Sore back joins Gibbons' woes

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Slow-starting outfielder traces pain to mid-April

Lopez to start tomorrow

Notebook

May 19, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE - Orioles right fielder Jay Gibbons is slow to mention it because he hates making excuses, but one reason he's off to a slow start this season is a recent back injury.

Gibbons, 27, developed a sore back in mid-April, when the Orioles were visiting Toronto, and the injury has bothered him off-and-on ever since.

"It's been a little tough getting loose for a while," he said. "It's just one of those nagging injuries you just hope will go away."

Gibbons was hitting .278 on April 17 at Toronto, but his average dipped to .202 on May 3. Two hits last night lifted his average to .246.

"It's hard to hit when you've got a little stiffness in there, especially when you're facing a 97-mph fastball," he said before the game. "I've had games where it's felt good, and I haven't done anything, so it's not just that."

Overall, Gibbons has been less than pleased with his performance. A year ago, he was named Most Valuable Oriole after hitting .277 with 23 home runs and 100 RBIs.

He was one of the hitters who figured to benefit most from the offseason additions of Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez.

Gibbons isn't the only one who has struggled. Left fielder Larry Bigbie, who hit .303 last year, is batting .233, and center fielder Luis Matos (also .303 last year) is hitting .218 after going 2-for-4 last night.

"They really haven't gotten going yet, which is surprising to me," said Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli. "But I look at it as a positive because when they all get going, it's just going to increase the outcomes."

Tejada still limping

Tejada had a noticeable limp when he reached first base on an infield single Sunday, the remnants of the cramping in his right shin that forced him to leave the May 11 game at Chicago in the first inning.

But Tejada said it's nothing to worry about. Last night, he extended the majors' longest active consecutive-games streak to 629.

"Sometimes I feel it," he said. "But it [the limping] is not because I'm in pain, it's because I'm afraid [the cramps will come back]. ... I'm fine. I'm going to keep playing."

Lopez goes tomorrow

Erik Bedard will start tonight for the Orioles, and Rodrigo Lopez will make his first start of the season tomorrow.

Lopez, who had a side session yesterday in the bullpen, said he will probably be on a restricted pitch count. He didn't throw more than 54 pitches in any of his 12 relief appearances.

"I can't wait," said Lopez, who is 3-1 with a 0.33 ERA. "I'm pretty excited for it."

Riley tests shoulder

Matt Riley, who is eligible to come off the disabled list next Tuesday, resumed his throwing exercises yesterday before batting practice. He hadn't thrown since May 9, when he experienced soreness in his left shoulder.

Mazzilli said he isn't sure when the club will activate Riley or if he'll need to make a minor-league rehabilitation appearance. But Riley said he's still targeting next Tuesday. "I'll be ready," he said.

Hannaman update

Ryan Hannaman, a left-handed pitcher on the Orioles' 40-man roster, reported Friday to the team's extended spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla. He was 0-1 with an 8.03 ERA for Single-A Frederick and will be working with Dave Schmidt, the team's minor league pitching coordinator, trying to restore his mechanics.

"He's at a point where sometimes you've got to take a step or two back to take a step forward," said Orioles minor league director Doc Rodgers.

The comment was directed toward Hannaman, but it just as easily could have been directed at Kurt Ainsworth, another pitcher received in the trade that sent Sidney Ponson to San Francisco last July 31.

Ainsworth, who was 0-1 with a 9.68 ERA in seven starts for the Orioles, was shipped to Triple-A Ottawa, where he'll make his first start tomorrow.

Around the horn

Orioles pitcher Eric DuBose switched from No. 59 to No. 28. "I was never a big fan of 59," he said. "The only reason I stuck with it is I had done well with it last year." DuBose wore No. 28 at Mississippi State. ... Ottawa third baseman Jose Leon was named the International League's Batter of the Week after hitting .550 (11-for-20) with four home runs, three doubles and eight RBIs last week.

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