because he's scheduled to start Saturday's final exhibition game against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium, but a late change remains possible.

Yesterday's original lineup against the Florida Marlins could duplicate the one Hargrove posts on Opening Day, including B.J. Surhoff batting third as the left fielder and Marty Cordova seventh as the designated hitter. Cordova was scratched yesterday because of back stiffness and replaced by Larry Bigbie.

With Surhoff in a slump -- his average has dropped to .245 -- and the Indians starting left-hander C.C. Sabathia in the opener, Hargrove could put right-handed hitting Melvin Mora in left field and keep Cordova as the DH. He confirmed yesterday that it's a possibility.

Two of Hargrove's four bench players are certainties barring a trade -- Mora as an extra infielder and outfielder, and backup catcher Brook Fordyce. That leaves five players for two spots, with Hargrove choosing from among Bigbie, infielders Brian Roberts and Jose Leon, and nonroster invitees John Valentin and Jeff Reboulet.

With David Segui likely to begin the season on the disabled list, Hargrove could keep Valentin as a pinch hitter who plays all four infield positions, and Reboulet as a defensive replacement. That would allow Roberts, Leon and Bigbie, who increased his team-leading RBI total to 15 yesterday with a two-run single, to get regular starts at Triple-A Ottawa.

"I'm still here, and I'm going to keep playing and see what happens," said Roberts, who's batting .213. "Talking to people, it seems like they still want me playing every day."

Hairston producing

Before going 0-for-4 yesterday, Jerry Hairston had a .365 average that ranked third on the club among players with at least 30 at-bats. His .431 on-base percentage put him first on that same list.

The experiment of making him a leadoff hitter was an initial failure last year, when Hairston was lowered in the order after a slow start, but he has been much more productive this spring.

The resurgence began during the second half of last season, when Hairston led the club in batting average and on-base percentage while regaining his place atop the order. And it has continued through the Grapefruit League schedule.

"I feel comfortable with it," he said. "I like hitting at the top of the order, whether it's first or second. I know a lot of people make a big deal about being the leadoff hitter, but to me it's really no big deal. It's a place in the order."

Hairston remains an aggressive hitter, but within the strike zone.

"You've got to have a plan," he said. "When you're aggressive, that doesn't mean you just go up there whaling away. You have to have a specific purpose, attack the strikes, whether it's the first pitch or the second pitch. The scouting report on me will be that you can't just lay it in there. You have to kind of nit-pick, and that's how you get your walks.

"I've been trying to do the same things I did for the second half of the season, and it's worked out. In baseball, you're going to have your ups and downs. The big thing is having an approach and sticking with it."

Gibbons feels `great'

When Jay Gibbons says his wrist feels "great," he can't put enough emphasis on the word. His voice rises so it can be heard over the clubhouse television.

"Great," he repeats, in case anyone missed it the first time.

The six weeks of spring training can be beneficial to players for varying reasons. In Gibbons' case, they proved he has recovered from the second and third surgeries on his right wrist that were performed after the season.

"I've had no problems," he said before crossing his fingers. "Going into the season, it feels really good. I'm real excited about it, actually."

Gibbons played through the pain last season, hitting 28 homers in 490 at-bats. Two sutures that hadn't dissolved from his first surgery, to remove a broken hamate bone, were pressing on a nerve. The wrist swelled after becoming infected, which required another procedure.

"It seems like it's all healed up and ready to go finally," he said. "It's going to feel strange going out there and only having to worry about a pitcher, and not having to worry, `Is my wrist going to fall off on this swing?' "

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