July 2010

Gonzo debuts, sort of

BALTIMORE–Michael Gonzalez made his first appearance Thursday night against the Twins since suffering the blown save in April 9’s home opener against Toronto.

Gonzalez, who was activated from the 60-day disabled list prior to Wednesday’s game, came on following starter Kevin Millwood with one out in the seventh inning and gave up a single to Denard Span and got Orlando Hudson to fly out for the second out. He intentionally walked the dangerous Joe Mauer to retire Jason Kubel and end a wild inning that saw Orioles first baseman Ty Wigginton, pitching coach Rick Kranitz and interim manager Juan Samuel get ejected.

Gonzalez showcased a fastball that topped out at 93 mph and a motion that appeared to be more fluid than his traditional herky-jerky approach. He threw seven of his 16 pitches for strikes, lowering his ERA to 13.50 in the process, and exited with the score still 5-0 in Minnesota’s favor.  

Os Trio Tossed (w. quotes)

BALTIMORE– Orioles first baseman Ty Wigginton, pitching coach Rick Kranitz and interim manager Juan Samuel were all ejected Thursday night at separate points of an ugly seventh inning that ended in a 5-0 Twins win.

“I guess emotions were very high tonight,” said Samuel, who stomped on his hat and flung it onto the mound like a Frisbee as he stormed off after being tossed.  “And as a result, we saw what happened.”

Wigginton went first, as he was ejected in the top of the inning by first-base umpire Gary Darling, who ruled that Wigginton missed the tag on J.J. Hardy, who slid headfirst to get back to the bag.

“You get the leadoff guy on and he goes first pitch and we get him hung out to dry,” Wigginton said of Hardy, who turned and tried to head back to first base after catcher Craig Tatum threw down to second. “I felt he was out.”

He was. Television replays showed Wigginton clearly tagging both of Hardy’s outstretched hands and Wigginton threw his hat off and went on a tirade — that included Samuel coming out to the field to restrain him – after Darling gave him the boot.  

“I thought I was [safe] until I saw the replay,” Harding said. “I just got done talking to [Wigginton] and it seemed like he was in a pretty good mood. I think maybe we were talking about the weather before that pitch and he said it’s been really hot and then the next thing I know, he’s up in Darling’s face.”

Red-faced with rage, Wigginton flipped the ball in the stands on his way out and Samuel -who came out to keep the infielder from doing something “that would [the team] would not be prove of” – walked back to the dugout. Samuel, who hadn’t seen the replay when speaking to reporters post-game, said he didn’t believe Wigginton made contact with Darling, but the umpire ruled otherwise.

“[Wigginton made contact] in the chest [and] stomach,” said Darling, who admitted he botched the call. “[I] will send in my report to the League and they make the decision on anything.”

The crowd of 20, 108 issued a loud chorus of boos for several moments following the play and the tension continued to build at Camden Yards. One out later, after Drew Butera singled and Hardy came around to score, Kranitz sarcastically started clapping from the dugout and home plate umpire Bill Hohn made him Orioles casualty No. 2.

“I shouldn’t have done that. It wasn’t the right thing to do, but you know, you get frustrated,” Kranitz said of his actions, which got him his second ejection this season.

“I guess Bill Hohn took offense to [the clapping]”

When asked about the nonverbal cues that got Kranitz tossed, Hohn said his actions on the bench were “unprofessional and uncalled for”.

Samuel didn’t see it that way, and he stormed the field and began a sequence of events that involved putting a beating on his baseball cap and giving Hohn an earful.

“Kranny did not say anything. I was trying to tell [Hohn], ‘How can you blame Kranny when one of your guys blew the call?’,” said Samuel, who became the third Oriole to retreat to the clubhouse after being tossed for arguing on Kranitz’s half.  “Kranny didn’t deserve that. He didn’t miss the call.”

“We thought Wiggy tagged the guy, not once but twice. Gary after watching the replay probably will admit it was a blown call. Unfortunately, he didn’t go our way.”

Wigginton was replaced by Jake Fox at first base, with bench coach Jeff Datz taking over for Samuel and reliever Michael Gonzalez coming out to replace starter Kevin Millwood.

“You know, we want to win,” Kranitz said of an Orioles squad that is a Major League-worst 30-65. “And we want to win bad. And you could just see the competitiveness in Wiggy and how he went about [arguing for the team.]”

Fox or Tatum?

The Orioles are expected to make another roster move on Sunday, when catcher Matt Wieters is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list.

Wieters (right hamstring strain) was out running the bases prior to Thursday’s game -at what he estimated to be about 80-90 percent – and barring any unforeseen setbacks he will return to the O’s lineup for Sunday’s finale.

“[Catching] definitely is going to wear the legs a little bit,” Wieters said.  “But I don’t think it will be much of a factor as getting stretched out, the tired factor seeing I haven’t been doing it. So hopefully I’ve been able to get enough conditioning in the last 15 days to keep it going. “

The corresponding roster move for Wieters will come down to either Craig Tatum or Jake Fox, and could be a decision based on who has options (Tatum) versus who could potentially be lost on waivers (Fox).

Interim manager Juan Samuel said he didn’t think the team could afford to carry three catchers with the current roster being what it is, and there’s always a possibility the Orioles could make a trade or a player could land on the DL in the next few days. While Tatum has excelled as Wieters’ primary backup,  the Orioles would almost certainly lose Fox by exposing him to the waiver wire given that he can play multiple positions and has been effective–hitting three homers and five RBIs – in his first 14 games with Baltimore.

Os/Twins series opener and tidbits

*Brian Roberts was here and spoke to several reporters today about the ongoing speculation concerning his return. B-Rob has been pushing to come back and I’d be shocked if he wasn’t activated this weekend, probably even for Friday. As for the Toronto turf, he said it wasn’t that big of a deal as people make it, and was confident his back would hold up.
*Who goes for Roberts? Julio Lugo is the team’s only backup shortstop, a fact interim manager Juan Samuel confirmed prior to Thursday’s game. That pretty much puts the nail in the coffin for Scott Moore, who is out of options and will have to clear waivers first.
*Matt Wieters was out running the bases and still expects to be activated and ready for Sunday. Samuel said the other day he would probably insert Wieters right back into the lineup. With Craig Tatum playing so well and Jake Fox able to play multiple positions, who goes on this move is a much tougher call. I know Tatum is out of options, while Fox would have to clear waivers and might not make it through. Samuel said he wasn’t sure if the team can afford to carry three catchers. So stay tuned on that one.
*The Orioles would like to limit the second-half use of first-time relievers Jason Berken and David Hernandez. Particularly with Berken, –who ate up a lot of innings in the first half as the long man — the concern will be keeping them healthy and effective. Of course, a lot of this plan relies on the starters going more than 3 or 4 innings.

Felix Pie LF
Miguel Tejada 3B
Nick Markakis RF
Luke Scott DH
Ty Wigginton 1B
Adam Jones CF
Scott Moore 2B
Craig Tatum C
Cesar Izturis SS
Kevin Millwood RHP

Denard Span CF
Orlando Hudson 2B
Joe Mauer DH
Jason Kubel RF
Michael Cuddyer 1B
Delmon Young LF
J.J. Hardy SS
Nick Punto 3B
Drew Butera C
Carl Pavano RHP

Odds and Ends

*Today is Brian Roberts’ scheduled off day. Hopefully we’ll get more news on how he’s doing later this afternoon. He’s been pushing to be activated this weekend, but the O’s could choose to be cautious and wait until next week’s road trip.
*The Orioles released OF Joey Gathright, who was playing for Triple-A Norfolk, this morning.
*Orioles right-hander Saulo Alcantara (playing in the O’s Dominican
Summer League) has been suspended 50 games for violating Minor League Baseball’s Drug Prevention and Treatment program.
*Catcher Jake Fox said Brad Bergesen was missing on his arm side for the first half of his outing yesterday afternoon, and that was a key adjustment in the later innings.
*Troy Patton –who was recalled for a few hours as emergency bullpen help– will start Saturday for Norfolk. Patton was supposed to start Wednesday before he got the brief call up. Chris Tillman will start Saturday.
*The Orioles roster shuffle has Norfolk’s lineup ever-evolving as well. Brandon Snyder, Kam Mickolio and Brandon Erbe are all on short rehab assignments and are expected back with the team in the Tides in the next few days. Factor in Roberts and the expected activation of Matt Wieters on Sunday and things will get interesting for the entire Orioles roster and the affiliates.
*International League All-Star Jeff Salazar was placed on the Tides’ disabled list. Salazar took a ball off his right foot during Wednesday’s batting practice.

Patton here briefly

BALTIMORE– Usually a promotion to the big leagues requires the customary flurry of phone calls and text messages, but lefty Troy Patton opted to keep his first trip to Baltimore -and first time in the Major Leagues in almost three years – decidedly low-key.

“He was told it could be very short,” Samuel said of Wednesday’s decision to recall Patton, who was scheduled to start at Triple-A Norfolk, to bolster the Orioles thin relief corps.

Patton assumed the roster spot of rookie Josh Bell, who was optioned back to Norfolk, and was joined by closer Michael Gonzalez in adding a fresh set of arms to the O’s pen. The 24-year-old Patton, who spent a full year on the big league disabled list (labrum surgery), joked he was just glad to finally see what the inside of Orioles clubhouse looked like.

“I hope maybe it will help me get comfortable [in the big leagues],” Patton said of the call-up. “If I pitch well [now], for September call-ups it would help there.”

Patton was 6-9 with a 4.91 ERA in 18 starts for the Tides this season and will likely be used in a long-relief role. With Thursday’s starter Kevin Millwood set to come off the DL, Patton is the likely candidate to be optioned back to Norfolk following Wednesday’s game.

Bell says he learned a lot in the Majors

BALTIMORE– Josh Bell didn’t get to play often, but the Orioles rookie -who was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk prior to Wednesday’s game – called his first taste of the Major Leagues, nothing but positive.

“It was a pleasure being here, it’s the highest level so whether you are playing or sitting on the bench you are at the top,” said Bell who hit .263 (6-for-19) in six games. “There’s plenty to learn.”

Interim manager Juan Samuel said Bell was “outstanding” in handling the situation, which often left the 23-year-old on the bench in favor of veteran third baseman Miguel Tejada. Monday’s return of designated hitter Luke Scott further cut into Bell’s playing time and the best choice for the young switch-hitter, acquired in a trade with the Dodgers right in the days leading up to last season’s deadline, was to go back to Triple-A.

“He knows that we care about him,” Samuel said of Bell, who is regarded as one of the organization’s top positive prospects. “We wanted him to go back down [to Norfolk] as soon as possible and continue to play.”

Bell said the short stint helped improve his confidence that he can succeed at the Majors and now the challenge is to keep working hard at Norfolk and “wait for that day” when his stay in Baltimore will become permanent.

When that may be is anyone’s guess.

“Who knows,” Samuel said. “As you guys, know things change here on a daily basis. Josh was great here.”

B-rob at Bowie updates

BALTIMORE– Brian Roberts is pushing for a return, and each successful game at Double-A Bowie furthers the second baseman’s case that he is ready to be activated from the 60-day DL.

Roberts went 3-for-5 with a double and a run scored in his second game with the Baysox on Tuesday night, and went 1-for-4 with an RBI single serving at designated hitter on Wednesday afternoon. He will take Thursday off and be reevaluated by the organization’s medical staff, and according to president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, Roberts’ plan will be dictated after that.

Interim manager Juan Samuel has made it no secret that Roberts has been lobbying him to get back in the O’s lineup as soon as this weekend, and he stopped by Baltimore’s clubhouse on Tuesday to let Samuel know how good he feels.

“We are waiting to hear from the medical people to get him clearance for us to make the decision on the baseball side of it,” Samuel said. “And if they feel like he’s ready from their area, than it’s up to us. And we have to think what’s the best scenario.”

With Roberts -who is pushing to return this weekend – it’s also possible he could begin next week’s road series with the Orioles. But given his injury, a herniated disc in his lower back, Roberts would have to be used sparingly on Toronto’s artificial turf.

“For me, the ideal place for [Roberts] is Kansas City,” Samuel said on Tuesday. “We have to be smart. We do not want to see him have a major setback. I’m sure he’s going to push his way into playing in Toronto, so we have to be smart with this.”

The Orioles would still like to see Roberts test his back by diving for a ball or sliding headfirst, neither of which he did in his first two rehab games. 

Gonzo on his 100 ERA, being booed and why this was worse than Tommy John

Full story to come soon on Orioles.com, but here is some highlights of my interview with Michael Gonzalez, who was activated from the 60-day disabled list today….

Closer Michael Gonzalez knows he has a lot to prove to an Orioles organization that signed him to a two-year, $12-million deal this offseason, a fan base that booed him following two blown saves in three outings, and those who may be skeptical about whether he is fully healthy and ready to go.

But, first and foremost, Gonzalez -activated from the 60-day disabled list on Wednesday– is focused on proving to his teammates that he is effective, and wining back a closers’ job that is no longer his. 

“It is what it is,” Gonzalez said of interim manager Juan Samuel’s decision to ease him back and use Alfredo Simon to close for the foreseeable future.  “Whatever. I’m just glad to be back in the big leagues, I think once I show them that I’m healthy everything is going to even out.”

Gonzalez said these three months were the most trying of his career, even more so than when he had season-ending Tommy John in ’07.

“It’s how I left it [in Baltimore]. I left it with like a 100 ERA and not good at all. Not effective, definitely not what they were looking for as a team. Just for myself, for my own psyche it’s something that I’m used to going the next day and fixing.”

On being booed at the Orioles home opener…

“I’m just [glad] to be part of the team more than anything, because I know when I’m healthy what I’m capable of doing.It was hard to go out there [hurt]. Obviously you never want to get booed [at home]. But it is what it is. And I’m back here ready to do the job.”

On how he feels now…

“Stuff wise it felt a lot better [at Triple-A]. Obviously I have to work on a couple things, command issues were a lot better than when I thought they would be, velocity was good, breaking pitches had more bite than I thought they would be. I got to be on the up with this, go out there and stay with what I was going with the last couple of weeks.”

On the O’s bullpen in his absence..

“They’ve been doing a great job, but I’m not going to lie to you I haven’t been watching too many games. Obviously it frustrates me, it doesn’t get me in a good mood. Just wanting to be there so bad, it’s been three months since I’ve actually been there in a big league uniform. It’s been tough mentally, more mentally than physically. The physical part was easy, it been frustrating just being anxious and all that together just trying to hold that down a little bit.”

Os/Rays finale, the return of Gonzo

*Michael Gonzalez was activated from the 60-day DL, as I reported would happen yesterday. Jim Johnson was transferred to the 60-dal DL to make room for Gonzo on the 40-man. I spoke with Gonzalez separate from the media hoard, and will have those quotes up in a bit. He hated leaving the team the way he did, with an ERA “around 100” and lingering questions that he couldn’t get the job done. As for his role as closer being taken away for now, Gonzo said “it is what it is”, and his focus is on getting back to the 9th and staying healthy.
*The Orioles also recalled Troy Patton, who was scheduled to pitch in Norfolk today, for bullpen help. He will likely only be here a day, as Kevin Millwood will need to be activated tomorrow. Patton said he was told if Brad Bergesen only goes 5 or 6 innings he will be used, but if Bergy goes into the 7th probably not.
*To make room on the roster for Patton, rookie Josh Bell was optioned back to Norfolk.
*Brian Roberts continues to make a push to rejoin the club. He went 3-for-5 with a double and a run scored last night and interim manager Juan Samuel said Roberts is lobbying to come back as soon as this weekend. Whether the team elects to let him play on that artificial turf in Toronto remains to be seen.

Corey Patterson LF
Miguel Tejada 3B
Nick Markakis RF
Luke Scott DH
Ty Wigginton 1B
Adam Jones CF
Jake Fox C
Julio Lugo 2B
Cesar Izturis SS
Brad Bergesen RHP

Ben Zobrist RF
Jason Bartlett SS
Evan Longoria 3B
Carlos Pena 1B
Matt Joyce LF
Willy Aybar DH
B.J. Upton CF
Reid Brignac 2B
Kelly Shoppach C
James Shields RHP