Perlozzo eyes Mora for No. 2 slot

Third baseman viewed as best option

Gibbons could inherit cleanup position

March 26, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Still unsure he has a better alternative, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said yesterday he is leaning toward opening the season with third baseman Melvin Mora hitting second, a decision that likely would move Jay Gibbons into the cleanup spot.

Perlozzo would prefer having Mora, who led the Orioles with 27 homers last season, bat third to maximize his run-producing ability, but at this point, the Orioles manager hasn't found a hitter he believes is a good fit for the second spot.

The troublesome spot in the order accounted for a .244 average and a .306 on-base percentage last season. Only the Orioles' No. 9 hitters, who accounted for a .243 average and a .316 on-base percentage, gave the club less production.

"I don't know if I have a true No. 2 hitter right now," said Perlozzo, who used Mora in the second spot yesterday for the fourth time in five games, and had even considered giving catcher Ramon Hernandez a shot there before deciding against it.

"I've asked [Mora] and he said, `I'll do whatever you want.' I think he likes 3, but he's willing to do anything. You like to get your best hitters up the most. I know Gibby likes hitting fourth."

If Perlozzo sticks to his tentative plan, that would give the Orioles a top five of Brian Roberts, Mora, Miguel Tejada, Gibbons and Javy Lopez. Perlozzo said Hernandez could hit anywhere from fifth to eighth.

"Hitting behind Tejada and in front of Javy - that's terrible," Gibbons joked. "[Perlozzo] asked me and I told him, `It's a heck of a lot easier than hitting ninth.' I'd love it. It means hitting with guys on base all the time. We've got great guys at the top of the order. It's fine by me."

Gibbons hit .304 in 69 at-bats from the cleanup spot last season. His best career numbers have come while he was fifth in the Orioles' lineup, and his offensive output rose dramatically last year when Perlozzo moved him up in the order after Lee Mazzilli was fired.

Despite preferring the third spot, Mora has been more productive batting second for the Orioles. Over the past three years, the third baseman has been a .326 hitter with a .407 on-base and .525 slugging percentage from the 2 hole. Hitting third, his numbers have been a .299 average, a .369 on-base percentage and a .503 slugging percentage.

Mora said hitting second, where he'd likely be asked at times to sacrifice at-bats to move runners over, can have a negative effect on his numbers, but he's not concerned.

"Sometimes, it can hurt a little bit if you need to sacrifice an at-bat to move the guy over," Mora said. "But the thing is, it's not about average; it's about getting your job done. It's about winning. ... That's what I think about."

Mora was adamant that he did not want to be shuffled from one slot the other in the order. He grew tired of Mazzilli's habit of doing that last year, comparing it to his former role as a utility player, where he'd play a different position almost every day.

"I don't like moving back and forth, back and forth," the two-time All-Star said. "It's tough to concentrate. But like I said, I don't make the decisions. The manager makes the decisions. I'll do exactly what he wants me to do."

Perlozzo said he doesn't anticipate much movement in the top of his order. He has considered allowing veteran Jeff Conine, who hit .324 last year in 102 at-bats for the Florida Marlins, to hit second, but he prefers his No. 2 hitter to have a little more speed and be able to score from first base on hits in the gap.

"He would probably have no problem doing that for me and the team, but you're kind of asking a guy that has been a little bit different type hitter to do something that he's really not done his whole career," Perlozzo said. "If we get to that, we'll try it, but I don't know we're there yet."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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