For J. Lopez, old becomes new


First baseman is back behind plate for day


VIERA, Fla. -- It was the same vantage point he's had for every game of his big league career, but crouching behind home plate yesterday was a bit strange for Javy Lopez.

"I had caught a little early in spring training, so it didn't feel that weird," Lopez said. "But when I made my first throw to second base, I was like, `Wow. It's been a while.' "

Lopez, who has caught in all but two innings of his 14-season career, is attempting to switch to first base this spring.

Arriving in mid-February with pitchers and catchers, he almost immediately began taking grounders at first. Since, he has played exclusively at first in the World Baseball Classic and during Orioles exhibition games. At least until yesterday.

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo wants Lopez to occasionally spell new starting catcher Ramon Hernandez during the season, so he put Lopez behind the plate yesterday.

Lopez caught all nine innings, and had no passed balls. The Nationals stole one base.

"It was good to see that he could jump right back there without doing it for a while," Perlozzo said.

Although he has made three errors at first, Lopez said he is becoming increasingly comfortable at the new spot. Now, he said, his biggest concern is making sure he begins balancing his practice time between offense and defense. He admitted that his offense has suffered while he focused on learning first.

After having one single in four at-bats yesterday, Lopez is hitting just .174 (4-for-23) with two RBIs and one extra-base hit in Grapefruit League games.

"It's been tough because practicing first base has pretty much consumed my time," Lopez said. "Normally, I'd be in the cage hitting, hitting, hitting. But this time I am with my glove out there trying to be a better first baseman. ... Now I need to balance defense and hitting."

Center-field battle

Two of the three players competing for the starting center- field job combined for six of the Orioles' nine hits in yesterday's 1-0 loss to the Nationals. Top prospect Nick Markakis had four hits, including two doubles, and Corey Patterson had two hits in two at-bats and stole a base.

Luis Matos was hitless in four plate appearances, and hit into two double plays.

"Markakis started out hot, started to cool and now it looks like he is getting hot again. And Corey Patterson had a couple of hits, too," Perlozzo said. "No matter what happens [Markakis] is certainly making things difficult. ... Decisions like this are always tough, but they are always better when you have to decide on good people."

Williams has strain

Reliever Todd Williams had a magnetic resonance imaging exam on his sore right calf Wednesday and Perlozzo said it has been diagnosed as a mild strain. He has been sent to minor league camp in Sarasota, Fla., and the team is hopeful Williams will be able to pitch there this month.

Perlozzo said it is likely Williams will have to start the season on the disabled list. But by having him pitch in minor league games in Sarasota, the club can back-date his trip to the DL, allowing him to be eligible to come off before the required 15 days.

O's to face P. Martinez

The Orioles will be the first team to face Pedro Martinez this spring. The New York Mets ace will make his spring debut Sunday against the Orioles in Port St. Lucie.

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