Sore back puts Mora on bench


He joins Roberts after fall at first

J. Lopez nearly ready to return


Third baseman Melvin Mora became the latest Orioles starter to miss a game due to injury last night when he sat out because of a strained back.

Mora sustained the injury when he stumbled crossing first base and took a hard fall Tuesday night. He stayed in the game and slapped the winning hit to left in the eighth.

But Mora's back hurt worse yesterday. "I just take one swing and not good," he said, grimacing.

Manager Sam Perlozzo said he wasn't sure when Mora would return.

"He tried to swing and couldn't do it so he's not available," Perlozzo said. "We were kind of hoping that he would be, but he gave it a shot and couldn't do it."

Mora's injury further weakened a lineup beset by the absence of leadoff man Brian Roberts and designated hitter Javy Lopez. The third baseman has thrived since Perlozzo moved him to second in the order, batting .370 and reaching base in 12 of 13 games. He's batting .297 with six homers and 18 RBIs overall.

"Anytime you lose one of your most productive players, it's a loss, especially when you're short," Perlozzo said. "You know, we'll go out and play the game anyway. We've got some guys who can still hit."

Chris Gomez replaced Mora at third base and in the second spot in the lineup.

Mora said he couldn't explain why he's gotten hot since moving up a spot in the order.

"I'm comfortable wherever he puts me," he said. "I don't do nothing different."

Mora's negotiations with the club on a three-year contract extension remain in limbo. He said he's not discussing the contract. Perlozzo said the negotiations haven't been a distraction.

"He promised it would not affect him," the manager said. "And I've totally stopped thinking about it."

Perlozzo said he'd love to see Mora sign an extension, because he's a good player. But he said he trusts the Orioles' front office to do what's best for the team.

J. Lopez almost ready

Lopez was 2-for-7 with a homer in a two-game rehabilitation stint for Double-A Bowie and is expected to return as soon as he's eligible to come off the disabled list on Saturday. The backup catcher and designated hitter was reluctant to go on the DL last weekend because he felt he was nearly ready to return from back spasms.

Lopez has struggled to start the season, batting .221 with one home run as he adjusted to not playing the field most days. Despite Lopez's back troubles, Perlozzo said he probably wouldn't hesitate to use the veteran to spell Ramon Hernandez at catcher.

"If he's ready to go, he's ready to go," the manager said.

Lopez is expected to rejoin the team today and take batting practice this afternoon and tomorrow.

Roberts still sore

Perlozzo said Roberts was recovering slower than hoped from a groin injury that has sidelined him since April 29.

The team wanted the second baseman to test himself by running yesterday, but he was too sore.

"They did a lot of strengthening and stretching yesterday," Perlozzo said. "He's moving a little slower than we kind of hoped."

Roberts is eligible to come off the disabled list on Monday.

Around the horn

Rookie Brandon Fahey had a career-high three hits for the Orioles last night, lifting his average from .222 to .281. ... Detroit's Magglio Ordonez went 2-for-4 with a single and a double, but his streak of hitting a homer in consecutive games ended at four. The last Tiger to homer in five consecutive games was Willie Horton in 1969. ... Hernandez will appear at the ESPN Zone downtown to sign autographs and answer questions between noon and 1 p.m. today. ... Daniel Cabrera will sign autographs at Sports Legends at Camden Yards from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow.

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