VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Will Eli Whiteside ever get another chance like this one?
Whiteside is the regular catcher in Orioles' camp, a status bestowed upon him by default. Ramon Hernandez, Javy Lopez and Geronimo Gil are playing in the World Baseball Classic. The vacancy sign is lit up.
After skipping Tuesday's trip to Fort Myers, Whiteside returned to the starting lineup yesterday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He singled in the second inning, lining a pitch from Chad Billingsley into center field, and singled again in the sixth to finish 2-for-3 and lift his average to .250 Whiteside also flied to the edge of the warning track in left field in the fourth inning, a significant at-bat because he was the first batter Eric Gagne faced since the Dodgers closer began experiencing elbow problems last June.
The single off Billingsley was only the second hit for Whiteside in 10 spring at-bats. He needs to make an impression, not outs.
That has always been a challenge for Whiteside, a career .244 hitter in the minors since the Orioles chose him in the sixth round of the 2001 draft. He's batted .231 against Double-A and Triple-A pitching.
"Obviously, I need to improve on my offensive part of the game, but I think it's coming around," he said. "I'm just trying to get more comfortable and more consistent at the plate."
It had better happen soon if he's going to have any sort of future with the Orioles. He's 26 and no longer the top catching prospect in the organization. That honor goes to Brandon Snyder, the club's first-round selection in last year's draft.
It would be natural for Whiteside to press, and to wonder if this opportunity will be his last. None will be this good.
"I don't think of it that way," said Whiteside, who appeared in nine Orioles games last season. "There are 29 other teams out there. I can come into camp, get an opportunity to show other teams what I can do. I'm just trying to take advantage of it."
Manager Sam Perlozzo wants to keep three catchers, which puts Whiteside in direct competition with Gil.
"It's a great opportunity for me to come out and show these guys what I can do," he said. "Coming into camp, I didn't know they would all be out, but I found out pretty early. I was just looking forward to it, and I tried to get ready for it. I'm just trying to go out and impress these guys."
Brower on Bonds
Orioles reliever Jim Brower was a teammate of Barry Bonds' for about 2 1/2 seasons in San Francisco, and he grew accustomed to the constant allegations hurled at the controversial slugger. So when Brower picked up a paper yesterday morning and read excerpts from a soon-to-be-released book that details extensive steroid use by Bonds, he barely flinched.
"It's ongoing," he said. "It's one of the things that I don't think can be answered yes or no. It's all speculation until he's caught. Of course, people are going to write stuff. It's newsworthy to some, and to others, it's just a waste of space. When I was there, there were still people that wanted to write books and stories that came out about it. It's like Rafael [Palmeiro]. Until something is proven, it's just `he said, she said.'"
Brower said that he doesn't think the steroid cloud will ever drift away from Bonds.
"Whether they prove it or not, it's always going to be a part of Barry Bonds," he said. "That's why he's going to have to deal with it. People love baseball, they love statistics. That's not going to change. That's the road that he hoed."
Brian Roberts took regular batting practice yesterday at Fort Lauderdale Stadium for the first time since his surgery, and he'll continue the routine as long as his repaired left elbow can handle it.
Roberts will continue to take batting practice separate from the team so he can go at a comfortable pace and have an easier time focusing and relaxing. Until yesterday, he had been hitting overhand tosses from hitting coach Terry Crowley at close range.
Around the horn
Trainer Richie Bancells passed along reports to Perlozzo on players taking part in yesterday's World Baseball Classic. Though Hernandez was hit on the hand and Miguel Tejada tweaked his knee, Perlozzo said everyone was OK. ... Melvin Mora said he watched all nine innings of Venezuela's game against the Dominican and had no regrets about pulling out of the Classic. "It was tough, especially when you see all the Venezuelan people there," he said. "But I already made my decision. I would love to be there, but I'm no center fielder."