KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Orioles right fielder Jay Gibbons can remember how the bat felt in his hands two years ago.
"It was like a toothpick," he said.
Three wrist surgeries later, Gibbons has moments at the plate these days when the bat feels like an unwieldy foreign object. He's leaner now, not quite as strong. Each day, it's a constant battle getting comfortable in the batter's box.
"I don't have the strength physically that I've had the last couple years," Gibbons said before going 5-for-9 with a home run, three RBIs and four runs scored in last night's doubleheader. "I'm totally healthy, but I have a completely different body. I'll be fine. I just have to get used to it."
Gibbons had 15 home runs as a rookie in 2001 before he broke the hamate bone in his right wrist. He had surgery but played most of last season in pain because surgeons inadvertently left a suture pressing against a nerve in his wrist.
So after hitting 28 homers last year, Gibbons had more surgery, and doctors had to go back a third time when an infection formed inside the wound.
Instead of spending four months lifting weights during the offseason, Gibbons was limited to one month.
In 2001, Gibbons averaged one home run every 15 at-bats. Last year, it was one homer every 17.5 at-bats.
Entering the second game of last night's doubleheader, Gibbons was averaging one homer every 32.5 at-bats.
He had been stuck on four home runs since April 23 until he connected for a two-run shot off Runelvys Hernandez in the sixth inning of Game 2.
He went 4-for-5 in Game 1, hitting a ball off the top of the left-field wall for a double in the eighth inning.
Gibbons has taken to studying videotape from 2001 and even 2000, when he was in Double-A.
"My swing is totally different," he said. "Now I'm just trying to find something that feels comfortable."
If he sounds despondent, that's not the case. He's much happier this year because he's playing without pain. He had a brief scare Wednesday against Detroit, when he took a hard spill onto the Camden Yards warning track trying to catch Shane Halter's inside-the-park home run.
Gibbons hit his head against the padded wall, skinned his right knee and - gulp - strained his right wrist.
"Right when I did it, I was extremely concerned because I couldn't squeeze my glove," he said. "I still feel a little stiffness in there, but it's nothing that's going to make me play worse."
Lopez progressing slowly
Rodrigo Lopez is eligible to come off the disabled list May 17, but his strained left oblique muscle is still healing. Lopez tried playing some light catch on Wednesday and reported slight pain in his side.
"To tell you the truth, I'd be a little surprised if he's ready in 15 days," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "But he may be ready to go on a rehab assignment then."
Lopez, who is 0-3 with a 7.36 ERA, will make at least one minor-league rehabilitation start before rejoining the Orioles' rotation.
Hargrove was more confident that B.J. Surhoff (strained right hamstring) will be ready to come off the DL when he's eligible on May 19. The Orioles are off that day before beginning a three-game series in Anaheim.
Game 2 lineup
Hargrove switched catchers for Game 2, giving newcomer Robert Machado his first start as an Oriole after using Geronimo Gil in Game 1.
Machado joined the roster when Brook Fordyce went on bereavement leave after his father's death. Fordyce will rejoin the club in Chicago on Tuesday.
Machado made a throwing error that led to an unearned run in the second inning. He went 1-for-4 at the plate with a single.
After using Gary Matthews in the No. 2 spot for Game 1, Hargrove moved him back to his No. 8 spot in Game 2, putting Melvin Mora in the second slot.
Mora started at shortstop.
Kansas City Royals center fielder Carlos Beltran, who hurt his right shoulder last week in Baltimore, was the designated hitter in both ends of yesterday's doubleheader.
He hopes to return to the outfield today, but Royals manager Tony Pena wasn't sure that would happen.