All signs go for Gil on road to becoming solid catcher


Dempsey likes progress in trapping balls in dirt

April 14, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- The Orioles still get frustrated with catcher Geronimo Gil's defense sometimes, but first base coach Rick Dempsey is convinced Gil has a chance to win a Gold Glove this season.

Dempsey is a decent authority on the subject, considering only 13 players in major league history have caught more games than he did. Gil has been doing extra work with Dempsey, trying to decrease the number of balls that get past him in the dirt.

"I'm looking for him to be a contender for the Gold Glove," Dempsey said. "The toughest part about being a catcher is throwing the ball, and he can throw. We just need for him to be consistent catching the ball, and he's been pretty good so far."

FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's editions, the winner of last year's American League Gold Glove for catchers was reported incorrectly. The winner was Bengie Molina of the Anaheim Angels. The Sun regrets the error.

Awarded to one player at each position in both leagues, the Gold Glove might be a stretch, even with 10-time winner Ivan Rodriguez playing in the National League this year. Last season, Anaheim Angels catcher Benji Gil won the American League Gold Glove, throwing out 32 of the 75 runners (42.7 percent) who tried to steal on him.

Gil was second best in the AL at 36.3 percent (33 of 91). For the Orioles, that changed the entire complexion of their defense after Brook Fordyce struggled to stop the running game in 2001.

The difference between Gil and Izzy Molina, at Triple-A Ottawa, isn't throwing. Molina had five passed balls last year; Gil had 19. Among major league catchers, only Cincinnati's Jason LaRue had more, with 20.

Gil has one passed ball this season, and there have been other lapses, but on April 5 at Camden Yards, he looked like a hockey goalie, going to his knees to make several key saves in a tense, 2-1 game.

"I need to play every game like that," Gil said. "Last year, I had a lot of problems blocking balls, but I feel good right now because I've been working hard with Dempsey."

Dempsey also pointed to April 5 as a telling performance for Gil.

"He missed every one of those [balls in the dirt] last year," Dempsey said. "He's done a great job. I'm very happy with him. He was never taught by anybody -- they just put the equipment on him because he could throw. He realizes there's a lot of improvement still to be made."

Conine injury spurs shuffle

Jeff Conine missed his first game yesterday after being hit on the left funny bone with a pitch by Red Sox reliever Steve Woodard in the sixth inning Saturday. The pitch was a 78-mph curveball, but it landed on Conine's ulnar nerve and caused so much swelling he couldn't fully extend his elbow.

The Orioles are off today, and Conine said, "I should be fine by Tuesday, I would think."

With Conine out, manager Mike Hargrove moved right fielder Jay Gibbons to first base and started B.J. Surhoff in right for the first time this season.

Boston caught a break in the sixth inning when Trot Nixon hit a double that bounced off the heel of Surhoff's glove. Nixon later scored.

It was a tough play because Surhoff was running back toward the right-field wall.

"I should have caught it," Surhoff said.

Crash-test fielder

Gibbons crashed into the right-field wall again Saturday to catch a fly ball from Johnny Damon. Gibbons was shaken up a bit on the play, but stayed in the game. The Orioles hold their breath each time Gibbons heads toward that wall, but Hargrove isn't encouraging him to stop.

"He's young and strong," Hargrove said. "You don't like to see people running into walls, but he's been making the plays. He doesn't do it for show."

Swinging early, often

Orioles shortstop Deivi Cruz started the season by putting the ball in play 37 consecutive times, with no walks and no strikeouts, before he struck out twice in Saturday's 13-6 victory.

Cruz has always been a free swinger. He's averaged 15.2 walks a season in his six-year major league career. After going 0-for-3 yesterday, he's still looking for his first walk and batting .209, but Hargrove said, "He's hit the ball harder more consistently than anybody on our ballclub."

Around the horn

Tony Batista went 4-for-7 in the two-game series against Boston. ... David Segui had three of the Orioles' six hits yesterday and is batting .375.

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