Gibbons doesn't mind DH role
Orioles looking to keep slugger healthy, bat in the lineup
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- He's not hitting well, he's not playing the field and, oddly enough, he seems satisfied with his lot in life. Jay Gibbons has found some serenity this spring, a quality largely attributable to his improved health. The slugger is eager to start the 2007 season, even if he's expected to serve as the team's primary designated hitter.
Gibbons had fought that move in the past by saying that the DH job completely takes him out of his game. And this spring he asked to be given the opportunity to play at first base. That experiment ended a little more than a week ago, and Gibbons clearly understands the role the Orioles expect him to play in the coming year.
"I think it's safe to say that a majority of my at-bats are going to be at DH. And I think that was safe to say six weeks ago, too," Gibbons said. "All I can say is I did everything I could in the offseason to prepare myself to play first base. I don't think they didn't like what they saw, because they didn't see enough. They had their minds made up."
Gibbons doesn't seem upset by that decision. He understands that Aubrey Huff and Kevin Millar are going to log a lot of the time at first base, and he is determined to get more comfortable at DH. He had the opportunity last season, when a strained right knee and trapezius muscle kept him out of the field for the entire second half.
In time, that became the impetus for Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo to slot Gibbons there full-time.
"We know he has a desire to play in the field, but it's my job to keep him healthy and I'm going to do what's best for the ballclub to get him in the batter's box 550 times or more," Perlozzo said. "I think anybody that hasn't done it on a full-time basis has some question marks on whether they can handle it and how they're going to do it. [But] it's a long season, and after a couple of weeks or a month, you should be able to get that down."
For his part, Gibbons has said that it's hard to concentrate when you don't play the field. That's when the mental part of the game creeps in and paralysis by analysis becomes a possibility. The former right fielder doesn't want to be consumed by his at-bats, which means that he has to find a way to prepare without becoming obsessed.
Meanwhile, the Orioles are trying to keep Gibbons healthy. The left-handed hitter has played less than 100 games in three of his six seasons, and Perlozzo knows his lineup is much better with Gibbons posing another power threat. That's one of the reasons he'll DH, even if it means making some adjustments.
"After he had the one good year when he stayed healthy, he's had nagging things here and there. Last year with his knee was a little bit more major," Perlozzo said. "I think Jay is just the kind of guy you have to be careful with and you don't wear him down. Some of the injuries just happen to him. I don't know if I'd call him injury-prone.
"He's such a strong kid that he's probably a little tighter, but yet when you ask him that, he said he's probably more flexible than anyone on the team. So you kind of throw that out the window."
Gibbons would like to do the same thing with his spring statistics, which haven't been as good as he'd like. The former Rule 5 Draft pick went into Saturday's game hitting just .182 in 33 at-bats. Gibbons said that 50 at-bats is plenty and that 40 would be enough, and he also said that spring stats have little or nothing to do with the real ones.
"That's the great thing about it," Gibbons said. "I've hit .100 something for the spring a couple times. In your last three or four games, you'd just like to be seeing the ball well."
For now, Gibbons will take the fact that he's feeling well. He has no nagging aches or pains -- unless you count the ones associated with "12 hours of bus rides." With his team one week away from returning to Baltimore, Gibbons is ready to start the season and interested to see what kind of ride it will be.
"I'm getting there. I'm pacing myself up to it, and my body feels good," he said about Opening Day. "Obviously, that's the most important thing. I feel good health-wise, and everything else is going to fall into place."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.