Short stop at shortstop?

The Baltimore Sun

VIERA, Fla. -- Orioles manager Dave Trembley is prepared to name Luis Hernandez as his Opening Day shortstop. Now, Hernandez has to be prepared for the challenges that await him, the kind that could loosen his grip on the job if he's not careful.

Hernandez committed his sixth error yesterday in the Orioles' 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Space Coast Stadium. He fielded a routine grounder from Ronnie Belliard with two outs in the second inning and sailed his throw over Scott Moore's head at first base. Nationals players sitting on a bench beside the dugout scattered to avoid being hit.

Fortunately for Hernandez, 23, Trembley isn't basing his evaluations on the defensive lapses that have been a curiosity this spring, given the shortstop's consistent -- and at times spectacular -- play in the field last season.

"I think I need to be fair to him and not just go by what I've seen here at spring training," Trembley said. "You have to take into consideration what I saw last year. Otherwise, I think you run the risk of doing something to his confidence. And I think that's a big part of this, especially with young guys."

Brandon Fahey, the other candidate to start at shortstop, played third base and left field yesterday as the Orioles kept most of their regulars back in Fort Lauderdale. Trembley noted that Fahey will have to be versatile if he's going to stay on the roster and contribute -- a clear signal that Trembley will go with Hernandez at short for Monday's opener against the Tampa Bay Rays at Camden Yards.

"Unless something happens between now and Opening Day," Trembley said, "I would think that probability exists."

The arrangement could change as the days and weeks pass.

"If it's both of those guys [on the roster], I don't think it's a stretch to say that we can come up with something where they split time," Trembley said.

Hernandez made 16 starts among his 30 appearances with the Orioles last season, the position opening up for him when Miguel Tejada went on the disabled list with a fractured left hand. He had tremendous range, soft hands and a strong arm -- exactly what the club wanted from its shortstop. But he has struggled since camp began, and his fielding is essential to keeping him in the majors, with his average at .171 after going 0-for-3 with a strikeout yesterday.

"I've kept track of a lot of things that have happened to him this spring and a lot of it has been on the first play of every game, or the first chance hit to him in a game. And after that, he settles down," Trembley said. "That tells me it's nerves. It's not a lack of concentration, its not a lack of ability. I didn't see that last year during the season. If he did it once, I'd like to think he could do it again. It wasn't by accident that he played like he did last year.

"He went to winter ball and there was a lot of emphasis and attention put on him. He came to camp knowing that the spotlight was on him."

At times, it's been blinding. But Hernandez said he's learned a lot this spring and is prepared for the season to start. Maybe that's when he'll shine.

"I tried to do too much, but right now for me, everything here is over," he said. "I'm ready now."

Said Trembley: "Obviously, he came in here thinking that he had to do more than what he did last year and we kept telling him he didn't have to do that. I've seen him settle down somewhat, but I'm also realistic enough to know that Fahey has played very well here, too."

Hernandez, who is out of minor league options, didn't rush his throw to first base yesterday, but the ball took off and easily cleared Moore's head.

"Sometimes, you think the out is too easy and you throw easy and the ball gets away," he said. "I know how to fix it."

Fahey hadn't played third base this spring before yesterday, and his exposure to left consisted of one inning. He made a nice backhanded stop and throw to retire Ryan Zimmerman and end the first inning. He also doubled in the second inning and is batting .255.

"Pretty much every position is the same," he said. "You just catch the ball and you throw it and try not to put too much pressure on yourself."

In Fahey's case, you also accept a utility position if it keeps you on the Opening Day roster.

"That's fine with me," he said. "Anything to help the team."

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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