Notes: Left field will be Payton's place
Defense gives right-handed hitter the edge over lefty Huff
JUPITER, Fla. -- Normally, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo stays away from grand pronouncements in regard to his lineup. But sometimes, he slips. Perlozzo came out and made his strongest comment to date Tuesday about the left field situation, expressly endorsing Jay Payton over Aubrey Huff for the lion's share of playing time.
Both Huff and Payton signed with the Orioles in the offseason, and Perlozzo had previously said that Huff would split time among three positions. However, since the manager still had Kevin Millar and Jay Gibbons vying for time at first base, he never identified Huff's primary position. Now, Perlozzo appears to have settled on a specific plan.
"We got Jay Payton to play left field most of the time, I would think. Or at least a good portion of the time," Perlozzo said. "I think that's a normal assumption. We didn't go out and get him to sit on the bench. He's going to play quite a bit out there, but somebody has to go play left field occasionally. That's just all there is to it.
"[Huff] and Millar and whoever else makes this team might be the guy who plays a little bit more out there. We will get him out there a little bit before [Spring Training] is over and we'll see what happens."
Gibbons, who has offically been dropped from the derby at first base, will be expected to play the outfield. Huff and Millar may also play there from time to time, but Payton is by far the most accomplished defender. That's why Perlozzo likes him in left field, but it's also why Payton may occasionally spot Corey Patterson in center.
Whenever that happens, Perlozzo will need a secondary option to cover for Payton. Huff and Millar are perhaps best described as indifferent defenders -- outfielders by name only who play the position just to get their bats in the lineup. Gibbons had evolved into a passable right fielder but may not be athletic enough to adjust to left.
Huff has played at both the infield and outfield corners, but left field has been his least navigated position. In fact, he hasn't played there since 2004, when he logged the only eight games of his career at that spot. Huff has mostly split the last two seasons between third base and right field -- slots that are already accounted for in Baltimore.
If the O's tab Huff as their regular first baseman, the real competition for playing time may erupt between Gibbons and Millar. The two may end up forming an unofficial platoon at DH, with Gibbons facing right-handers and Millar starting against southpaws. The exact specifics remain to be seen -- until Perlozzo spills them by accident.
Glove affair: Freddie Bynum made his first start at shortstop Tuesday, further underlining the utilityman's versatility. Bynum, who can also play the outfield, moved to second base midway through the game. Perlozzo said the veteran may be separating himself from the pack based on the different things he can do.
"Bynum's strength for us is he is a active guy who can play the infield and the outfield and run," the manager said. "We may even try him a little bit at first base just to increase his versatility if we choose to go that way."
Much like he has all spring, Perlozzo said he still isn't sure what the Orioles will be looking for in the last bench spot. He said that the O's will narrow down the pool of candidates by assessing what each candidate brings to the table. Baltimore's outfield tilts to the left, but Perlozzo said a right-handed bat isn't a prerequisite for a bench job.
"We're looking for someone who has to have some flexibility to do something else for us. That's the mix that we are kind of looking at," he said. "Do we want some speed? Do we want some defense? Do we want the bat? Does the right-handed bat not mean as much to us as defense and speed?
"As we get closer, we'll see if we can't come up with that answer."
On the mend: Perlozzo said he hopes to get Millar back in the lineup before the weekend. The veteran has been suffering from a strained right forearm and has been held out of the last few games. Perlozzo said that a few players would have to play every day to get to their prescribed at-bat totals.
Also, Gibbons was scratched Tuesday because of a sore abdominal muscle.
The manager also said that despite his logjam at first base, utilityman Chris Gomez will still play there occasionally this season. Gomez started at designated hitter Tuesday and played first base 27 times last year.
"I still see him getting into games late, depending on the score and whoever is coming up in the order the next inning," Perlozzo said. "Again, we need to see Aubrey a little bit more, too. We're assuming that he is going to continue to improve playing the position. The more he plays, the better he gets."
Quotable: "He threw one hanger, a get-me-over breaking ball, and a great hitter did what he was supposed to do with it. Other than that, he threw the ball pretty well." -- Perlozzo, on Baltimore starter Daniel Cabrera, who threw four innings and allowed a three-run homer to Florida's Miguel Cabrera on Tuesday
Coming up: The Orioles will play the Marlins again on Wednesday, with Jaret Wright scheduled to start at 1:05 p.m. ET against Florida southpaw Scott Olsen. Wright has made two starts and has thrown three scoreless innings. The Orioles are slowly ramping up his pitch total, though, which may mean that Wright only works three innings.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.