Gibbons secure in start at first

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Team shows confidence in him despite '04 injuries, drop-off in production

Baseball

February 24, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Assurances that he's the Orioles' starting first baseman bring some comfort to Jay Gibbons, but not as much as knowing he's got a job.

Any job.

It's apparent that Gibbons didn't feel very secure this winter after going on the disabled list twice last season with back and hip injuries, and hitting .246 with a career-low 10 home runs in 97 games. His RBI total fell from 100 to 47.

"I saw him as a coach, so I know what he's capable of doing," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "I see a big difference in the way he's swinging [now]. He just seems healthy. He was banged up last year and tried to play through it. He did what he could."

Said Gibbons: "They've seen the results in the past and they know last year was tough with the injuries. I just think, give me another shot and it's going to be fine."

Gibbons has moved to first base to make room for right fielder Sammy Sosa, who arrived in camp yesterday. Gibbons dressed quietly at his locker and grabbed his mitt, easily lost among a crowd of players who weren't getting quite the same attention as Sosa.

"It feels good to have a change of pace and try something else," he said. "Knowing I'm going to get most of the reps and get the full opportunity to be the first baseman is a good feeling. I think I just need a couple weeks to get comfortable with it."

Gibbons said he no longer experiences pain in his back and hip, and laser surgery has corrected his vision. He's seeing the ball better, just as his role with the team has become more clear.

"If I hit .200 again," he said, "it's because I [stink]."

Penn a good student

Being good enough to have an organization select him as its minor league Pitcher of the Year didn't bring a sense of entitlement to Hayden Penn. He's still a young prospect in his first major league camp, still humbled by the entire experience.

"It's a little intimidating," said Penn, who was a combined 13-5 with a 3.65 ERA at three affiliates, his season ending at Double-A Bowie.

"I met a few guys. Everyone was real nice and respectful, so it's not really hard to interact with people. But I'm just trying to take it all in, trying to keep my mouth shut and my ears open."

Penn has opened some eyes. Pitching coach Ray Miller already has singled him out on more than one occasion, and it's not inconceivable that he will receive a promotion to Baltimore later this summer.

For now, he's satisfied with being an attentive student, whether he's standing on the field or sitting at his locker.

"It's just the experience that comes from being around these guys every day," he said. "I want to see how they handle themselves, their work ethic. This is ultimately where I want to be. And I want to pitch well myself. It's not like I'm here for nothing. I want to make a good impression."

As for the possibility of making his major league debut this year, Penn said: "If I pitch well and prove myself, I don't see why not."

Diaz update

Outfielder Matt Diaz declined the Orioles' waiver claim and elected to become a free agent.

Diaz batted .190 in 10 games with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last September, and was Triple-A Durham's Player of the Year after hitting .332 with 21 homers and 93 RBIs in 134 games.

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