More humble Hidalgo happy to get O's shot

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Contract depends on his making team

J. Lopez's hard work gets him start at 1st

March 01, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Outfielder Richard Hidalgo took his physical and donned an Orioles uniform for the first time yesterday.

"I'm so happy to be here," Hidalgo said before hitting the field.

Hidalgo batted .221 with 16 home runs and 43 RBIs in 88 games for the Texas Rangers last season. He was used to being sought after posting big power seasons in Houston. But he didn't receive many offers after his struggles in Texas.

"My first time that it took so long to get into camp," he said.

Orioles vice president Jim Duquette had acquired Hidalgo before, when he ran the New York Mets. The 30-year-old could add power and defensive versatility to an Orioles outfield that was already crowded.

"He's going to do some things to make you notice," manager Sam Perlozzo said.

Hidalgo said he was grateful for the opportunity.

"I'm just excited they were thinking about me," he said. "I will appreciate that."

He signed a minor league deal that could pay him a $1 million base salary if he makes the team. Hidalgo said the uncertainty over his contract wasn't easy.

"I think about that a lot," he said. "A lot. It's not easy when you get in that position, that you have to think a lot [about] what you're going to do. That kind of contract, and you know what you can do, what you've done in the past - it's not easy. But I accept that."

Hidalgo, who has played all three outfield positions, could compete for at-bats with Kevin Millar, Jeff Conine, David Newhan, Luis Matos and Corey Patterson. Perlozzo said Hidalgo would probably fit into the mix at left field and designated hitter.

"I don't know what I'm going to play," said Hidalgo, who indicated he feels healthy after knee and wrist problems last season. "I've played a couple years in center field, but I don't know what I'm going to play here."

But Hidalgo said he's comfortable entering a clubhouse with so many fellow Venezuelans, including Melvin Mora and Ramon Hernandez, and a few former teammates in Kris Benson and Ricky Bottalico.

"It's good to be around a lot of Latin guys," he said.

Lopez on first

Perlozzo said Javy Lopez would start at first base in the team's first exhibition game tomorrow against the Florida Marlins.

Lopez has struggled at times during workouts, but Perlozzo said he's pleased with the career-long catcher's progress.

"Right now, we're just kind of flooding him with information and situations," Perlozzo said. "Actually, he looks pretty good."

The manager also praised Lopez's work ethic, saying: "If there's anybody who wants to do it, it's him."

Other starters

Perlozzo said the rest of tomorrow's lineup will feature Hernandez at catcher, Chris Gomez at second, Miguel Tejada at shortstop, Mora at third, Jay Gibbons in right field, Matos in center, Conine in left and Millar at designated hitter.

He said Matos will start over Patterson because left-hander Dontrelle Willis is expected to start for the Marlins. Rodrigo Lopez will start for the Orioles.

Position players participating in the World Baseball Classic are expected to leave after tomorrow's game.

Around the horn

Reliever John Parrish was expected to throw off a mound today for the first time this spring. But that date has been pushed back 10 days because Parrish is still recovering from elbow surgery in July. ... Setup man LaTroy Hawkins worked out early yesterday and then flew to his home in Texas to take care of personal business. He is expected to return tomorrow. ... A ground ball hit prospect Val Majewski in the mouth as he practiced at first base yesterday. Majewski washed his mouth and quickly returned to fielding practice.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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