Right off the top

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Putting aside distractions, Roberts reaches base four times, adds steal in opener

April 01, 2008|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN REPORTER

Brian Roberts lost his best friend on the team when the Orioles released Jay Gibbons over the weekend. He has been subjected to constant speculation about his future, each day bringing another rumor of a pending trade to the Chicago Cubs. But when the bell rang yesterday at Camden Yards, Roberts answered it the only way he knows how - as the Orioles' leadoff hitter and offensive catalyst.

Some things never change.

Roberts reached base four times against the Tampa Bay Rays, singling twice, walking twice and stealing a base in the Orioles' 6-2 loss.

"That's Brian Roberts," manager Dave Trembley said. "He's one of the premier leadoff hitters in the game. I wouldn't expect any different from him. He knows how to play his game. I don't think anything bothers him."

Hitting coach Terry Crowley said he can't remember a spring training in which Roberts worked any harder than he did the past two months, whether it was taking extra batting practice, swinging from the right side or getting good jumps off first base.

"He was all business down there," Crowley said. "Every time he didn't make a road trip, he did his regular hitting and then he hit extra. He was real focused this spring and really on a mission to have a big year."

Roberts worked Rays starter James Shields for a walk in the first inning. He later stole third base and scored on Kevin Millar's double. He led off the third with a single, walked with one out in the fifth and singled with one out in the eighth.

"Brian's fabulous," Crowley said. "I'm glad we have him.

Cintron to Norfolk

On the same day that the Orioles introduced their 2008 team, they also revealed an addition to their Triple-A club - one who could affect the shortstop position at the major league level.

The Orioles signed infielder Alex Cintron to a minor league deal and assigned him to Norfolk. He batted .243 in 68 games with the Chicago White Sox last season and is a career .277 hitter with 32 homers and 212 RBIs in 598 games. He spent parts of five seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks and two more with the White Sox.

Cintron, a switch-hitter, signed a minor league deal with the Cubs in spring training, but they released him Wednesday. He eventually could become the Orioles' starting shortstop if they're not satisfied with Luis Hernandez and Brandon Fahey.

Hernandez went 0-for-2 yesterday, but he made a diving catch to rob Jason Bartlett in the fourth inning.

The Moore challenge

The Orioles made room for Scott Moore on the 25-man roster by releasing Gibbons. Now they have to find ways to get him in the lineup. Trembley is aware that prolonged stretches on the bench could have an adverse affect on Moore's development.

"I think Scott Moore's in the same position as the other guys who aren't starting for me," Trembley said. "I have a responsibility and obligation as manager to make them feel part of the club, communicate that to them and find opportunities for them to play on a regular basis, and I'm confident that we're going to be able to do that, especially early in the season when our schedule is such that tomorrow is our only day off.

"To expect a guy is going to come out of spring training and play 19, 20 games in row, day games after night games, with travel the way it is, is unrealistic."

Team unity

The concept of team unity this season extends to the coaching staff, which no longer has its lockers in a separate room.

At Trembley's request, the coaches will dress with the players in the main clubhouse. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz, bullpen coach Alan Dunn and hitting coach Crowley have their lockers in the same row as pitchers Jamie Walker, Adam Loewen and George Sherrill.

"It doesn't matter where you dress," Crowley said.

"We're all together," Trembley said. "That's the way they did it here in the old days. I don't like it when people aren't accessible. We don't have closed doors here."

Numbers game

Making the club as a Rule 5 pick allowed Randor Bierd to change his uniform number from 77 to 51, more suitable digits for a pitcher. Closer George Sherrill, who wore 51 in spring training, surrendered it to Bierd.

"This is my lucky number," Bierd said. "I feel good. It's better. Everything's better."

Sherrill wore 52 with the Seattle Mariners, and he reclaimed it after the Orioles sent Jon Leicester to Triple-A Norfolk outright.

"They asked if I wanted it, and I said if [Leicester] was going to be back and forth, then no," Sherrill said. "But they said he was off the roster, so I said OK."

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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