It's tiring time for ill Gibbons

Oriole itches to return, but fatigue is companion as season draws nearer

March 21, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - His mind tells him to play. His body says it's a little too soon. The argument has a predictable winner.

Orioles first baseman Jay Gibbons hasn't appeared in a game since March 12, before he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He tried to talk his way into yesterday's lineup, a nice effort that didn't bring the desired result.

"They weren't having it," he said.

The plea came one day after Gibbons mustered enough strength to take batting practice while the team traveled to Fort Myers, Fla. He had been a virtual shut-in, confined to his condo under doctors' orders. The chance to venture outdoors, to be surrounded by something other than his bedroom walls, brought much appeal.

It also left him exhausted.

"I went home and fell asleep for about five hours after five rounds of BP," he said. "It's going to be a little bit slow getting to full strength energy-wise. I felt fine hitting, but I was a little fatigued afterward.

"I've never had this before, so I'll just play it by ear."

The Orioles are off today, their complex locked and the clubhouse kept empty. Gibbons could be cleared to play tomorrow, perhaps as the designated hitter. He's hoping to return no later than Thursday, which would give him 10 games to get ready for the April 4 opener at Camden Yards.

"Time's starting to run a little short," he said, "and I've got to start getting into some games pretty quick."

In the meantime, Gibbons took batting practice again yesterday and fielded some grounders. He can't run, not with traces of the pneumonia still in his body.

"I'm still in the process of getting rid of it," he said.

This is new health territory for Gibbons.

Since the Orioles signed him as a Rule 5 draft pick in 2000, he's dealt with a broken hamate bone, a suture in his wrist that wouldn't dissolve, back and hip pain, and vision that was corrected with laser surgery. But pneumonia? He didn't have a clue.

Gibbons thought he had a touch of the flu, a logical assumption given the cough and how a few of his teammates were ill. He wasn't congested, but a chest X-ray taken nine days ago showed that one of his lungs had become clogged.

"I stayed in bed for four days. I couldn't move," he said. "Once they gave me antibiotics, of course, I got congested."

No longer able to tolerate his confinement, Gibbons stopped by the stadium on Thursday while the Orioles were in Jupiter, Fla. Rummaging through his mail beat the alternative.

Listening to an eight-hour insurance seminar would have beaten the alternative.

"I just had to get out and get around," he said. "You can only watch so much TV."

Unable to eat, Gibbons estimated that he lost about 7 pounds. He's still packed in muscle. It's just a bit leaner.

"I've got my appetite back now and I think I put on a couple pounds already," he said. "That's the main concern, putting weight back on real quick."

That's not the only worry.

Gibbons is expected to start at first base after the club failed to sign free agents Richie Sexson and Carlos Delgado. He's more comfortable in right field, and spring training was supposed to get him re-acclimated to the infield.

Including an intrasquad game, Gibbons has played 32 innings at first since camp opened.

"I'm a little more worried about that than actually hitting," said Gibbons, who's batting .421 in seven games. "I'd like to get back out there."

Maybe by tomorrow. Maybe a little later in the week. As long as he's out of bed and moving again.

"That's a hard call," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "Pneumonia can linger and linger. Today he was fine, but toward the end of the day, he gets a little tired."

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