Lopez to start season at DH
Veteran also will get time at first and behind the plate
JUPITER, Fla. -- It wasn't a waste. Baltimore's Javy Lopez recently learned that he'll start the season as the team's designated hitter, but he's still proud of his effort at first base this spring. The erstwhile catcher spoke to the media on Thursday, and he said he's more than willing to put his time in at DH.
"I actually wanted it," said Lopez, who went into Thursday's game hitting just .125 in Grapefruit League play. "I guess the fact that I was working so much at first base during Spring Training, I kind of [cut] back my hitting. [Baltimore manager] Sam Perlozzo came up to me and told me, 'It would be a good idea just to start you as a DH so you could get your timing back as a hitter.' I totally agree with it.
"I think I need to work on my hitting -- you know, put a little bit more effort into my hitting. And then once my timing's back, I can easily go back to first base and be level, both defensively and offensively."
Lopez had trouble adjusting to his new position, so it's doubtful whether he'll ever become a full-time first baseman. The three-time All-Star had a tough time with four pickoff plays in a two-week span, throwing wide of second base and pulling the shortstop off the bag.
Still, Perlozzo had said it could take as many as 75 games to get a full read on his progress. Now he's thinking a little differently.
"The thought process is simple: We were really hoping he'd be a little better defensively -- and he was, early on," said Perlozzo. "As the games got going and he'd make a mistake, he'd let it compound. And consequently, thinking so much about his fielding, his hitting suffered. He had both things going against him, and neither one was getting up to standard."
The Orioles, with two veterans that fit better at first base, just didn't have that kind of time. Defensively speaking, Jeff Conine and Kevin Millar are way ahead of Lopez, but the Orioles expect them to get some additional time in left field.
"I think you'll see guys flipping around," said Perlozzo. "Conine and Millar will obviously be in there. And late in the game, you might see [Chris] Gomez in there. We just have to see how our outfield shakes down to see how first base settles down."
"I'm comfortable in both places," said Conine. "If I were to pick one, I'd pick first -- it's a shorter run from the dugout. I'd hope to have the conversation before Opening Day, but I'm prepared to do both. It's not like I have to know one way or the other. I may just find out what's next to my name on Opening Day."
In the past, Lopez has voiced an objection to DH duty, saying that it takes away from his ability to concentrate. On Friday, he said playing the field keeps his head in the game, but he also said he has to cope with whatever the team wants.
"If they put me at DH -- now, during the season, the end of the season -- I can't let that bother me anymore," he said. "That's a decision I have no control over. All I have to do is just like this -- otherwise, I'm going to go crazy.
"I don't even put a time on it -- whatever it's going to be. If it's two weeks or a month, I have to accept it."
The timeframe is still undecided. Perlozzo said Lopez can continue to work on the side as a first baseman, and he'll revisit the scenario once the season is a few weeks old. The first priority is getting the veteran's bat back on track, but Perlozzo admitted that he'd have come to the same conclusion if Lopez was in midseason form.
Still, that doesn't mean he's going to stick Lopez at DH and forget about him. Lopez will still serve as backup catcher, a slot that could get him as many as 30 games on the field.
"For me, he's talented enough to be more than a DH," said Perlozzo. "There's nothing wrong with him DH-ing some, but I still think he has some skills at first. And he's still a catcher. The ideal situation is that your DH can play other positions."
The Orioles have that luxury, but they also have a logjam to consider. Lopez said the spring was productive for him -- even if he spent a lot of time learning a position he won't play that often.
"I worked my butt off to try to play first base," he said. "I believe that I'm not too far from being a decent first baseman. It's just a few things, a few more experiences I have to get through in order for me to pretty much go through everything. I'm pretty satisfied with the way they've worked with me. I'm pretty satisfied with the work I did during the World [Baseball] Classic.
"The only problem was the time it took away from my hitting. That's all. Now it's about concentrating on hitting for a while. Once I catch up, I can play first, catcher or whatever."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.