March 2011

Opening the season

It’s always interesting to read season previews, particularly those on a national scale, to see what they think of the Orioles.

*USA Today’s preview has manager Buck Showalter working his magic as the main question (which is pretty common) but the “scout’s take” section was interesting, particularly this snippet..

“…it’s not Miguel Tejada at third. It’s not Ty Wigginton at first. That’s going to make a huge difference for the pitchers. Especially Derrek Lee at first. Reynolds has a real nice arm at third. RF Nick Markakis looks like he can just go play and not worry about being “the man.” He’s going to benefit because nobody wants to pitch to Vladimir Guerrero. Adam Jones is more than just tools this year. I hear him say all the right things about playing the right way, but he’s backing it up on the field. Showalter really seems to have gotten to him.”

*Sports Illustrated tabs Showalter as the “X-factor” in their preview and of their three big questions the third one –which talks about the Os cashing in at the Trade Deadline — stuck out …

“Finally, with veterans such as Guerrero, Lee, and Uehara signed to one-year deals without no-trade clauses, and Hardy, outfielder Luke Scott, and lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez also due to become free agents after the season, the Orioles have a lot to offer contending clubs looking to fill holes at the deadline. For a team trying to go from rebuilding to winning, there’s an opportunity there to add a key piece or two to aid in that transition

*ESPN predicts a 77-win season for the Orioles in their preview and labels Zach Britton as the “X-factor” who could help push the team to .500. It also spotlights parts of the O’s schedule (below)…

“Toughest month: Sept. (.561). Division rivals make this worst month for any team. Easiest month: June (.487). To reach .500, they must beat up on Bucs and Nats.”

Bergesen on the bullpen

Brad Bergesen found out yesterday that he’s being moved to the bullpen, an assignment that looks to be temporary until the Orioles need a fifth starter on April 10.

Bergesen, who threw two innings at the team’s complex yesterday, said physically he feels good but he’s going to take advantage of his new assignment to get ready for the season.

“I’m taking it very positively and treating it like I have 10 more days to try and fine tune some things hopefully,” said Bergesen, who was removed from Friday’s start after being struck in the right forearm with a leadoff liner.

“But compared to last year, it’s just much more confidence in my arm strength. There was a lot of question marks going on in my head when I was out on the mound during the games and that’s not a good place to be, and that obviously showed last year. So that part is much more comforting. Everything feels good.”

Tillman on getting Sunday’s start

Chris Tillman found out Wednesday that he would be starting Sunday’s game. He joked that he was the last one to find out because he was fishing and he got the message from pitching coach Mark Connor a few hours later. No matter.

The 22-year-old Tillman, who was one of spring’s final cuts last year, will be part of the O’s Opening Day rotation, following Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz. Jake Arrieta will start Monday’s home opener.

Tillman pitched to a 3.93 ERA but he had an uneven spring, and said after his last start that he had the worst stuff of camp. The right-hander has been working with Connor and bullpen coach Rick Adair and retooling his delivery and said Wednesday’s bullpen session gave him a confidence boost going into the season.

“After that, I feel fine,” Tillman said. “Coming off the start before that, if you had asked me [if I was physically ready] after that I would have said, ‘no’. but Mark and Rick they worked hard with me the whole spring, we had a great bullpen yesterday so I’m real encouraged after that.”

OD lineups, etc

Friday’s game is a sellout at Tropicana Field. Here are the lineups for Opening Day:

RAYS LINEUP
Ben Zobrist 2b
Johnny Damon lf
Evan Longoria 3b
Manny Ramirez DH
Dan Johnson 1b
BJ Upton cf
Matt Joyce rf
Reid Brignac ss
John Jaso c
David Price LHP

ORIOLES LINEUP
Brian Roberts 2B
Nick Markakis RF
Derrek Lee 1B
Vladimir Guerrero Dh
Adam Jones CF
Luke Scott
Mark Reynolds 3B
Matt Wieters C
J.J. Hardy SS

Jeremy Guthrie RHP

*Mark Hendrickson has accepted an assignment to Triple-A Norfolk. He was informed on Monday that he would not be making the Orioles’ Opening Day roster and will now be part of the Tides’ bullpen.

*Justin Duchscherer suffered a setback when his back tightened up while at a workout on Thursday. He said it’s “definitely related” to his hip injury, which is the reason he’s on the disabled list. Duchscherer was targeting April 21 as his return and it’s not known if this will change that just yet. He saw a local chiropractor yesterday and manager Buck Showalter said Duchscherer could go visit with the doctor who operated on his hip last year.

“It’s a little frustrating for him,” Showalter said of Duchscherer. “He thought he has turned the corner a little bit. Hopefully he has. Hopefully the next day or two it will quiet down and we’re back on the bicycle again. But we knew it was going to be a challenge back when we signed him. We’ll continue to go down that road and see if we can get him there.”

*That’s also the date Zach Britton can rejoin the team and not get a full year of service time.The way it’s set up right now Britton is on schedule to pitch April 20 in Triple-A. That’s another thing to keep an eye on these first few weeks.

*Showalter said giving Sunday’s start to Chris Tillman over Brad Bergesen was mostly because the team feels Tillman can give them a longer start.

“He’s equipped to go longer pitch-wise, if you look at Bergy the last two times out, yesterday was a two inning stint the time before was a four pitch stint,” Showalter said.

“Plus I think he’s a little probably better suited to pitch out of the pen a little bit. I think Tillman’s ready to go 100 [pitches] if Tampa lets him, more that than anything else.”

The team decided to keep Bergesen rather than send him to Triple-A because if Monday’s game gets rained out the Orioles will play fives games in a row and need that extra starter.

Tillman for Sunday, Bergesen to pen

Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman will start Sunday’s series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays, the team announced on Wednesday.

The move puts starter Brad Bergesen in the bullpen as an extra starter/swingman until at least April 10, which is the first day the team needs a fifth starter given their early off days.

With top pitching prospect Zach Britton and Justin Duchscherer both on target to return April 21, the early performance of Tillman and Bergesen could be big in deciding who stays and who goes in the rotation.

Neither Tillman nor Bergesen impressed this spring, but with Duchscherer starting the season on the disabled list and Britton ticketed for Triple-A to delay his free agency clock, Sunday’s start quickly became a two-man competition.

The 22-year-old Tillman pitched to a 3.93 ERA in five games (four starts) this spring, allowing 20 hits and nine walks with 10 strikeouts. He allowed eight earned runs in 18 1/3 innings.

Bergesen, who was removed from his last start after a leadoff liner struck him in the right forearm, has struggled this spring. In six games, the 25-year-old has allowed 11 earned runs on 25 hits and six walks, pitching to a 5.82 ERA. He also struck out 11 and the team feels, at this point, that Bergesen is better suited than Tillman for a bullpen role.

Tillman will be opposed at Tropicana Field by Rays’ right-hander Wade Davis.

To recap, Jeremy Guthrie is the O’s Opening Day starter, followed by Brian Matusz and now Tillman. Jake Arrieta will pitch the home opener on Monday.

Showalter on the closing situation

There are a few questions still left to sort out on the Orioles’ 25-man roster and one of those is who will get the ball in a save situation.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he could name an official closer if he “had to”, but since he doesn’t he won’t. The two guys who will get the primary save opportunities are Kevin Gregg and Koji Uehara. Michael Gonzalez is another option but he’s the only lefty in the ‘pen.

When asked who would close Friday if need be, Showalter said he would wait to see what the situation is.

“I’ve had some conversations,” Showalter said. “The one thing with Koji is you probably aren’t going to be able to go back-to-back with him initially.”

That would mean that Gregg could get more of an early look early on, depending –of course — on how the first series or two unfolds.

“If they got three left-handers there, we haven’t used Gonzo…Don’t hold me to anything,” Showalter said. “But I got a feeling the way it will work out right now. [I’m] not ready to totally commit to that yet.”

Matusz good for Saturday, VandenHurk clears waivers

*Orioles reliever Rick VandenHurk cleared waivers and is expected to be part of Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation along with Zach Britton, Ryan Drese and Chris Jakubauskas. Jakubauskas is expected to throw four innings today at the team’s complex.

VandenHurk clearing waivers frees up a spot on the 40-man roster for the team to select the contract of Josh Rupe. Rupe,who will serve as one of the team’s long men, was the only player to make the 25-man team as a non-roster invitee.

*Brian Matusz threw a side session at this morning and he said he’s “100 percent ready to go” for Saturday’s start.

Matusz still has a pretty ugly-looking bruise on his left bicep, from when he was hit on Monday, but said he felt like nothing was wrong when throwing. He admitted it has been a frustrating spring, between the bruise, having a wart removed from his pitching hand and some poor outings. But he said he’s ready to put it all behind him.

This spring, Matusz went 0-2 with a 5.93 ERA in five games (4 starts). In 13 2/3 innings he allowed 17 hits, 10 runs (nine earned) and seven walks with 13 strikeouts.

*Jake Arrieta is going around six innings in today’s Minor League game with Brad Bergesen going two. Arrieta will pitch Monday’s home opener with Tillman the likely guy for Sunday. That would slot Bergesen as the long man/swing man until the team needs a fifth starter on April 10.

Os announce OD plans

Per a team release
ORIOLES ANNOUNCE 2011 OPENING DAY PLANS

The Orioles have announced plans for the first home game of their 58th season and their 20th year at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The team will face the Detroit Tigers on Monday, April 4, at 3:05 p.m.

PRE-GAME FUN AROUND THE YARD
To allow fans the opportunity to experience the excitement of Opening Day, the entire ballpark will open at noon on Monday. Each fan will receive a 2011 schedule/car magnet, courtesy of Brothers Services Company, at the gates. Roving musical groups will entertain fans on Eutaw Street and the main concourses.

PRE-GAME CEREMONIES

PLAYER INTRODUCTIONS
Fans are encouraged to be in their seats by 2:30 p.m., when pre-game ceremonies will begin. MASN personality JIM HUNTER will serve as emcee for the pre-game festivities.

In a continuation of the Opening Day tradition, Orioles players and coaches will be introduced prior to the game. Orioles players will run through the center field gate on an orange carpet and take their places between first base and second base. Manager BUCK SHOWALTER, coaches and staff will be introduced from the Orioles dugout. Members of the Tigers will be announced and will run from their dugout to line up between second base and third base.

OriolesREACH has arranged for 90 children from the Maryland National Guard Child & Youth Program to line the orange carpet holding Orioles flags during player introductions. The Maryland National Guard Child & Youth Program works towards the goal of meeting the social, emotional and educational needs of military children.

For the 18th straight season, one fan will be chosen to represent all Orioles fans as the team’s “10th man”. The fan will be introduced as a part of the Orioles starting lineup during the pre-game ceremonies.

FIRST PITCH
Hall of Fame Orioles Manager EARL WEAVER will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, which will be caught by current skipper BUCK SHOWALTER, prior to the game. Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996, Weaver managed the Orioles for 17 seasons, compiling a .583 winning percentage and piloting the team to their second World Series Championship in 1970.

NATIONAL ANTHEM & GOD BLESS AMERICA
American tenor Richard Troxell will perform the National Anthem. Troxell, a native of Thurmont, Maryland, has an extensive resume of film and theater performance experience both in the United States and abroad. Troxell will also sing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch. This year marks the eighth time he has performed the National Anthem on Orioles Opening Day.

During the anthem, a 30’x 42’ American flag from Fort McHenry will be unfurled over the batter’s eye wall in center field. The flag is a replica of the one that flew over Fort McHenry when Francis Scott Key wrote the National Anthem.

Colors will be presented by the United States Armed Forces Color Guard provided by the Military District of Washington and by the Combined Honor Guard Team of the Baltimore City Police and Fire Departments.The anthem will culminate with a flyover by the 104th Fighter Squadron from the Maryland Air National Guard.

A few odds and ends

A few quotes and tidbits to wrap it up from the Ed Smith Stadium press box:

*Jake Arrieta is tentatively scheduled for Monday’s home opener, but manager Buck Showalter said the team will watch Brian Matusz (left bicep contusion) play catch at the team’s complex first. If all goes well, both Arrieta and Matusz will remain on schedule and Arrieta will throw six innings in a simulated game against Minor Leaguers on Wednesday.

“We will know about Matusz before Arrieta pitches, that’s why we switched the game back to 1 o’clock,” Showalter said.

Brad Bergesen (right forearm contusion) is scheduled to throw two innings in Wednesday’s game. Bergesen and Chris Tillman are both still up for Sunday’s start, which Showalter has not announced yet.

*I got a lot of questions and outrage about saying that Craig Tatum –who will start the season in Baltimore — likely won’t be there very long. Here’s a pretty telling quote from Showalter about that.

“What happens this time of year, they dwell so much on the finality on the 29th of March and not what could happen shortly,” Showalter said of the decision to send Tatum to Norfolk. “We’ll see. When we get our rotation … where it kind of settles in and some things in our bullpen [settle] we will be tweaking some things as they go. But they don’t really want to hear that right now.

Craig did some good things for us last year and will get an opportunity again if he takes care of his end of the bargain. He also has more important things going on in his life.”

Tatum’s wife is scheduled to have their first baby on Thursday morning, in case you missed my earlier post about that.

*With Tatum not on the Opening Day roster, Jake Fox is the team’s backup catcher. Fox said he felt bad given that him and Tatum are both close friends and he knows that starts as a utility guy will be nearly impossible given that the team will need him for insurance should Wieters get hurt or have to come out for any reason.

“It will be interesting to see when I get my first my at-bat, will it be a few days or a week,” said Fox, who hit a Major League-leading 10 homers this spring.

“I’ll keep getting my work in and stay ready. But it will be interesting to see if a situation arises or if there’s a job elsewhere, what happens. But I am excited to be part of this team.”

*Derrek Lee has said all along he will be ready for Opening Day, joking with reporters they Major League Baseball won’t “push it back” for him. Tuesday’s game was an encouraging sign for Lee, who went 3-for-4 at the plate and entered the game hitting just. 111.

“I have been starting to feel a little better the last couple days and it definitely felt good,” said Lee, who will take some swings in the cage on Wednesday. “I’m seeing the ball good.”

Britton on being sent down

Orioles pitcher Zach Britton said he wasn’t surprised when he was called into manager Buck Showalter’s office Tuesday afternoon and given the news that he was being sent to Triple-A Norfolk.

The 23-year-old Britton, who pitched to a staff-best 1.35 ERA, was impressive in his first big league Spring Training and said the experience and getting to know the guys is what he will take away the most from this year’s camp. Britton is expected to have a short stay in the Minors –he could come up as soon as April 21 — and said the team told him to not make any “long-term plans” in Norfolk.

Here’s the rest of what he said to reporters.

[on using this as motivation]
“Yeah, definitely. I’m going to go down to Triple-A and try to continue what I was doing here. Like I said yesterday, it doesn’t do me any good to go down to Triple-A and pout because it’s not going to help me get up here any quicker. So, I understand that I need to go down there and work on some stuff too. I’m not perfect, I got some stuff I need to work on, so that will give me some time to sharpen those things but at the same time pitch well.”

[on teammates' reaction]
“Surprised. When I went up to shake some guys hands they were kind of thrown off guard that I was going down. That’s real flattering. Obviously they feel like I deserve to be on the team.

But we all understand the business side. I think everyone knows it kind of came down to that, which is fine. It’s flattering, that the organization feels that highly of me that they want me around for so long. If that’s the decision that they made, then I’m actually kind of flattered by it, and I’ll go down to Triple-A and continue to do well and be back up here hopefully within this month.”

[on what he will work on in Triple-A]
“I changed my changeup grip so I want to be comfortable throwing that again. And the mechanics that I have just kind of fine tuning those, really just being more consistent. Throwing strikes and when I get ahead, putting guys away and not throwing 90 pitches in 5 innings or whatever it is.”

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