Payton rests as slump rolls on

The Baltimore Sun

NEW YORK -- Mired in an extended slump since the All-Star break, Orioles outfielder Jay Payton was given last night off by manager Dave Trembley.

Payton is hitless in his past 17 at-bats and is 3-for-34 in August. In 27 games since the All-Star break, the 34-year-old outfielder is hitting .193 with two home runs and 10 RBIs, dropping his batting average 21 points to .254.

"My swing is a little jacked right now," Payton said. "I've been working on it, trying to figure out what's right. ... I got something from the last game I think I can build on and get better. You don't want to get too technical. It's like a six-game stretch or whatever, but if you don't get any hits over that span, it can look pretty daunting.

"I kind of got out of whack with my swing. I'm trying to work on it and get it back. More than anything, it's mental. It's baseball. You go through stretches of highs and lows and there's still plenty of time for me to get back on track."

Trembley wasn't sure what has caused Payton's offensive struggles but said the veteran has been playing a lot, especially with Jay Gibbons unavailable at times to play the outfield because of his shoulder injury.

"I don't know if it's fatigue, I don't know if Jay just needs a break," Trembley said. "I think Jay is a real professional. He wants to do well. Sometimes you have a tendency to want to try too hard. You can't make it up all at once. He played a lot of games. Maybe that affected him a little bit. I probably should have given him off [Sunday] and I didn't."

Instead, Payton got last night off with the New York Yankees starting Chien-Ming Wang, who is a ground-ball pitcher. Payton has been doing nothing lately but hitting ground balls.

"I was just trying to be too fine, trying to wait and see the ball too long, letting balls get too deep on me instead of attacking the ball," Payton said. "That's why I was getting jammed and rolling over and missing balls I should be hitting."

House returns to major leagues

Catcher J.R. House, who has been one of the top hitters for Triple-A Norfolk all season, received his reward yesterday as his contract was purchased by the Orioles. He takes the place of Gibbons, who will have season-ending surgery today to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

House was expected to arrive in New York and join the club right around game time last night. House, 27, has played in 10 career major league games, including four last year with the Houston Astros. He was signed this offseason by the Orioles as a minor league free agent. He's 2-for-19 in the majors.

"He's a right-handed bat. He can be our third catcher. He can DH. He can pinch hit off the bench and he can play a little bit of first base," Trembley said.

"It's great for him that he's getting the opportunity. Unfortunately, the way the spot opened up is because Gibby goes on the [15-day] DL. But it allows somebody else to come up and get a chance."

House, who left professional baseball in 2005 and played college football that fall at West Virginia, hit .295 with 10 home runs and 63 RBIs in 109 games for the Tides.

Penn on the mend

Pitcher Hayden Penn, on the disabled list after undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, apparently made his final start in the Gulf Coast League last night as part of his injury rehabilitation assignment. The Orioles are hoping to move Penn to a higher affiliate - perhaps short-season Single-A Aberdeen.

Penn appeared in five games with the Gulf Coast team before last night with an ERA of 2.40. He threw one inning in his first game and increased his workload by one inning in each subsequent appearance. On Thursday, he allowed two runs and six hits in five innings, striking out seven.

Penn allowed four earned runs (six total) and 17 hits in 15 innings before last night, walking four and striking out 17.

"He's coming along very well," said David Stockstill, director of minor league operations.

In other injury news, Freddie Bynum, whose return from the disabled list was delayed when he needed stitches in his left hand after he was spiked on a rehab assignment, was expected to take batting practice with Double-A Bowie yesterday and then play for the Baysox today.

Sun reporter Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

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