Shinsplints shelve Matos 7-10 days

Orioles notebook

Bigbie moves to center temporarily

Hairston hopes to return in 5 weeks

Baseball

March 06, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. - One day after losing leadoff hitter Jerry Hairston to a broken finger, the Orioles addressed another injury concern yesterday, this time with center fielder Luis Matos.

Early in camp, Matos has been bothered by shinsplints in his right leg, so the team decided to give him a seven-to-10-day break.

"Just to be on the safe side, we want to ease it down a little bit," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. "I don't know if you've ever had shinsplints, but they're annoying, and you don't want to turn it into anything more annoying than it is."

Matos, 25, enjoyed a breakout season last year when he got promoted from Triple-A Ottawa and played in 109 of the Orioles' final 117 games. But this marks the third time in the past four springs that he has missed time because of injuries.

With Hairston hurt, the Orioles simply plugged in Brian Roberts at second base yesterday against the Florida Marlins. But the Matos injury exposed an obvious weakness on the roster. The Orioles are thin in outfield depth, and yesterday's starter in center field was longtime minor leaguer Darnell McDonald.

Mazzilli said he'll move left fielder Larry Bigbie over to center with Matos out. Last season, when the Orioles released Gary Matthews, their original plan was to put Bigbie in center field for the rest of the season.

But Bigbie got hurt the day before Matthews got released, giving Matos the chance to make his mark.

Melvin Mora has also played center in the past, but Mazzilli said that isn't an option this spring. "He's my third baseman," Mazzilli said. "That's it."

Hairston optimistic

On Thursday, the Orioles said they expected Hairston to miss four to six weeks with his broken right ring finger. Yesterday, Hairston said he hopes to be back in the lineup in five weeks.

"Hopefully, I'll just miss a week of the [regular] season and be ready to play," he said. "I still plan to have a good season. In '99, Cal [Ripken] missed a lot of spring training, and he ended up hitting .330."

Ripken actually hit .340 in 1999. He went on the disabled list that season for the first two times of his career, and was limited to 86 games but set career highs for batting average and slugging percentage (.584).

Julio in waiting

Orioles closer Jorge Julio has yet to pitch after two exhibition games, and he isn't scheduled to do so until tomorrow. But the reason isn't injury-related.

Pitching coach Mark Wiley has been trying to get Julio to shorten his delivery time toward home plate to make it tougher for runners to steal bases off him. Julio used to take 1.6 seconds to deliver the ball home, but with a shortened stride, Julio hopes to reduce that time to 1.3 seconds.

"As long as we've got the time [early in spring training]," Wiley said, "we might as well use it."

Julio had a sore throwing shoulder last month, which forced him to stop pitching in winter ball. Yesterday, he said: "I'm fine. I feel good."

Tough sun

Bigbie lost a pop fly in the sun and wound up getting hit in the face, creating a moment that was a little scary but mostly funny for his teammates.

It happened in the second inning, as Marlins leadoff hitter Juan Pierre lofted a towering fly ball to left. Bigbie had his sunglasses above the brim of his cap, and as he camped under the ball, he never grabbed them.

The ball hit him on the forehead above his left eye, and his sunglasses went flying.

Orioles trainer Richie Bancells ran onto the field, with Mazzilli following him. They made sure Bigbie was OK, and ribbed him a little bit.

"I totally lost [the ball]," Bigbie said. "The ball hit a black spot and disappeared. My lenses went flying, and I had those birdies flying around my head. Mazzilli came out and I was smiling. He said I was killing him."

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