July 2010

Gonzalez coming and what that means for Simon

Looks like Michael Gonzalez completed his rehab assignment. I’m told he cleaned out his locker and his nameplate is gone in Norfolk. Gonzalez tossed a scoreless inning to open last night’s Tides game after a rain-delay pushed back the start.

Gonzalez will be activated in the next day or so –when exactly is up for debate and officially depends on when he actually arrives in Baltimore. I imagine he’d be rested and ready to pitch immediately. The O’s could use him tomorrow to fill the extra roster spot vacated by Tillman, and option back rookie Josh Bell on Thursday if need be. Lots of scenarios with the roster, and it’s important to note that Gonzo will need to be added back on the team’s 40-man roster. An easy move would be to transfer Jim Johnson to the 60 day DL.

Gonzalez has been on the 60-day DL with a left shoulder strain that by all indication was an injury he had this spring. He will not take the closing job from Alfredo Simon right away, a fact interim manager Juan Samuel confirmed on Tuesday afternoon.

Gonzalez’s velocity was in the 91-93 mph last night so that’s not an issue. But his command is something the organization wants to see get better. He will be put in “less-pressurized situations” (read: 6th or 7th inning type of stuff) until he proves he can be effective.

Odds and Ends….

*Corey Patterson (bruised heel) is available to play tonight off the bench.
*Juan Samuel said Josh Bell hasn’t been playing much because Miguel Tejada was brought here to play third base. (Or perhaps they are trying to shop him and want him to play as much as possible.)
*The Orioles roster situation is going to get a lot crazier later this week. You can read about today’s moves here. Besides Bell, I can’t think of a front runner roster casualty. The team could go about 10 different ways and it will be interesting to see what Andy MacPhail does…
*On the move to send Chris Tillman to Norfolk…I’m not sure about this one. While Tillman is inconsistent he has proven to be dominant at Triple-A. It’s the easy choice to get Millwood back in the rotation, but sooner or later it’s going to mess with these young kids heads to keep sending guys like Brad Bergesen and Tillman back-and-forth. Not sure I agree with this move or how the young pitchers are being handled. As a key part of the O’s future, they have to tread carefully.
*Tillman will likely start Saturday in Norfolk. 

Orioles roster mania

BALTIMORE– The expected flurry of Orioles roster moves this week continued on Tuesday, with the news that right-hander Chris Tillman had been taken out of the rotation and optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk for the second time this season.

Interim Orioles manager Juan Samuel also confirmed that veteran Kevin Millwood will be activated from the 15-day disabled list (right forearm strain) and start Thursday’s game with the rest of the O’s rotation sliding back a day.

Baltimore is expecting to activate closer Michael Gonzalez -either following Wednesday’s game or early on Thursday – and the O’s could also add another arm prior to Wednesday’s game to take the spot vacated by Tillman. Matt Wieters (strained right hamstring) is expected to slide right into the lineup on Sunday, and Brian Roberts, who started a rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie on Monday, could also be activated in the next few days, although the team is leaning toward having Roberts wait. Rookie infielder Josh Bell is expected to be a roster casualty and the team will have to make a few more to clear space.

Although the Orioles roster is in upheaval, president of baseball operations MacPhail said there is “nothing that would indicate” a trade in the next several days, to help free up some space. Beyond that, the Orioles are always discussing possibilities around this time of the year, particularly with veterans like Ty Wigginton and Miguel Tejada.

“We’re still trying to make the decision which way we’re going to go, whether it’s going to be a pitcher or a position player when all these guys come back,” Samuel said of the roster juggling. “I think Andy has got his hands full trying to figure out which way we’re going to go.”

With Roberts, he could possibly 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.

While MacPhail acknowledged that “Brian’s rather keen on getting it going,” the organization will reevaluate him on Thursday, when he takes a day off of rehab. Having Roberts play at the Rogers Centre surface -which is similar to the three straight games he started in Tampa Bay prior to reinjuring himself on the Orioles home opener – is hardly ideal and it could push him back another series.

“For me, the ideal place for [Roberts] is Kansas City,” Samuel said. “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 also had to weigh the possibilities concerning sending Tillman back to Norfolk, in what is becoming a yo-yo year for the young righty. With Samuel and MacPhail both against a six-man rotation, Tillman -who allowed eight runs on seven hits over 2 2/3 innings in Monday’s loss – proved to be the odd man. The 22-year-old has struggled to find consistency at the Major League level -nearly pitching a no-hitter in his previous start at Texas-but given that he wasn’t going to throw again for five days, it was an easy choice to make room in the rotation. 

Millwood has been on the disabled list since July 6 with a strained right forearm and has seen a strong-first half collapse into a 10.20 ERA over his previous seven starts. Samuel said he was confident Millwood could return to his early-season form, and Millwood has attested since the All-Star break that his arm has felt much better.
The Orioles are equally optimistic about Gonzalez, who was placed on the 60-day DL (left shoulder strain) and used his full rehab assignment, which expires on Wednesday.

While Gonzalez has struggled in the Minor Leagues, Samuel thinks his concentration and focus will help improve his location -and results -when he rejoins the O’s.  Signed to a two-year deal this offseason to close games, Gonzalez appeared in just three games -including two blown saves – before landing on the DL and will be eased back into the later innings.

Millwood for Thursday, Tillman to Norfolk

Orioles pitcher Kevin Millwood is expected to be activated from the disabled list and start on Thursday against the Twins, interim manager Juan Samuel confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

In order to make room for Millwood in the rotation, Baltimore optioned right-hander Chris Tillman to Triple-A Norfolk.  With Millwood not officially activated, the Orioles could call up someone to fill the open spot. They could add an extra arm or two in the next few days (Michael Gonzalez would be one) and also could open up another roster spot by optioning back rookie infielder Josh Bell.

Millwood has been on the disabled list since July 6 with a strained right forearm. The right-hander has endured a tough season and had a 10.20 ERA in his previous seven starts before going on the disabled list. Millwood’s return will push back the rest of the Orioles rotation by a day, pitting Jeremy Guthrie as Friday night’s starter.

No pressure but…

Interim manager Juan Samuel told reporters last night that he would like to see rookie starter Jake Arrieta go deep into the game to help preserve an overused O’s bullpen.

It’s no easy task considering the Rays are the best road team in baseball. If Arrieta can give them some quality innings, the O’s could go right to Jason Berken and possibly David Hernandez or Alfredo Simon to close out the game. (Samuel said the team would go with Koji, but he hasn’t been used back-to-back since coming off the DL.)

Matt Albers had his best outing –tossing three scoreless innings — and is unavailable tonight as is long man Mark Hendrickson. The O’s optioned Frank Mata back to make room for Luke Scott, and should closer Michael Gonzalez is expected to be activated when his rehab ends Wednesday.


Brian Roberts on his rehab

UPDATE: Roberts is 2-for-5 with a double, RBI single and two runs scored. He has slid, but not headfirst.

Brian Roberts is at Double-A Bowie and spoke with the media for the first time in a few months. He will bat leadoff and play nine innings tonight, DH on Tuesday and play another full nine innings on Wednesday.  B-Rob was optimistic and in a good mood, saying he was happy to be in Bowie and also clarifying that surgery was never an option. His doctors said it wasn’t anything could be surgically treated and he’s confident the issue will not hinder his career in the long-term.

As for his return to Baltimore, Roberts joked if it was up to him, he would be playing for the Orioles tonight. But he acknowledged it all depends on how he feels and what the team decides. Juan Samuel told reporters in Balitmore that having Roberts run on the turf in Toronto next week isn’t the best idea, so the O’s could hold off until the Kansas City trip after that.

Roberts said one of the big tests in Bowie will be sliding. He has not slid headfirst yet, and has not done so since April 9’s home opener, when he reinjured his back.

A full story is coming on Orioles.com, but here are the highlights.

On how he’s feeling…

“We’ve tried to stay as low profile as possible the last month or two just because there was so much going on and you have expectations, people have expectations and we just got to the point where we needed to go as slow as possible and not have to answer those questions all the time. Things are good, things are way better than they were at the beginning of the year. I really never got to the point at the beginning of the year where I felt how I do now. It’s a positive sign and I’m excited to get back out and start playing.”

On if he thought he’d never reach this point (playing in a rehab game) this season…

“Yeah, there were definitely times where I didn’t think I’d be here right now, certainly.  It did get to the point a couple of times where I didn’t know if it was better off just not even pushing it anymore.  But, you know, you just go through the process and you see where it takes you.

“I was going to continue to go through that until it got to the point where there was no hope at the end.  I’m thankful that I got here at this point and we’re just going to continue to hope that things progress as they have been.”

On what motivated him to keep trying to come back…

“I mean a lot of reasons.  One, you just want to play.  That’s what I get paid to do and what Mr. Angelos has signed me to do.  That’s what this organization is expecting of me.

“I think, on the other hand, for me to able to come out next year and if they think that next year is important, I need to get this under my belt and play some games and get back to myself going into next year.  I don’t like the thought process of not playing at all, taking the winter off and then going in with the unknown next year.

“I feel like if I can go out there and get two and half, two months under my belt and be ready to roll going into winter and do my off season program and have no second thoughts with what is going on with my body, I think that’s important.

“I was on a radio show earlier this year and Scott Garceau mentioned that there were some fans that were wondering if I was still trying to play.  If I wanted to play. I want people to know, that is not the case.  I will be out there until I can’t go.  There are a lot of reasons that drive you.  There is not really one sole reason, but there are several of them.”

Samuel said no demotion for Matusz

Interim manager Juan Samuel said there has been no talk of a demotion for 23-year-old Brian Matusz, who lasted a season-low 1 2/3 innings on Sunday afternoon. Matusz allowed six earned runs and threw just 52 pitches to mark the shortest stint of his career.

Samuel said sending Matusz to Norfolk –which is what the team has done with Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman at different points this season — is not in his mind, and he made it clear on a follow-up question that the case was closed.

As for the long chat he had when he removed Matusz, Samuel said it wasn’t injury-related. He just wanted to know how Brian was feeling.

“I was basically asking him if he was uncomfortable on the mound today,” Samuel said. “He said he felt like he was yanking, pulling the ball too much there.”

Matusz joins teammate Jeremy Guthrie for the most losses in the American League, and is now 3-10 with a 5.21 ERA. It’s a far cry from the predictions this spring, with scouts raving about his Grapefruit League showing and several national outlets pegging Matusz as a leading candidate for American League Rookie of the Year.

Matusz has lost more games (12) in 27 outings for Baltimore than his entire collegiate career at the University of San Diego, where he lost just nine games in 45 starts (48 total outings.) Samuel said the Orioles hope the losing won’t have any damaging mental effects on Matusz in the long term.

“Well we are hoping that will not be the case,” Samuel said. “He’s a tough young guy, he’s got a lot of confidence.”

Orioles/Blue Jays lineups and pregame tidbits

*Josh Bell is in the starting lineup today in what will likely be his last game for the O’s. Luke Scott is expected to be activated tomorrow, and Bell is the obvious choice to go in his place.

*Corey Patterson was a late scratch from today’s game with a bruised left heel suffered while trying to beat out a bunt in the fourth inning. Felix Pie is playing instead and Patterson said it won’t be more than a day or two, max. The team may do an X-ray later today on his heel just to make sure.

*Matt Wieters (right hamstring strain) is feeling much better and said that he will be ready to come off the DL as soon as he is eligible. Wieters spent the All-Star break coming in for treatment every morning and is now just getting back into running and other baseball-related activities to test his hammy.

*Kevin Millwood is looking like he will be ready when eligible off the DL as well. Millwood has thrown a side and a bullpen with no pain and pitching coach Rick Kranitz said the team would evaluate Millwood following Sunday’s ‘pen. Millwood can come off the shelf on Wednesday and interim manager Juan Samuel said the team has not talked about going to a six-man rotation. It’s not looking like a favorable option because Samuel doesn’t like to keep “backing guys up”, so someone will have to go. Brad Bergesen is Wednesday’s starter.

Felix Pie LF
Miguel Tejada DH
Nick Markakis RF
Ty Wigginton 1B
Adam Jones CF
Jake Fox C
Scott Moore 2B
Josh Bell 3B
Cesar Izturis SS

Brian Matusz LHP

Britton continues to impress

Touted lefty Zach Britton continues to knock on the door in Baltimore, tossing a dominant outing for Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday night. Britton pitched 7 13/3 scoreless innings to earn his first victory for the Tides against a Columbus Clippers team that entered the contest as the top-hitting team in the International League with a .289 team batting average.

The 22-year-old Britton, who was making his first appearance since throwing a scoreless inning in the MLB Futures Game on Sunday, limited Columbus to just five hits and picked up three strikeouts.

Over his last 10 starts between Double-A Bowie and Norfolk, Britton is now 6-1 with a 1.11 ERA. He has allowed eight earned runs in 64 2/3 innings in that span.

What to do with Wiggy, plus MacPhail on young talent

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said on Saturday at the Orioles State of the Team address no one is untouchable when it comes to trade talks, including the team’s young core. But MacPhail did acknowledge that it would be hard to part with a young player even if the team would get back a impact bat that it badly needs for the future.

The Orioles are actively shopping veterans Ty Wigginton and Miguel Tejada, with Wigginton the team’s best trade chip given his versatility and resurgent year. The Rangers had a scout in attendance last night and have made it no secret that they are interested in Wigginton.

It’s important to keep an eye on Brian Roberts‘ return, as that would clearly give MacPhail reason to move Wigginton. The timetable on trading Wiggy figures to rely heavily on  when the Os will have a healthy B-Rob.