Hernandez gets in work at first base

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Once season begins, catcher expected to stay behind plate

Notebook

March 17, 2007|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN REPORTER

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez glanced at the lineup card yesterday morning, walked to Aubrey Huff's locker and borrowed his mitt. He knew exactly where to go.

Hernandez made his spring debut at first base, with Paul Bako working behind the plate in the Orioles' 16-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins.

"It's fun once in a while," Hernandez said. "When you start the game, you don't have to worry about how you're going to call the game. You just stretch, get loose and play. It's totally different when you're a catcher. You get loose, you're thinking about what you're going to call, you meet with the pitcher. There's a lot of thinking. But when you're playing first, you go out without thinking nothing."

Most recently, Hernandez played first for Venezuela in the last game of the Caribbean Series. He switches positions to rest his body and allow it to recover from a long season.

"I have more than five years playing first," he said. "It's not like every day, but I do my best. I catch ground balls. I make a lot of mistakes when I throw the ball, I guess because it's not my regular position."

It's doubtful Hernandez, who didn't have any grounders hit to him besides a double down the line, will be used at first once the season begins. The Orioles have enough players, including Huff, with more experience there.

"My plan was to get him in one [exhibition] game at first base this spring, in case of emergency," manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We had to do it once or twice last year."

Hernandez kept pounding his fist in the mitt, as if to break it in. He looked like a natural - at least in the clubhouse. "It feels pretty good," he said.

Cervenak on the move

For nonroster infielder Mike Cervenak, the mornings don't begin with a plate of breakfast. They involve an outfielder's glove and a batch of fly balls.

Cervenak has been participating in fielding practice before the rest of the team heads outdoors. He shags balls in left, as Perlozzo attempts to find another position for the corner infielder.

This isn't a new experiment for Cervenak, who played left in the lower levels of the minors and in some exhibition games with Double-A Norwich, a New York Yankees affiliate, in 2002. But he needs a refresher course.

"It's not completely foreign to me," said Cervenak, a replacement at first base yesterday. "I think once I try taking them live, my comfort level will increase."

Outfield opinions

With his vast experience playing the outfield in the majors, Jay Payton is undoubtedly qualified to rate Camden Yards, where he'll apparently get the majority of starts in left but also move over to center and replace Corey Patterson against tough left-handers.

"It's pretty standard there. It's not too deep," he said. "It'll allow me to play in the gap a little bit, maybe help Corey out in center and let him play a little bit more shallow, and I can take the deep ball. It's not a huge park, so it allows us to do some things out there."

Payton doesn't expect many balls to get past an athletic group that also includes right fielder Nick Markakis.

"Not bad at all," he said. "You've got three guys who can run a little bit, and I know the pitchers enjoy that."

Around the horn

Reliever Sendy Rleal's magnetic resonance imaging test didn't reveal any structural damage in his right elbow. He remains shut down indefinitely. ... Jay Gibbons returned to the lineup yesterday, starting in left field. Kevin Millar is expected to return today for the split-squad game in Jupiter. ... The Orioles added infielders Cesar Crespo and Oscar Salazar to their camp roster. ... Infielder Luis Hernandez was reassigned to the minor league camp in Sarasota.

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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