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08/09/08 7:18 PM ET

Payton gets starting job he coveted

With Jones on DL, veteran playing every day in center field

BALTIMORE -- Heading into Spring Training, Jay Payton certainly never thought he'd be the Orioles' fourth outfielder. But with Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Luke Scott crowding the field, that was the role Payton found himself in when the Orioles began the season.

Now, though, Jones is on the disabled list with a fractured left foot, allowing Payton to be the everyday starter -- a role the 10-year veteran relishes, especially as the Trade Deadline came and went without a move involving the outfielder.

"It could still definitely happen," Payton said of a trade. "But I'm happy to be here now, and getting the chance to play. That's been my thing all along: I either wanted an opportunity to play or an opportunity to go somewhere and have a chance to get into the playoffs. If you can do both, that's great. But right now, I'm getting the opportunity to play, and that's what I'm looking forward to."

Payton's versatility has made him incredibly valuable for the Orioles this year, as they have used him in all three outfield positions and as a pinch-hitter, pinch-runner and defensive substitute.

But now, for the first time this season, Payton has the starting job in center locked up until Jones returns -- if he even returns this season. (The only other candidate, recent callup Lou Montanez, is primarily a left fielder).

The 35-year-old is making the most of the opportunity. Since Aug. 1, Payton has started in seven of Baltimore's eight games, raising his batting average from .244 to .258 over that stretch.

"Payton has done what we've asked him to do here," said manager Dave Trembley. "Payton just wants to play, that's all he wants to do. ... I dare say I've had to spend an awful lot of time since early in Spring Training having to remind him that Markakis, Jones and Luke Scott were going to be the three guys out there, but that he had a place on this club that would be of value.

"He would help not only himself but this team if he would just accept and understand what it was all about. I said, 'You don't have to like it, but this is the way it is.' Unfortunately Jones got hurt, but now Payton is going to get a chance to play, and he's played for a long time for a reason."

Amanda Comak is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.