O's make call: Gibbons out at first

Veteran could see time in left, but DH looms as principal duty

March 13, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun reporter

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- After a total of 10 spring innings and zero ground balls hit in his direction, Jay Gibbons is essentially finished competing for the Orioles' first base job.

At a meeting late last week, Gibbons and manager Sam Perlozzo agreed Gibbons should concentrate more on getting in work in left field rather than first base.

Though Perlozzo and Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan said Gibbons will still take ground balls at first base and the experiment isn't being totally scrapped, they acknowledged it is doubtful he'll play there regularly anytime soon.

"I did work hard at it in the offseason, but it became really clear to me a week and a half into camp that it was going to be pretty hard to win the position," Gibbons said.

"You have to play every day to get better. That's the bottom line. I didn't even get hit a ground ball. ... We have a few weeks to go here, and we have to start putting guys where they are realistically going to be. Sam thinks I have a better shot of playing left field than first base, I guess."

Gibbons, 30, fielded just one foul pop-up in two starts this spring at a position he hasn't played regularly since he was in the minor leagues. He has made six spring starts - two at first, two in left field and two at designated hitter. His last start at first base was Wednesday.

"If you're going to sit there every day and try to learn a position, it's very difficult for someone to get some action," said Perlozzo, who drew a comparison to the situation last spring with catcher Javy Lopez, who was trying to make the transition to first base.

"You need to have the repetitions because a lot of stuff is going to happen in a game. It was the same way with Javy. We felt like he was catching the ground balls OK, but in game situations, you have to be able to react."

Though it is no surprise Gibbons won't be playing first base when the regular season begins in three weeks, the decision still could have some ramifications for the Orioles' lineup. If 12 spring training games are any indication - and club officials have cautioned that no concrete roster decisions have been reached - it appears Jay Payton will be playing the majority of games in left field.

The Orioles wanted to get a look at Gibbons, Aubrey Huff and Kevin Millar in left, but only Gibbons has played more than one game there, while Payton, more of a known commodity defensively, has four starts in left.

Huff, who has played seven career games in left field, has gotten the majority of starts at first base. There is clearly some apprehension how he'd fare in left field.

If Huff, whom Flanagan acknowledged will play just about every day, is entrenched at first and Payton is in left, that could leave Gibbons and Millar, who has one hit in 12 spring at-bats and is likely out until the end of the week with a forearm injury, fighting for the DH at-bats.

"On March 12, I don't know how the number of bats are going to shake out," vice president Jim Duquette said. "All I know is that we have a couple of guys that give us flexibility in different ways, and there are a lot of factors, including injuries, that are going to play a part. We are getting way ahead of ourselves talking about this now."

Gibbons, who hit .277 with 13 home runs and 46 RBIs last year while being limited to 90 games because of injuries, said he felt comfortable at first base, but acknowledged that trying to learn it and left field was getting increasingly difficult. A natural right fielder who lost his position with last year's emergence of Nick Markakis, Gibbons started working out at first base in December.

"It wasn't a waste because it got me in shape and it got my hands going and all that," Gibbons said of his offseason first base workouts in Arizona with bench coach Tom Trebelhorn. "But I can't say it's not disappointing."

Gibbons said he was "curious" about what impact the decision will have. He has said several times in the past he is not comfortable as an everyday designated hitter, but that appears where he'll end up.

"It's a wait-and-see kind of thing. We'll see if [Perlozzo] puts me in left a lot or not," Gibbons said, measuring his words. "All I know now is we've pretty much eliminated one position and I'll concentrate on the other. I'd prefer to play the field, but if it's best for the team that I'm the DH, then I'll be the DH. I have no problem with that.

"I think people underestimate how hard it is to be DH, but I'm not going to say I can't do it. If it's my role, I'll work hard at it and I'll find a routine that will make it work."

Flanagan said the club is not looking to trade Gibbons, who signed a four-year, $21.1 million deal in January.

"If he's healthy, he has always been able to hit," Flanagan said. "I don't see any reason for that to stop."

Even if the Orioles were shopping Gibbons, one American League executive said there isn't a big market for him because of health concerns. Gibbons has spent significant time on the disabled list two of the past three seasons.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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