Orioles' utility battle will be three-for-all

Gomez, Wilson, Stynes make it difficult choice for extra infielder job

March 12, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. - Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley predicted yesterday morning that Chris Gomez would have a big day against the Florida Marlins. He told a team official. He told anyone who stood near his locker.

Crowley stayed back in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., while Gomez made him look like a prophet. Then again, he could have chosen any of the utility infielders and seemed pretty smart.

Gomez singled twice and drove in two runs in the Orioles' 13-8 loss to the Marlins. He boarded the team bus with his average at .300 - and his place on the Opening Day roster no more assured.

Manager Lee Mazzilli has said his final decision will come near the end of spring training. He's not ready to choose among Gomez, Enrique Wilson and Chris Stynes, not when they are so determined to change his mind.

Stynes, who spent 2004 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, lined a double into left field as part of a seven-run second inning. Wilson, a part-time starter with the New York Yankees in 2004, had a two-run double and later scored on Sammy Sosa's sacrifice fly.

All three players were part of a watered-down lineup, with Gomez playing second base and later moving to shortstop when Wilson left the game. Stynes shifted from third to second.

Only Gomez is included on the 40-man roster, but that no longer seems like a big advantage.

The Orioles added Gomez after losing him in the Rule 5 draft in December and reacquiring him from the Philadelphia Phillies. Wilson and Stynes signed minor league deals and were invited to spring training, providing the sort of depth and competition that was missing in 2004.

"It's going to be a tough decision," Mazzilli said. "Nothing is set yet."

Mazzilli's first camp featured a not-so-intriguing battle between Luis Lopez and Clay Bellinger. Lopez stayed with the club all season and batted .182 with eight RBIs in 56 games. Bellinger hung around until the final cuts, never made it out of Triple-A and left the organization.

It could come down to a two-man battle again, since Stynes is only 2-for-15 so far. Wilson is batting .412 (7-for-17) with three RBIs. Gomez is 6-for-20 with three RBIs.

Wilson spent 3 1/2 seasons with the Yankees, and his pinstriped past gives him a strong link to Mazzilli, their former first base coach.

"I know what he can do," Mazzilli said.

Ankle and shoulder injuries prevented Wilson from holding onto the starting job at second base last season after the Yankees traded Alfonso Soriano. He'd settle for a utility role, knowing there's one waiting for him somewhere.

A scout from another organization said Wilson is getting a lot of attention from other teams. They're just waiting for the Orioles to turn him loose.

If Wilson becomes available, he won't be unemployed for long.

"I know I can play and I know I can make this team, but it's going to be their decision," he said. "Gomez and Stynes are good players, too, so it's going to be a good battle.

"I feel pretty good about myself right now."

Wilson had to swallow some pride while signing his minor league deal in January. It didn't go down easily.

"I was surprised but my agent called me and said that's the best offer he could get. I said, `OK, let's go,' " Wilson said.

"I was a little disappointed because the way I played all these years and nobody picked me up, nobody made me a better offer. I was a little concerned about that. But I know I can do the job."

Gomez exudes the same confidence. He isn't tracking Wilson and Stynes, isn't letting each of their at-bats consume him.

"I don't give it a second thought," he said.

Just like Wilson, he has no doubts that he'll be in the majors this year. In time, they'll both find out which organization. Someone has to stay, someone has to go.

"I'm getting ready for the season," Gomez said, "wherever that may be."

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