MRI on Gibbons shows knee bruise

Orioles notebook

Minor injury shows need for depth

team looking for right-handed bat off bench

Baseball

March 30, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Orioles received a subtle reminder about the importance of depth yesterday, when right fielder Jay Gibbons had his right knee examined after banging it against a wall.

Gibbons suffered the minor injury Saturday and played four innings Sunday. But as a precaution, he underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam yesterday to check his right patella.

The MRI showed no structural damage, just a bruise. Gibbons was not on the trip as the Boston Red Sox pounded the Orioles, 8-3, but the team said he would have played if it was the regular season.

Even so, the injury exposed one of the team's primary concerns as it prepares to make its final roster decisions later this week: What happens if one of the starting outfielders gets hurt? With Gibbons out, manager Lee Mazzilli used B.J. Surhoff in left field and moved Larry Bigbie from left to right.

Surhoff, 39, has emerged as the team's fourth outfielder, and while he was as dependable as a player could be earlier in his career, he made two trips to the disabled list last season. He's also a left-handed hitter who will compete for at-bats with Jack Cust and the switch-hitting David Segui.

What the Orioles really want is a right-handed-hitting fourth outfielder. According to major league sources, they had discussions this spring with the New York Mets about Shane Spencer. But after trading Timo Perez to the Chicago White Sox this past weekend, the Mets plan to use Spencer in a right-field platoon with fellow former Yankee Karim Garcia.

Teams will begin putting players on waivers tomorrow in preparation for their final roster cuts, and the Orioles will be scanning the wire closely for right-handed-hitting outfielders.

"I think every team has to look into that," Mazzilli said of the waiver wire. "If something pops up, right away you've got another piece out there that you might want to put into the puzzle."

Finding another right-handed bat is a bigger priority than finding a utility infielder who can fill in for Mark McLemore until he returns from arthroscopic knee surgery.

For now, the Orioles seem content to enter the season with Clay Bellinger or Luis Lopez in the utility role. Mazzilli said he's still optimistic McLemore can return by mid-April, though chances are he'll be out until May.

"If we're looking a week or two into the season, we're OK," Mazzilli said. "... I can't give you who it's going to be [Bellinger or Lopez], but I think we've got the guys to do it. In case of emergency, I think we've got guys to fill the holes."

Mazzilli's right-handed-hitting options off the bench are slim. The candidates would include Segui, Lopez (also a switch-hitter), Bellinger, Jose Bautista and backup catcher candidates Keith Osik and Geronimo Gil.

Segui still feels more pain in his surgically repaired wrist batting from the right side than the left side. Bautista, a Rule 5 draft pick who must stay on the roster or be offered back to the Pittsburgh Pirates, has never played above Single-A.

Still, the Orioles aren't desperate to upgrade the bench, primarily because of the confidence they have in their everyday lineup. If the starting nine stays healthy, the others won't play much.

"I don't see many guys you're going to pinch hit for in this lineup," Mazzilli said.

Concerns for Martinez

Two major league scouts who have been following the Red Sox closely this spring said they have noticed a distinct drop in velocity for Pedro Martinez, who is scheduled to start Sunday's season opener against the Orioles at Camden Yards.

His fastball has registered 95 mph in the past, but in Thursday's start against the Minnesota Twins, Martinez was throwing 86 to 91 mph.

Even more alarming for Boston, scouts have noticed Martinez using a lower arm angle on his pitches, which has made him less effective. Often when a pitcher has a shoulder injury, he finds a different arm angle to throw with less discomfort.

Segui noticed a different arm angle from Martinez on March 14, when the three-time Cy Young Award winner allowed an uncharacteristic three walks in two innings.

So far, Martinez and the Red Sox have played down the talk about his velocity. For the spring, Martinez is 1-0 with a 4.15 ERA, spanning 13 innings.

One of the scouts who noted the difference with Martinez added: "[Derek] Lowe is throwing better than I've ever seen him throw. [Curt] Schilling, too."

The Orioles will face Schilling and Lowe, respectively, in the second and third games of the season.

Around the horn

In its latest issue, Baseball America ranked the Orioles' minor league system 18th among the 30 big league organizations. The same publication had ranked the Orioles dead last in 2003, 29th in 2002 and 27th in 2001. ... With two home dates remaining, the Orioles are on pace to break their spring attendance record at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Through 12 dates, they have averaged 6,085, up from 5,390 last season and up from their previous high of 5,507 in 2001.

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