It's first things first for J. Lopez

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Defensive adjustment takes mind off hitting

effort lacking in O's loss

March 27, 2006|By ROCH KUBATKO AND JEFF ZREBIEC | ROCH KUBATKO AND JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTERS

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- To provide Javy Lopez with a rare day off, the Orioles told him to stay back in Fort Lauderdale yesterday and skip the long bus ride that preceded a game against the New York Mets. Stay back and do some hitting at the complex. And catch a few pitchers. And get in some work at first base.

Then get your rest.

Any break is appreciated by Lopez, who began spring training by participating in catching and infield drills, then went to the World Baseball Classic with Puerto Rico, and who continues to learn the nuances of playing first base as the exhibition schedule nears its conclusion.

"Mentally, it's wearing me out," he said. "It's something that has consumed my time and my mind. My biggest part in this game is to be able to hit. The fact that I have been working so much at first base has consumed some of the time I normally put on my hitting.

"But for the last few times I've been balancing stuff out, working on both things even though I still need to work a little harder defensively because I need to get better at the position. But I still need to work just as hard on my hitting because the season is about to start."

Manager Sam Perlozzo indicated yesterday that Lopez will be the starting first baseman on Opening Day. "I don't know of anything that would change that," he said.

With this in mind, Lopez must redirect his attention from the area that's made him a rich man in baseball. He must concentrate on what's happening 90 feet up the line from the batter's box.

"It's been a little bit of a distraction," said Lopez, who's 5-for-30 (.167) with a home run. "Hitting is not what my focus is on this spring training. My mind is on not being able to make a mistake at first base. I shouldn't think that way. I need to relax and just enjoy the game, instead of worrying about making a mistake."

Whether the Orioles carry a third catcher this season depends, in part, on Lopez's defense at first. If the experiment is a failure and he must be used more as the designated hitter, Perlozzo needs another option in case starter Ramon Hernandez leaves the game.

"I'm willing to DH once in a while," Lopez said. "When I say once in a while, I mean not being a full-time DH. I don't see myself DH-ing every day. I don't want to do that."

Lopez can control those decisions with his glove. And if he gains enough confidence at the position, which is coming along slowly, even after getting special instruction at the Classic from St. Louis Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo, who managed the Puerto Rican team.

"It's going to take a while," he said. "I'm not going to say that I'm 100 percent. It's going to take a lot of games, a lot of experience. ... But the most important part is, I don't have the fear of playing first base on Opening Day."

A short time later, a bus loaded with players pulled out of the complex. Lopez, given the day off, grabbed his glove and headed for the field.

"It's going to be a good day for him," Perlozzo said.

And a busy one.

Losing patience

The games still don't count, but Perlozzo won't tolerate the losing if it's accompanied by yesterday's effort.

The Orioles committed four errors in an 8-0 loss to the Mets, and they failed to get to some balls that went for hits. Perlozzo also was irritated that some players didn't run out ground balls.

"I'm not happy about it," Perlozzo said of the sloppy play. "I've had about enough. You can't just turn it on and off. They need to start kicking it into gear. This was probably our worst game of the spring."

Bad pitch, to first

Kris Benson's best fastball had plenty of movement on it. That's not a good thing when the throw is going to first base.

Benson gloved a scorching one-hopper from Xavier Nady with two outs in the third inning and runners on first and second. He paused as if to compose himself, turned and fired the ball past first baseman Kevin Millar. Carlos Beltran scored to give the Mets a 2-0 lead.

After the last out, Benson walked slowly to the dugout and threw his glove in disgust.

"The first [come-backer] of the spring," Benson said. "I threw a bullet over there and I didn't need to do it. It's a good reminder."

Julio one happy Met

Now a Met after the Orioles traded him in the offseason to get Benson, reliever Jorge Julio said yesterday that he looks back at the Orioles with mixed emotion.

He said that he'll always be grateful to the organization, where he pitched for five seasons, including three as the club's closer, though he also said that he's still "mad" about how he was treated in the final two seasons. Specifically, Julio, who collected 83 saves, said he was never able to get over losing the closer's role to B.J. Ryan.

"I never got a chance," Julio said. "[Lee] Mazzilli and Perlozzo never gave me the opportunity. I don't understand why they'd pitch me three innings one game and to one batter the next. In Baltimore, I never knew what my role was. It's 100 percent different here."

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