Gibbons' homers come in bunches


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The streakiness continues for Orioles right fielder Jay Gibbons, who hits home runs in bunches and accepts that he may never learn to spread them out over a full season.

The Orioles will take them in any manner. As long as they keep coming.

Gibbons hit his first seven homers in a 13-game stretch from April 6 to April 20, matching the third-best opening month in club history. He didn't connect again until Monday at Camden Yards, when he drove a pitch from Cleveland's Ryan Drese into the right-field seats.

Gibbons homered again during Friday's 6-5 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, jumping on the first pitch from Ryan Rupe with two outs in the sixth.

"That's how it's always been for me," he said. "I remember in Double-A, I hit three in the first half and 16, 17 in the second half. I just go through stretches where my swing changes, for whatever reason. I wish I could keep it like that all the time. Sometimes you get out of whack. You need muscle memory. It might take me my whole career."

Four of Gibbons' nine homers have come against the Devil Rays. He tortured the Toronto Blue Jays -- the team that left him exposed in the Rule 5 draft -- last season by homering in his first five games against them. This year, it's Tampa Bay's turn.

"There's no special thing going on," he said. "They pitch me as tough as anybody. It's like with Toronto last year. I can't explain it."

Tropicana Field has grown on Gibbons, even if it can't grow grass. He has gotten used to the background and all the quirks, including the catwalks and wires that can interfere with fly balls.

"Last year I hated it because with the lights, it seems kind of yellow and dim inside, but you get used to it," he said. "It's a good hitter's ballpark. The ball will get out of here to all fields. I've got to figure out how to hit at home. That's where I've struggled."

Gibbons is batting .353 (24-for-68) with six homers and 10 RBIs on the road, compared to .210 (13-for-62) with three homers and five RBIs at Camden Yards.

All four homers against the Devil Rays came with the bases empty and on the first pitch. After two doubles last night, 17 of Gibbons' 37 hits have gone for extra bases, including eight doubles. Homers have provided 11 of his 15 RBIs.

Hentgen, Richard updates

Games at Tropicana Field allow some injured Orioles to stop by for visits between rehab sessions at the minor-league complex in Sarasota, Fla. Pitcher Pat Hentgen, recovering from ligament-transplant surgery, and outfielder Chris Richard made appearances yesterday in the visiting clubhouse.

Richard, on the 60-day disabled list after shoulder surgery, began throwing two weeks ago -- the biggest obstacle in his return. He has been tossing the ball from short distances.

"It feels good," he said. "It's just the whole strengthening process. It's a matter of how long it takes for my arm to strengthen. I'm throwing every other day."

The club still projects Richard to remain on the disabled list until around the All-Star break, which arrives the second week in July.

"It could be earlier. We'll see. They have a set schedule for me, but it could be changed if things go well," he said.

"They're playing real good baseball, and you want to be part of it. It's exciting to see the team play this well."

Around the horn

After losing their first three one-run games, the Orioles have taken four straight and six of seven. They also had won their past three two-run games before last night's 6-4 loss. ...Outfielder Luis Matos, who had surgery this spring to remove a broken hamate bone, has been hitting off a tee at the minor-league complex. Syd Thrift, vice president of baseball operations, said Matos was ready to take batting practice for the first time and could return by late June. ... When Geronimo Gil catches Rodrigo Lopez, as he did Friday, they become the first Mexican battery on the same team since Fernando Valenzuela and Alex Trevino in 1987 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. ... Before rallying for four runs in the ninth inning last night, Tampa Bay had been outscored 24-0 in the ninth.

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