- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

PHOENIX Baltimore Orioles first baseman Jay Gibbons is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to face the Arizona Diamondbacks' one-two punch of right-hander Curt Schilling tonight and left-hander Randy Johnson tomorrow.

Manager Mike Hargrove already has penciled in Gibbons' name in tonight's lineup against Schilling, who is 12-2. Hargrove said before the start of the three-game interleague series at Bank One Ballpark yesterday that he would have no qualms about using Gibbons, a left-handed hitter, against Johnson, one of the game's dominant lefties and owner of a 10-2 record.

"Guys like Johnson, you've seen only on TV. He looks close to unhittable from the left-hand side," said Gibbons, who has become the Orioles' de facto first baseman while Jeff Conine is on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring.

Gibbons' 11 home runs are second-most on the club, trailing only Tony Batista, who has 16.

"Schilling looks like Roger Clemens to me," Gibbons added. "We've got our hands full, definitely."

Hargrove's other option would be to rest Gibbons against Johnson and give rookie Jose Leon, a right-handed hitter called up when Conine was hurt, his first major-league start.

"It's a tough spot to put anybody into," Hargrove said.

Maybe so, but Johnson hasn't fared too well against the Orioles during his career, posting a lifetime 3-7 record and 4.74 ERA. Schilling is 1-2 in his career against Baltimore with a 4.30 ERA.

"They're not unbeatable," Hargrove said.

Gibbons already has a strategy in mind should he face Johnson.

"You shorten up a little bit, just try to put the bat on the ball and put it in play," he said. "I can tell my kids someday that I faced the guy, a future Hall of Famer."

It's not the heat

Daytime high temperatures in Phoenix climbed to 109 degrees yesterday. Though the roof at Bank One was closed three hours before gametime to allow for more comfortable, air-conditioned temperatures in the upper 70s the Orioles still were taking extra precautions against the dry, desert heat.

Trainer Richie Bancells said players were instructed to take mineral supplements, consume electrolyte drinks and stay well hydrated. Dealing with the humidity of a Baltimore summer gives the Orioles a head-start on battling the climate in Arizona, Bancells said.

Outfielder Chris Singleton, who left a game at Camden Yards with heat exhaustion May 30 against Seattle, is keenly aware of what the heat can do to those unprepared for it.

Singleton said he never had experienced anything like the excessive Phoenix heat.

"I've learned to pay attention to it because of what happened a few weeks ago, but this is like a sauna," Singleton said. "If it were like a steambath, at least there would be some humidity and we're used to that. When the wind blasts here, it feels like a hairdryer. With the humidity, the wind usually cools you a little."

Nailing it down

Hargrove said the split fingernail on Lopez's right middle finger is healing. The right-hander was supposed to start last night's opener, but the nail problem pushed him back two days, giving Jason Johnson last night's start.

However, Lopez's availability may be a game-day decision, based upon how he throws tomorrow.

In case Lopez is unable to go, right-hander Scott Erickson, who is slated to start Friday in San Francisco, would flip-flop with Lopez.

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