Gomez tightens hold on starting job at third base Worthington caught in role reversal


TORONTO -- Baltimore Orioles manager John Oates made it crystal clear. There is no third-base controversy anymore.

The roles have been reversed. Rookie Leo Gomez is the starting third baseman, and Craig Worthington will have to wait for an opening. Chances are, it will come with another team.

Gomez has solidified his place in the starting lineup with a strong all-around performance in the 10 games since he was recalled from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings. He turned in his biggest game of the year in yesterday's 13-8 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, delivering a home run and two singles to extend his hitting streak to 10 games.

"He's playing the heck out of the game right now," Oates said. "He's playing well on defense and he's getting good swings at the plate. He looks very comfortable up there right now."

Worthington, meanwhile, is in the first week of an injury rehabilitation assignment with the Red Wings, but Oates said that the major-league job is now Gomez's to lose. He also said that even if both of them play well, there probably won't be room for both on the major-league roster.

"I think that was part of the whole problem at the beginning of the year," Oates said. "Because Worthy was the incumbent, Gomez sat. It was a situation where you feel like you've got to go 3-for-4 or you're not going to be in the lineup tomorrow. I've said this before. It was tough to have both of them on the ballclub, and it would be tough now."

Gomez admits that having Worthington out of the picture has allowed him to get more comfortable in the starting lineup, and the results bear him out. He has hit safely in every game since he was recalled from Rochester.

He batted .222 (11-for-45) with no home runs or RBI in the 17 games he played before he was sent down on May 6. He is batting .368 with two homers and six RBI since the call-up.

"I do feel more comfortable with him at Triple-A," Gomez said. "It's easier knowing that you're going to play every day. Nobody wants to play in the minor leagues. I want to stay up here."

But what about Worthington, who is a major-league-caliber third baseman without a major-league job? The Orioles cannot leave him down there forever. The 20-day rehabilitation period will expire in about two weeks. Then a decision will have to be made either to activate him, trade him or option him to the Red Wings.

"I told Worthington, 'Both of you should be in the major leagues, so go down and play your tail off and put the pressure on us,' " Oates said. " 'We can't carry two third basemen. If you fall on your face, there is no pressure on us. The decision is easy.' "

Worthington's name has been prominent in several trade rumors this season, but the hamstring injury that placed him on the disabled list has quieted speculation, at least temporarily. It seems likely that general manager Roland Hemond is shopping him heavily, but he will not confirm that.

Oates won't, either, but he has made it obvious that he wants to settle into a set lineup. Gomez figures to be in it. Worthington figures to go elsewhere if a deal can be worked out.

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