Jay Gibbons admits this season has been frustrating.

After hitting 23 home runs and driving in a team-high 100 runs in 2003, the Baltimore Orioles right fielder has played in 53 of 105 games this season, with two stints on the disabled list.

His latest stay on the DL began on June 29, and this week Gibbons is rehabbing a strained hip flexor -- and getting his timing back at the plate -- while playing outfield for the Class A Frederick Keys.

"It almost feels, in simple terms, like a groin pull. It's just a deep down [muscle] tear right in the groin area, very deep," Gibbons, 27, explained before last night's game against Wilmington. "It's hard to treat. It's one of those things where you just have to let it rest. [Even] walking can irritate it."

After taking batting practice Saturday at Yankee Stadium for the first time since late June, Gibbons went 2 for 5 with a double, home run and five RBI in last night's game against the Blue Rocks. He is slated to play a game for AA Bowie this week and is cautiously optimistic about rejoining the Orioles this weekend.

The hip flexor tear, Gibbons believes, was directly related to a back injury that he suffered two weeks into the season. Gibbons suffered a bulging disk lifting weights.

"I had to change my running style because my back was so tight. That's when I hurt my hip," Gibbons said.

That back injury led to a 15-day stay on the disabled list in early June. "Once I got my back rested and felt good I came back onto the field after my first DL stint and my hip was just killing me."

For a player whose last visit to the disabled list prior to this season was in 2001 (wrist), Gibbons is eager to get back to Baltimore.

" If I get two consecutive at-bats in a row where I feel comfortable, I'm going to tell them, 'I'm ready. If you need me, I'm here.' "