- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 13, 2002

BALTIMORE The roulette wheel that is the Baltimore Orioles' starting second baseman's job came to a rest yesterday on red Jerry Hairston's color. Brian Roberts must have bet on black.

Roberts' demotion to Class AAA Rochester paves the way for Hairston to reassume his everyday place in the Orioles' lineup a job he temporarily lost seven weeks ago.

"There's no relief," said Hairston, whose days in Baltimore appeared numbered when he was benched in favor of Roberts on May 22. "In this game, anything can happen. Tomorrow I could be traded. You never know in this game. You expect the unexpected."

"Unexpected" would best describe yesterday's decision to option the slumping Roberts to Class AAA Rochester. Roberts, however, struggled in his second major league stint. His batting average had dropped to .234 because of a 2-for-22 slump.

"We all like Brian a lot," manager Mike Hargrove said. "And we're all of the opinion and belief that Brian, at some point in time, is going to be a very good everyday major league player. But the last two, three weeks, Brian has really, really been scuffling offensively."

Roberts, 24, had wrested away the second baseman's job from Hairston in late May, but in recent weeks the two have split playing time, with Roberts starting primarily against right-handed pitchers and Hairston against lefties.

But the Orioles could not afford to keep two full-time second basemen and no utility infielders on their roster. Hairston's play has improved since Roberts' promotion though he was batting .174 over his last 14 games and carried a .235 average into last night's game against the Oakland Athletics and since Roberts still had minor league options, the decision was not a difficult one.

It did come as a shock to Roberts, though, who declined to speak with reporters yesterday.

"I've been in that position, and I feel for him," said Hairston, who had dinner with Roberts on Thursday night. "Like I told him, he'll be back up here soon. He's a good player."

Lopez back in majors

Needing another infielder with Roberts, the Orioles purchased Lopez, a veteran of nine major league seasons with the San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers.

Lopez, 31, batted .270 in 92 games with Milwaukee last year, but was released June7 after spending the majority of this season on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps. The Orioles signed him to a minor league contract June20 and assigned him to Rochester, where he hit .324 with three home runs in 17 games.

"This is the place you want to be," said Lopez, who will back up every infield position but first base. "There's no place like the big leagues."

Gibbons returns

Jay Gibbons was back in the lineup last night after sitting out Thursday's game with a lingering wrist injury. Gibbons had surgery last August to remove the broken hamate bone in his right hand and continues to experience periodic pain. His highlight-reel catch of a foul pop three weeks ago in San Francisco (in which Gibbons did a handstand after catching the ball) didn't help matters.

"They told me it would take 18 months to be totally healed," Gibbons said. "Hopefully I can play through this."

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