Knee to keep Gibbons at DH


Decision to put him at first base on hold

Britton needs 2nd pitch


Boston -- Orioles designated hitter Jay Gibbons doesn't feel healthy enough to play the field and said that's reason enough to discount rumors that he'll be tried at first base in the near future.

He described the health of his sprained knee as up and down and said he's facing enough of a struggle starting at designated hitter.

"It's hard for it to heal," Gibbons said. "It's hard for me to build leg strength while I'm playing. They told me it's going to be this way for the rest of the year."

Gibbons has taken ground balls at first since he returned from the disabled list. Nick Markakis' success in right field has fueled rumors that Gibbons might return to the position he struggled to master earlier in his career. He has said he wouldn't be comfortable as a full-time designated hitter.

Manager Sam Perlozzo said Saturday that he has no plans to use Gibbons at first this season. That's fine by Gibbons. "If he told me to play first base today, I'd say, `I'm sorry. I can't,'" he said.

"That's not even an issue right now," he continued. "It's a non-factor. ... We haven't even talked about it."

Gibbons, who went 0-for-5 yesterday to drop his average to .274, said the knee injury might also have robbed him of power at the plate.

"My legs are really weak," he said. "I'm maybe not getting the rotation and getting my legs into it, but my swing still feels really good."

He doesn't expect the knee to improve until he rests it for a long stretch of the offseason. The sprained ligament limited him to playing in two games from May 26 to July 29.

Britton's learning curve

Chris Britton has been the Orioles' most consistent middle reliever for several months and, as such, one of the club's most pleasant surprises.

But his four-run inning against the Boston Red Sox on Saturday highlighted a flaw in his arsenal, Perlozzo said.

"I think what we've seen recently on him is that he doesn't have another pitch that he can get over," the manager said. "If you're straight fastball, fastball, fastball, sooner or later, if you don't mix something in and get somebody out and get them off your heater, they're going to time you and they're going to hit you."

Britton has shown a decent breaking ball during his best outings but has abandoned it lately, Perlozzo said. If he doesn't sharpen that pitch or add a changeup, he may never be accepted as a setup man, capable of pitching in the tightest spots.

"Not unless he comes up with another pitch or two," Perlozzo said. "You can be a two-pitch pitcher and do something like that, but if you're a straight fastball guy and you're not throwing more than 96 or 97 mph, then you better have something else to get them off your heater."

Despite Saturday's poor outing, Britton has a 3.38 ERA. His control - 14 walks in 45 1/3 innings - may be the best in the Orioles' bullpen. That's all fairly outstanding for a guy who'd never pitched above Single-A before this season.

"The good thing about him is he usually pounds the strike zone," Perlozzo said. "And he has a little jerky delivery that seems to keep them off of him."

J. Lopez sitting there, too

Former Orioles catcher Javy Lopez was out of the Red Sox lineup for a second straight game yesterday. Lopez had two hits against the Orioles on Friday, extending his streak of multi-hit games to three. But backup Doug Mirabelli was a hero Saturday with a game-tying home run, and he started again yesterday, delivering his sixth home run.

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