February 2010

Matusz on ST, staying healthy and BFF Tillman

So, today when I looked outside my window and saw the sun, I thought “Nice, what a great day it will be in Sarasota.” What I did not plan for, was the whipping winds and 50 degree temps that would make my tank top and cardigan choice a source of mockery from the other reporters, players and coaches. After roughing it and watching practice for two plus hours, I booked it into the locker room at the instant we were allowed in. Normally, I like to wait for all the guys to come off the field. But today, I couldn’t feel my fingers. And we all know how much I need those to write, blog and Twitter.

Anyways, while waiting for manager Dave Trembley to talk to the media in the warmth of his office, I started talking to Brian Matusz. It turned into a fun little Q & A, which I transcribed for you below. Enjoy. At my own foolish expense of course. And keep in mind that Matusz mentions the wind and cold weather- just in case you thought I was being a baby.

(Also, if you were curious, the only player who offered to get me a coat was OF Lou Montanez. I think it’s safe to say he is now my favorite Oriole.)

Me: I could use a good story. Got any good stories?
Matusz: [thinks for a second] I don’t really have any stories right now.
Me: Nothing good? How’s Spring Training going?
Matusz: Spring Training’s great. You want me to talk about that?
Me: Yes, please. Anything, really. I’m bored and need a story.
Matusz: [now in full interview mode] Spring Training’s been great, it’s a great group of guys we have. We all get along. We go out there and take care of business but at the same time, we are joking around with each other and having a good time out there. It was a little bit windy today, pretty cold out there, but everything seems to be going really well.

Me: How is this different from last year’s Spring Training for you?
Matusz: For me, it’s a lot different. Last year was my first Spring Training, I came in, I was really nervous, I didn’t really know anyone. Maybe just a couple guys on the team. This year I know everyone pretty well. Even with the new guys [Mike]  Gonzalez, Kevin [Millwood], just great guys. Every day Gonzo always has something to say, something positive. I know that a lot of these guys are really excited about this season because of the talent we have and some of the veteran leadership and everything. It’s a good mix of guys and Gonzalez is an awesome guy. You can just tell he’s real intense and real pumped up about this year. He expects some good things out of a lot of us, and it’s a real motivation booster when you have veteran teammates like that behind you, really pumping you up and getting you excited.

Me: Has Millwood shared some of his wisdom and old baseball stories with you guys yet?
Matusz: Not yet. Kevin’s, I think, trying to get to know us a little bit better. Luckily, Chris Tillman and I have the chance to play catch with him and goof around. He keeps things real loose. You can tell he’s out there working real hard, he just has a good personality. Nice, funny personality, he’s just enjoying himself. He’s one of those guys who is just talking to everyone.
 
Me: You and Tillman are really close. How did that come about?
Matusz: People joke around about Chris and I being so close. We are always doing things together. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we live together in Spring Training [this year]. We got a condo together, and we come to and from the field together. We didn’t meet until last year in Spring Training and than just right away we started hanging out, becoming good friends. We are both from similar [areas], I’m from Arizona he’s from California, but I went to school in San Diego [at the University of San Diego], so we know a lot of the same people that we played ball together with.
 
[We're] just similar personalities, and we both got called up to the big leagues around the same time, so we’ve been able to hang out with each other a bunch and kind of work our way up together. It’s nice having someone there who is in the same situation as me, being young and being put in the spotlight around the same time. So, we kind of learn from each other and work together to learn the unwritten rules and things like that. Chris is a great guy.

Me: Does it help having know Matt Wieters from the minors as well? I know that’s a special relationship pitcher to catcher.
Matusz: Yeah, sure. Matt and I played in the Arizona Fall League together (in 2008), that was my first experience of professional baseball and he was my catcher and we were able to work together and learn about each other a lot. And I feel like it really helped out going into last season when I got brought up to the big leagues. We were both really familiar with each other and I think that really helped out. I know Matt’s a young guy like myself, but he really is a leader out there. He really knows his role and is really helpful and we get along really well, so to have that chemistry between pitcher and catcher is really special.

Me: So you went to school in San Diego. Are excited for the trip out there this year? You guys play them this year.
Matusz: We do. That’s on the schedule; I think it’s the middle of June. I definitely looked at that, told a lot of my friends, coaches back in San Diego. Right now, my focus is on the spring and getting ready, but hopefully I will have the opportunity to pitch in San Diego in front of a big group of family and friends.

Me: I know a lot of guys don’t set individual goals. But is there anything you are focused on this spring you want to carry over into the rest of the year?
Matusz: One big goal for myself is to stay healthy and to pitch throughout the entire season. Last year I got shut down early at the end of the year because of my innings mark, it was already planned ahead. But this year, my goal is to stay healthy, stay strong and prove that I can go past that mark and stay healthy all the way through it. That’s my main goal.

Me: This was great. Anything else you want to add?
Matusz: No, not really. I hope it gets warm soon, so I can go to the beach. Go check out Siesta Key.

You hear that weather gods? Brian Matusz wants to go to the beach. And so do I. So make it happen. 

Koji's Conditioning & B-Rob's Back

Koji Uehara threw a bullpen session today that left manager Dave Trembley raving about how strong the right-hander looked.

“He looks quick with his arm,” Trembley said. “He
has late life on his pitches. That’s what he looked like at the
beginning of [last] season. We need him to continue that for us.”

Trembley also noted that Uehara seems better prepared to deal with the rigors of pitching in the American League East.

“He’s more integrated into what the
program is here,” Trembley said.  “And he must have done an awful lot of work in the
off-season because last year I think it was new for him and he didn’t
really know what to expect. This year it looks like he’s come in with a
whole lot better idea of what the routine is here.”

I guess Koji’s new trainer is paying off. Although, Koji has opted to workout with the team this year, and I’ve been told last spring that wasn’t always the case. Maybe there really is something to that strength in numbers expression…

 ****

When Trembley was asked about Brian Roberts’ timeline, he said he was going to check in with hitting coach Terry Crowley to see what the plan was. So, I sought out Crow with fellow reporter Roch Kubato, and Crowley’s plan right now isn’t concrete. Seems he’s playing things by ear, although Crowley sounded less optimistic than Roberts about when the second baseman would take live batting practice. Roberts had said on Tuesday that he had hoped to start taking BP within a week. It’s something that is possible, but I got the feeling from Crowley that that maybe too soon. In the meantime, he’s going to continue to soft toss, hit in the cage and take fielding practice.

 

Baby Steps to the top of the division

Trembley with little kid.jpg

And a hat tip to one of my Twitter followers for the clever headline. Above is manager Dave Trembley who saw this young boy on the right with a Red Sox hat on. Trembley got him an Orioles hat to swap out and joked around that one day perhaps this kid could be sporting the black and orange….

Also, I’m writing my debut inbox this afternoon, so it’s your last chance to get your Orioles questions answered. Well until my next one, that is. Email me and include your name and hometown. Hope to hear from you all soon!

–Brittany

March 1: Orioles break in Ed Smith Stadium

With manager Dave Trembley as proud commisioner, the Orioles will play their inaugral intrasquad game at Ed Smith Stadium on Monday, March 1 at 12:30 p.m. The game is open to the public with a small donation to the Boys & Girls club. The team will conduct a clinic for the local chapter of the club, as part of their ongoing effort to remain active in the
Sarasota community.
 
Gary Allenson and Richie Hebner will serve as managers and their will be a draft of sorts taking place sometime in the next few days. Trembley said pitching coach Rick Kranitz already has drawn up a first draft of what pitchers will be used, and he expects to go over that later tonight.

Since the team isn’t playing an intrasquad game on the 2nd, Trembley expected the arms to be a mix of younger guys and veterans and said the team will try to slot guys so they stay on four and five days rest.

“Some of the guys you will see pitch on the 1st will probably be ready to pitch on the 6th,” Trembley said. “And there is some consideration early here in camp that we may not want some of the guys to pitch against division opponents if we can possibly avoid it.”

The Orioles open up Spring Training play on March 3 versus Tampa Bay. After a pair of games with the Rays, they host Pittsburgh before traveling to Lakeland to play the Tigers on the 6th.

Back to Basics: Trembley Emphasizing Bunts

It’s not a usual sight to see Nick Markakis bunting in the batting cage, but that’s exactly what the Orioles right fielder was doing for a portion of Wednesday’s workout. Unlike Spring Trainings of the past, manager Dave Trembley has gone out of his way to emphasize bunting in the Orioles daily camp routine.  Trembley said the bunting station, which is done in the two netted cages, is one of five rotations the position players go to out on the field.

“I’m trying to add some things here that will be an emphasis on the team, and allowing us to be in a position to win more games,” Trembley said. “It’s the little things that obviously were prominent that might not have gotten done the way we wanted to get it done last year. So, let’s brush up on it in Spring Training, but lets also emphasize the importance of it.”

When a team is winning and fundamentally sound, you never hear about these little things. But, as Trembley pointed on Wednesday, when the fundamentals go by the wayside like the Orioles’ did at times last year, it becomes a sore spot.

“I take it real personal because I’ve made my bread and butter on being a guy that has taught fundamentals and been an instructor and a teacher and has emphasized that being a part of the game,” Trembley said. “And I think sometimes when you get to this level, it’s not done the way you want it to get done. 

“I told the ballclub [Tuesday], ‘I’ve got to do things better, I’ve got to make it better for them. And so I’m going to ask their cooperation.”

 *The Orioles also spent a good chunk of Wednesday’s workout defending the bunt, with all the pitchers and corner infielders getting in some work. Mark Hendrickson’s move got him a glowing recommendation from Trembley, who raved: “that’s how it’s done”.

*Half of the team’s staff, except for Chris Tillman  threw a short bullpen session before going out to throw live batting practice. Trembley said the rest of the pitchers will throw on Thursday, and Brad Bergesen will also throw the first of what’s expected to be his final two flat ground sessions.

Tillman back on track.

Chris Tillman threw his first bulllpen since coming out of Sunday’s session early with back spasms, and appeared to be pain free. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz spoke with Tillman for a few minutes prior to him throwing and also briefly consulted with him during the session.

After throwing, Tillman approached head athletic trainer Richard Bancells, who was standing behind the bullpen, and appeared to tell him his back felt fine. Tillman also motioned with his hands to illustrate that he wasn’t in any pain.  

“Everything felt good,” Tillman said afterwards. “Obviously, it felt like I hadn’t played catch in three days, but other than that, everything felt good and looked good. Kranny said my delivery looked nice and smooth.”

Kranitz praised Tillman’s ability to throw in the strike zone and said the session was “exactly what he was looking for.”

Tillman threw a regular-length ‘pen, while most of the other Orioles pitchers just used their session to warm up. The club started live batting practice today, with Mike Gonzalez (below) kicking it off.

gonzalez bp.jpg

*Just like yesterday, Brian Roberts took grounders at second base, and will likely continue to do what he did on Tuesday.

Going Gonzo

So I’ve been watching closer Mike Gonzalez throw his bullpens this Spring and have been amazed at how easy he makes it look. The guy looks like he’s just playing catch. So, I asked him about it and turns out I was right: he pretty much is just playing catch.

“I’ve never really been a big Spring Training guy,” Gonzalez said. “I won’t get going [100 percent] until the last three outings.”

Gonzalez’s mindset isn’t that uncommon for a closer. When guys throw that hard and in short bursts, there’s really not a pressing need to get it humming in late February.

I also asked the lefty how many pitches he had because manager Dave Trembley had alluded to Gonzalez having a bunch, but the truth is he only has three and they’re pretty standard: fastball, slider and change-up.
 
Trembley pulled Gonzalez aside earlier this spring to tell him he was the team’s closer, so the lefty doesn’t have to worry about proving himself in camp.  Gonzalez said the only date he’s focused on being ready is Opening Day on April 6, a mindset I’m sure the Orioles have no problem with.

*Also, Chris Tillman is scheduled to throw a side today after having back spasms for the last few days. The 21-year-old Tillman took an energy shot this morning with Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz, so maybe that will give the trio an extra burst….

*Nolan Reimold told me his left Achilles tendon has been responding well to the workouts, although it’s still a little sore. He isn’t limited at all, and he expects the soreness to subside as camp continues.

Trembley: It's time for us to turn the corner

Shameless plug alert: I’ve got my video debut from this morning, talking Orioles baseball with MLB.com. Check it out, let me know what you think.

Also, I wanted to put up some good stuff from this afternoon that I didn’t get a chance to with Tejada’s return and the Tillman/Roberts updates.

Manager Dave Trembley spoke with the team prior to the first full squad workout on Tuesday. Here’s what he said about his message:

“It’s not about individuals,” Trembley said. “It’s about the team, and what can you do as an individual to contribute to the success of the team. That was [the speech] in a nutshell.”

When asked why he thought that message was necessary to get across so early in the season, Trembley said it’s time for the Orioles to “turn the corner.”

“And that’s what we expect to do,” he said. “We expect to turn the corner.”

So for those of you who emailed me or asked me on Twitter about the rebuilding process, both Trembley and MacPhail have made it clear 2010 will all be about Phase 2. Definitely good news if you’re an Orioles fan.

****

Got a question or
comment on the team? Email me
and I could use
it in my debut inbox column, which should be up later this week. For
constant, updates bookmark my blog and follow me on Twitter.

Roberts, Tillman Updates

Brian Roberts took grounders at second base, lifted and hit off the tee on Tuesday morning, and is hoping to be able to take live batting practice within the next week.

Roberts, who was diagnosed with a small herniated disc in his lower back a few weeks ago, said he didn’t have any pain when bending over to field on Tuesday.

“It’s a matter of I haven’t done a whole lot of sprinting on the ground, I haven’t done a ton of rotational stuff [with hitting],” he said. “So, those are the two things we are just gradually working back into it.”

Roberts doesn’t usually hit much in the offseason anyway, so the Orioles leadoff man didn’t seem too concerned about being slightly behind this spring. He called the injury a “minor setback” yesterday. And it could very much end up being that, judging from how comfortable he looked on the field Tuesday.

******
Chris Tillman played catch and participated in all the pitchers’ drills Tuesday afternoon, and is scheduled to throw a side tomorrow as long as he gets clearance from head athletic trainer Richard Bancells. The Orioles pitchers are going to throw some live batting practice on Wednesday, but Tillman won’t be a part of that.

I wrote earlier this week about Tillman missing his last scheduled side due to back spams that he thinks stemmed from falling asleep on a couch. He laughed when I asked him if Trembley was going to institute a couch policy for the rest of the season.

“I just feel asleep watching T.V.,” Tillman said.

Although it was just a minor thing, the 21-year-old was relieved that he felt good during catch today and that the back spasms won’t hamper him going forward.

“I mean it’s not all the way gone yet but I am very relieved,” he said. “We will see how it feels off the mound. I’m not going to go 100 percent obviously …no reason to rush right now.”

****

Got a question or comment on the team? Email me and I could use
it in my debut inbox column, which should be up later this week. For constant, updates bookmark my blog and follow me on Twitter.

  

Miggy "feels like a new man'

Miguel Tejada, famous for always being the last one, walked into the Orioles clubhouse on Tuesday morning before second baseman Brian Roberts.

“He was here, believe it or not” Roberts joked.

The glove is bigger — officially a third baseman’s mitt — and his number is a foreign No. 9, but Tejada was all smiles about the changes when he officially rejoined the Orioles in Sarasota on Monday morning.

“I don’t feel like I’m on a new team,” he said. “It’s only been two years since I left here and most of those guys are still here.”

Wearing the Orioles warmup jacket over his uniform, Tejada cracked jokes during stretch and took ground balls at third base with Ty Wiggington. Tejada has said in the past the most difficult part of the transition from short to third will be fielding the bunt. That’s something he plans on concentrating on when he gets in what will be daily extra work with infield coach, Juan Samuel.

“I think that’s the hardest play for any third baseman in baseball, going forward for the ball with your bare hand,” he said. “But I’m going to have a month and a half here at Spring Training to make mistakes before we get to the season.”

Tejada said his past off the field issues are behind him and his mind is clear of any distractions.

“I’m a new man and I’m happy and I thank God for the opportunity to play baseball,” he said.

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