Gibbons returns to 1st with Palmeiro DH

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Veteran leaves bench, but not to play first base, meets again with Mazzilli

August 30, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas - One day after being benched against a left-handed starter, Rafael Palmeiro served as the Orioles' designated hitter yesterday while Jay Gibbons moved to first base.

Gibbons was told a few days ago to start taking ground balls at first. The team had to mail his glove overnight because he stopped traveling with it.

"I just do what I'm told," he said. "I don't ask questions."

A first baseman when the Orioles acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays as a Rule 5 pick in December 2000, Gibbons made only one start at the position in the first 134 games last season. He received 10 starts in September after Jeff Conine was traded.

"I always said that if I played first on a regular basis, I'd be fine. It's just a matter of getting used to it again," he said. "We'll see how it goes. I don't know what their plans are."

Manager Lee Mazzilli indicated that he wants to evaluate Gibbons at first, along with some other players, including Jose Leon, who started Saturday. He also said he expects Palmeiro to make most of the starts there, including tomorrow night against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field.

"Raffy's still playing first," he said. "Against left-handers, we'll see."

Palmeiro is batting .249 after going 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI in a 7-6 victory over the Texas Rangers. He met with Mazzilli in the manager's office for the second straight day.

"We just talked about a couple things," Mazzilli said. "He just said how his year was going. He's frustrated because he has a lot of pride in himself. He wants to do well, and he's trying to figure out how to get it back. We're just trying to find that mixture.

"He's not angry, he's frustrated."

Palmeiro made it clear in the past that he wants to play first base, and he was unhappy in Texas last year when the Rangers began using him as the designated hitter to open a position for Mark Teixeira (Mount St. Joseph).

"It's not the ideal thing," Palmeiro said of being the DH. "I can do it, but I'd rather play first base."

Palmeiro said he has been given no indication of how he'll be used during the final month of the season, either in the field or against left-handed pitchers, who have held him to a .184 average.

"I anticipate being at first base," he said. "That's why I decided to come to Baltimore, because they wanted me to play first base every day."

A $4.5 million option kicks in next season if Palmeiro plays 140 games in the field. He's at 117 this year, including 115 starts. Yesterday marked only the fifth time he has been the DH.

Asked whether the clause in his contract becomes an issue next month if the team keeps him off first base, Palmeiro said: "You have to ask them that. It's not an issue for me. Ask them if it's an issue for them. I'm not the one that decides to play me at DH or not play me. They're the ones who make the decision. See if it's become an issue for them."

Team officials have stated that the option isn't a consideration when determining Palmeiro's placement in the lineup.

Chen keeps hopes up

As Bruce Chen was busy lowering the team's ERA in his first start with the Orioles last week, he also raised the bar considerably.

Chen knows a lot is expected of him tomorrow after he tossed seven scoreless innings Wednesday in Oakland. "But I'd rather pitch that way," he said.

"I was glad to see that I was pitching the same way as I did at Triple-A. Most people tell me that if you throw strikes and change speeds, no matter where you're pitching, you'll be successful."

He has probably lost count of all the places he has been, since the Orioles are Chen's eighth major league team - and the sixth since 2002. He began this year in the Toronto Blue Jays' system.

"I'm tired of moving around," he said. "Maybe this team will be good for me."

Bigbie bound for Frederick

With his bags packed and his health intact, outfielder Larry Bigbie slipped out of the visiting clubhouse yesterday and headed to Single-A Frederick for two days' worth of rehabilitation games.

On the disabled list since Aug. 16 with a strained right groin muscle, Bigbie is scheduled to play tonight and tomorrow before rejoining the Orioles for their series against Tampa Bay.

He's eligible to come off the DL tomorrow, but the Orioles will wait until rosters expand Wednesday.

"I feel fine," said Bigbie, who ran for the first time Saturday. "I just have to wait these days out."

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