Gibbons returns to pivotal place

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Injury in Anaheim started him on downward course

Penn in 'pen

September 05, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN REPORTER

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The last time the Orioles were at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, the course of Jay Gibbons' season changed dramaticaly.

On May 26, Gibbons ran into the rail in foul territory in right field, trying to stop Vladimir Guerrero's hard liner that ultimately resulted in a game-winning, inside-the-park, two-run home run.

That night, the Orioles lost a game, a key bat in the middle of their order, and Gibbons lost his starting right-field spot for the rest of this season and possibly for the future.

"Every once in a while it goes through my head," Gibbons said before the season opener last night in Anaheim. "I remember [the inning before] having a runner on third with one out and it was a tie game. I remember thinking, `If I get that guy in, I am not out there because I'd be defensive replaced.' I think of stuff like that."

With Gibbons out for a total of 4 1/2 weeks - he returned in mid-June to play two games but aggravated the injury and went back to the disabled list - Nick Markakis moved to his natural position in right field and upgraded the Orioles' defense.

The club, cognizant of Markakis' early struggles in left field, has no plans to move the rookie to accommodate Gibbons. That means Gibbons, assuming he'll back with the Orioles next season, will have to learn to accept the designated hitter's role or make the transition to first base.

"They haven't told me a thing," he said. "They should thank me for getting hurt to show how good of a player he is, or Markakis, at least, should thank me. I am really glad that he has blossomed. The bottom line is winning and to get a guy like him to do what he has done, you automatically get another hitter for next year and you don't have to pay him anything. It's almost like a free agent signing."

If he can't play the outfield, Gibbons, 29, would prefer playing first, although some organization officials aren't convinced that he is athletic enough there.

"If they go out and sign two big bats, guys who are going to play the field, I've got no problem being the guy in the DH role," said Gibbons, who didn't rule out playing winter ball if he is asked to change his position. "But if they don't, I expect to play the field. I am going to work my tail off in the offseason and I'll be ready."

Penn could be used in relief

A day after Hayden Penn managed just two outs in his 2006 Orioles debut, manager Sam Perlozzo said that he could use the rookie in the bullpen the next few games just to get him some work.

Penn hadn't pitched in eight days when he took the mound on Sunday in Oakland and gave up eight earned runs and eight hits. He is expected to start Sunday's series finale against the New York Yankees at Camden Yards, meaning that the 21-year-old would have pitched just twice in a 16-day span.

"[Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan] and I are still talking about what we are going to do there," said Perlozzo. "With Hayden only going two-thirds of an inning, you don't want to see it happen, but you almost feel like you have to get him in the game."

Britton returns after shaky stint

Despite struggling after his demotion to Double-A, rookie reliever Chris Britton was recalled before last night's game. Sent down to work on his off-speed stuff, Britton allowed four earned runs, six hits and three walks, while striking out six in 4 2/3 innings for Bowie.

"You've got to care about the results, but I wasn't really throwing to my strengths," he said. "I was trying to work more toward getting better, but you've always got to look at the numbers. ... It felt like I was going backward."

Infirmary report

On the day Ramon Hernandez returned to the lineup after missing four straight starts with a strained muscle in his right side, Perlozzo had other injury concerns. The club had to send reserve catcher Chris Widger back to Baltimore to be examined by team doctors.

LaTroy Hawkins aggravated a groin injury in Texas but said he is available to pitch. And Corey Patterson (strained right shoulder) is out for the rest of the trip.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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