Gil is upset over his demotion to Ottawa

Orioles notebook

In call based on defense, team picks veteran Osik as backup to J. Lopez

April 01, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Geronimo Gil emerged from a meeting in Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli's office yesterday and crushed an aluminum garbage can with his bat, creating a noise that echoed through an emptying clubhouse.

Gil had just learned that the Orioles were optioning him to Triple-A Ottawa after picking veteran Keith Osik as the backup catcher to Javy Lopez. The news obviously didn't sit well with Gil, who hit .429 this spring, compared with .100 for Osik.

But in picking Lopez's backup, the Orioles were looking more for defense than offense, executive vice president Jim Beattie said. Mazzilli said he's planning to use Lopez as the designated hitter about once per week, so in that scenario his backup will start about 30 games this season.

Osik, 35, was the backup catcher in Pittsburgh behind Jason Kendall for seven years and spent last season in Milwaukee, where he split time with Eddie Perez and hit .249 with two home runs in 80 games.

Osik is a .235 career hitter.

"I think history shows that he hits," Beattie said. "He's not a .150 hitter. I think he'll hit something that will justify him playing a whole game. We're not that concerned. I think he does some things with the bat, hits behind runners, and handles it well enough that he won't be a big liability offensively."

Rick Dempsey, the Orioles' first base coach and catching specialist, said he likes the way Osik calls games and handles pitchers. This is critical for the Orioles, who have four starters in their rotation who have never pitched a full season in the big leagues.

"I think [Osik] gives us a solid backup," Dempsey said. "He's experienced in that role, so he's going to be a good blend with Javy. And I remember him in the National League, he was a nice little clutch hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates."

Gil was the Orioles' primary catcher in 2002, when he played 125 games as a rookie. He started on Opening Day last season but lost the job to Brook Fordyce and was sent to Ottawa in July.

A career .239 hitter, Gil had six hits in 14 at-bats this spring despite playing with an apparent injury to his left ring finger. Beattie said Gil didn't tell the team about the injury until yesterday, when he circled back into Mazzilli's office for a second meeting.

Gil will see a doctor this morning to determine the extent of the injury. The Orioles may wind up putting him on their major league disabled list.

"It's one of those tough things for young players. They want to play through injuries," Beattie said. "If he can't play, then obviously we'll DL him."

Other roster decisions

The Orioles also reassigned pitcher Rob Ramsay and infielder Eddy Garabito to minor league camp, leaving them with 34 players on their spring roster. They must trim to 25 players by Saturday night.

Beattie said he's fairly certain those 25 players are already in camp, meaning he doesn't expect to make a waiver claim or a trade before the season. The Orioles have been looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder for their bench, but Beattie said Marty Cordova still figures into their plans.

Cordova, who is recovering from Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery in his right elbow, will probably start the season on the 60-day disabled list, but Beattie said the club is hoping he's back by June.

Until next year ...

The Orioles finished the home portion of their spring schedule yesterday. In 14 home dates, they drew 82,683 fans, the most they have drawn in nine seasons at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

The average attendance of 5,906 was a high for the Orioles in Fort Lauderdale.

The club has agreed in principle to return to Fort Lauderdale for the next two springs, and the city is trying to secure state funds to build a new facility that would keep the Orioles here for another 15 years.

Hargrove honored

Former Orioles manager Mike Hargrove will throw out the first pitch before the Cleveland Indians' home opener on April 12. Hargrove, who guided the Indians to two World Series appearances (1995, 1997) as their manager, returned to the team this winter as a senior adviser.

"As silly as it might sound, I can't tell you the depth of this to me," Hargrove said. "I am really touched."

Baseball sections The Sun will publish two special sections in the coming days:

Tomorrow: Baseball 2004 will include a preview of the Orioles and a look around the majors.

Sunday: Opening Night will include a preview of the Orioles-Red Sox opener at Camden Yards.

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