J. Lopez seeks to learn role

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Slumping veteran should start today

Conine looking to escape funk, too

April 16, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

Javy Lopez was not in the Orioles' starting lineup for the third time in four games yesterday, and the slumping veteran said he's growing confused about his role with the club.

"There is no chance for me to get back on track by not playing," Lopez said.

When asked if he was frustrated, Lopez said: "Uh, yeah, no doubt. The only way you can get out of a slump like that is by playing."

He said manager Sam Perlozzo has not told him why he's sitting.

Perlozzo told reporters he's trying to stick with hot bats when he can. Lopez is hitting .192 with only two extra-base hits in 26 at-bats.

"We're not pushing Javy on the back shelf by any stretch," Perlozzo said. "He's just going to have a couple days and then, bang, he's going to be in there again. Everyone that's struggling can't come out of it until they get in there. You try to pick and choose a little bit to see if you can get somebody going. That's just the way it's working out right now."

When asked if he could fix his problems in the batting cage or during batting practice, Lopez laughed.

"Not really," he said. "You need to face pitching. You need to face real pitchers out there. That's the only way you can get your timing back. In the batting cage and during [batting practice], you are the best hitter. There's no pressure, you've got the timing, everything is good. But once the game starts, it's a totally different situation."

Lopez would prefer to start at catcher, the position he has played for 13 years. But with Ramon Hernandez shining behind the plate, Lopez's opportunities will be limited. Perlozzo said Lopez will start at catcher today.

The team hoped to slot him at first base, but Lopez struggled with the transition during spring training and said he's not focusing on learning the new position right now.

Asked if he's content starting at designated hitter, Lopez replied: "To be honest, I just don't know what to think, what to say. It's been pretty complicated for me this year. My role on the team is unknown."

Perlozzo is attempting to find enough time for eight players among the three outfield spots, first base and designated hitter. Lopez, who is in the last season of a three-year deal, said he's trying to be patient through the uncertainty.

"I just focus on hanging in there," he said. " I'm just trying to survive this year."

Conine's struggles

Jeff Conine is another veteran struggling to find his hitting form. He homered on Opening Day, but that was his only hit in 20 at-bats before yesterday.

"You know you're going to get out of it eventually," Conine said. "You try not to press too much and to let things happen."

Perlozzo jumped to Conine's defense when asked if the outfielder-first baseman has entered a steep decline at 39.

"It's early for `Niner,'" he said. "He's got 20 at-bats or something. Guys go a lot more at-bats than that before they get it together and they can still play. I don't think there's anything that shows me Jeff can't still play."

Conine batted .304 with a .374 on-base percentage last season for the Florida Marlins, though he hit only three home runs, down from 14 in 2004.

Perlozzo has started him three of the past four days, and Conine said he appreciates the opportunities.

"It's the only way to get out of it," he said. "There's no way to simulate what you go through in a game."

Yesterday, he was 1-for-3, with a walk and a double into the left-field gap to drive in the team's first run in the fifth.

A long wait

Tim Byrdak may have dreamed that his first big league win would come in a start sometime early in his career.

But in the end, he was perfectly happy with a one-out stint in his 13th year as a professional. Byrdak recorded the last out in Friday night's game. And when Hernandez homered in the bottom of the ninth, he had his win.

The milestone came in his 93rd big league appearance. Only two pitchers have appeared more before winning.

Going to Bowie

Reliever Eric DuBose and catcher Raul Chavez cleared waivers and have been assigned to Double-A Bowie. childs.walker@baltsun.com

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