March 2011

Orioles 25 man roster

With the three cuts today and the news that Justin Duchscherer will officially start the season on the 15-day disabled list, the Orioles have now set their 25-man roster. The only question mark is who will get the start on Sunday, although it’s likely Chris Tillman. Brad Bergesen, the O’s other option, projects better as a bullpen guy and the team would prefer to keep Tillman as a starter.

BULLPEN
KEVIN GREGG
KOJI UEHARA
MICHAEL GONZALEZ
JIM JOHNSON
JEREMY ACCARDO
JOSH RUPE
JASON BERKEN

POSITION PLAYERS
DERREK LEE
BRIAN ROBERTS
J.J. HARDY
MATT WIETERS
MARK REYNOLDS
LUKE SCOTT
ADAM JONES
NICK MARKAKIS
VLADIMIR GUERRERO

BENCH PLAYERS
FELIX PIE
JAKE FOX
CESAR IZTURIS
ROBERT ANDINO

STARTERS
JEREMY GUTHRIE
BRIAN MATUSZ
JAKE ARRIETA
BRAD BERGESEN
CHRIS TILLMAN

Britton optioned

The Orioles optioned top pitching prospect Zach Britton to Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday, a roster move that by all indications is a temporary one given the 23-year-old’s impressive spring.

The Orioles can go with four starters until April 10 by using their scheduled off-days, and the plan is to keep Britton in Triple-A until at least April 21, which is the first date he could come up and not be allotted a full year of service time. By keeping Britton in the Minors for at least 20 days, he will remain under team control for another full year, until 2017.

The 23-year-old Britton — who has allowed just three earned runs in 20 official spring innings – made his final Grapefruit League start Monday against the Tigers. He allowed Detroit two runs over six innings and has exceeded organizational expectations and frequently wowed the opposition in his first Major League camp.

“He throws hard; his ball moves a lot too,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said after Britton tossed three scoreless innings against New York March 7. Jeter, who was very complimentary of Britton’s arsenal, had little doubt it would play at the Major League level.

“He threw me a changeup that was one of the best pitches I’ve seen all spring,” added Detroit’s Will Rhymes. “It was sinking. It was cutting. I talked to [Jake] Fox, their catcher, on second base. He said [Britton’s] pitches go all over and he doesn’t know exactly where it’s going. That’s kind of what it looked like. He made a couple pitches to me that were really, really good pitches.”

Tuesday’s decision isn’t purely financial — the O’s have no intention of leaving Britton in the Minors long enough to delay his arbitration years — but they do want to keep the heralded lefty from entering free agency a year early. President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who has made it the organizational philosophy to grow the arms from within, said he expects Britton to be up in Baltimore within the season’s first month.

“I’d be shocked if he wasn’t,” MacPhail said. “[Britton not being here] could happen. We could be going good with what we have and he could scuffle.”

The Orioles best pitcher statistically this spring, there are things Britton –a groundball specialist — needs to improve on, most notably keeping his pitch count in check.

“This kid has got a live arm,” pitching coach Mark Connor said of Britton, who was named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season.

“He’s not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination. There’s some things in his delivery that I think can get better. And the secondary stuff has got to get better where he can command a changeup, command a breaking ball. But if he can locate the two fastballs he throws in the Major Leagues, he’s going to have success.”

Added MacPhail: “We tend to look at these kids and put too much of the savior tag on them. [Britton] will be good enough to be part of our five, but he’s not going to just jump to No. 1.”

Starting Britton in Triple-A, as unpopular as it may be among fans, is a fairly common occurrence around Major League Baseball. The Giants had catcher phenom Buster Posey start in Triple-A last season to get some more seasoning, and Royals third baseman of the future Mike Moustakas will start this year with Omaha and likely be up by midseason to delay future arbitration. The Mariners top pitching prospect Michael Pineda is expected to break camp, but position player Dustin Ackley will begin in Triple A, with the consensus he will be in Seattle sooner rather than later.

“Obviously it’s tough,” said Rays third baseman Evan Longoria who was a late-spring cut in 2008, despite hitting .262 with three homers and 10 RBIs, in favor of Willy Aybar. The Rays insisted the top prospect needed more work, but the move –which didn’t sit well in Tampa Bay’s clubhouse – raised questions about whether it was financially-driven. Longoria said he had no shortage of motivation in his short time at Triple-A Durham, and empathized with Britton’s situation.

“The biggest thing is understanding that you are that close, you are only half a step away from being in the big leagues” said Longoria, who was recalled for good when Aybar went on the disabled list April 12. “[And] understanding that probably everybody in the [Orioles] clubhouse knows that [Britton] should be on the team. It’s just understanding the politics of the game. When it’s time for him to come up, he’s going to be the first one to get the phone call.”

Britton, who was in Minor League camp last season, used his lack of big-league invitation as motivation, going 7-3 with a 2.48 at Double-A Bowie before being promoted to Triple-A. He finished the season 3-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 12 starts at Norfolk and was disappointed by not getting a September callup. He has maintained all spring that his only goal has been to show the Orioles what he can do, the rest –as Britton has pointed out – was out of his control.

“I’ve been through this [situation] a couple different times so I kind of know how to handle it,” Britton said. “I’m not the type of guy that’s going to go out there and complain about where I am. I’m not going to like it, but I’ll go out there and pitch because it doesn’t help me or the organization if I go down to Triple-A and pout. I’m not going to get up here any quicker. I need to go out there and get people out whether I’m in Norfolk or Baltimore.”

Os/Jays lineups

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

Chris George LHP

Matusz update

Brian Matusz spoke with reporters this morning about his left forearm, which was hit with a line drive by O’s prospect L.J. Hoes in a simulated game on one of the back fields yesterday.

Matusz, who had ice on his left arm, said he wasn’t in any pain and didn’t anticipate missing his start on Saturday. Still, that remains a possibility especially since Jake Arrieta is taking an extra days’ rest and could be in line to make that Saturday start if needed. Arrieta is tentatively scheduled for Monday’s home opener.

“I don’t think its going to be something that’s going to push me back too far,” Matusz said the injury, which is essentially a bruise.

“Hopefully today’s the only day that I can’t throw, but all we can do is take it day by day. Like I said yesterday, you can’t predict how it’s going to feel. Today, we just want to play it safe, keep the ice on it, so that there’s no issue tomorrow.”

Matusz hit with liner

Orioles lefty Brian Matusz exited a Minor League start in the second inning on Monday after being struck in the left bicep with a line drive, although the team doesn’t believe right now that the injury is serious enough to warrant an X-Ray.

Matusz, who was wearing a pressure pad as he spoke with reporters, said O’s prospect L.J. Hoes sent a fastball straight back at him, prematurely ending a game that the Orioles had hoped to get him at least six innings. The game took place on one of the back fields of the Ed Smith Stadium complex and featured six of Baltimore’s Minor League players.

Both Matusz and manager Buck Showalter remain hopeful that he will be ready to start the season on Saturday, although given Matusz’s last outing –in which he exited after recording just four outs – Monday’s news is more of a concern.

“I’m optimistic,” said Matusz, who is the Orioles’ No. 2 starter. “I don’t even think it is going to set me back at all. If anything, I’m upset about not continuing to get my work in. I was starting to feel good. I was starting to get in a good groove. I wanted to get in a little more work. We’ll see how it feels [Tuesday] and just go from there.”

While it’s believed top pitching prospect Zach Britton is likely ticketed for Triple-A, Showalter acknowledged that Monday’s events could open the door for another pitcher to make the club. Britton was not one of Monday’s cuts and the team could wait and see Matusz’s status before making a final decision. It’s far more likely that any concerns about Matusz would cause the team to lean toward having both Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen –who has been slowed by a right forearm contusion — make the Opening Day roster.

“I think [Matusz has pitched enough to be ready], if he’s OK,” said Showalter, who could also switch the rotation order after Opening Day starter Jeremy Guthrie. “But we’ve still got something going on there with Bergesen and Matusz.”

Even prior to Monday’s events it has been an odd spring for Matusz, who had a wart removed on his left middle finger earlier in camp and has struggled on the mound, pitching to a 5.93 ERA in five spring games.

“It’s been a frustrating spring in that aspect, but at the same time, it’s been a very productive spring,” Matusz said. “I’ve been able to work with Mark Connor and Rick Adair and I feel like I’ve made a lot of strides, a lot of improvements. I’m starting to feel good out there. The wart thing and the line drive back in the arm, it’s things that just happen. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just a matter of being able to take care of it and move forward. I’m just hoping I’m ready for my first outing on Saturday.”

Britton on his outing and his chances

Orioles lefty Zach Britton held the Tigers to two runs over six innings and allowed three earned runs in 20 official spring innings. He pitched to a staff-best 1.35 ERA in his first big league camp.

Still, the O’s top pitching prospect knows he’s likely headed to Triple-A to start the season, as the team would prefer to keep him down there until April 21 to delay his service clock and keep him under team control until 2017.

While the 23-year-old Britton said he understood, he’s also admitted it’s frustrating to have the deck stacked against you.

“Because as an athlete you compete and you feel like you deserve to be somewhere and you are not, it’s kind of a slap in the face I think,” Britton said. “But there’s a business side of the game, and those guys are hired to go out there and make business decisions. I go out there to pitch and do it well. Like I said it’s frustrating, but it is what it is.”

Like many of the Orioles other pitchers, Britton reworked his delivery with pitching coach Mark Connor. He also changed the grip on his changeup and has been pleased with the results. When asked if it was going to be hard to stay mentally sharp should he start in Norfolk, Britton didn’t think so.

“I was in this situation last year too, in September,” Britton said, referring to the fact that he didn’t get a shot with the O’s in last season’s expanded rosters.

“I’ve been through this a couple different times so I kind of know how to handle it. I’m not the type of guy that’s going to go out there and complain about where I am. I’m not going to like it but I’ll go out there and pitch because it doesn’t help me or the organization if I go down to Triple-A and pout. I’m not going to get up here any quicker. I need to go out there and get people out whether I’m in Norfolk or Baltimore. But obviously I’d be a little happier if I’m in Baltimore.

The organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season, Britton has come a long way since his first outing in Clearwater, where he was nearly shaking with nerves on the mound.

“This was a great experience,” Britton said. “I’m really happy [manager Buck Showalter] threw me against some good lineups. Or [not] necessarily just good lineups, but being able to face the big league teams that I’m going to face in the AL east this year. I think that’s a big confidence booster that I can go up there and compete. I felt like I can hang right up there everybody.”

Making sense of the roster

With the O’s cuts this morning there are 29 players still in contention. Top pitching prospect Zach Britton and infielder Brendan Harris are expected to both be optioned to Minor League camp which leaves the roster at 27.

Starter Justin Duchscherer starting the season on the disabled list makes it 26.  So who is the last man out?

There are several different scenarios but it basically involves four guys fighting for  three spots in pitchers Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen, infielder Robert Andino and catcher Craig Tatum.

In my roster predictions from last night, I have Tillman and Bergesen making the team, with Bergesen being put in the bullpen until the team needs a fifth starter on April 10. There’s also a scenario where Bergesen –who will throw a few innings Wednesday — starts Sunday’s game, which would put Tillman in Triple-A. The O’s won’t put Tillman in the ‘pen.

Should the team opt to go with just Matt Wieters and Jake Fox as the catchers, Tatum would be sent to Triple-A. he has an option remaining and while the Orioles aren’t big on Fox behind the plate it would be a temporary solution to start the season. Andino, who is out of options, could be traded if he doesn’t make the team since the belief is the versatile infielder would be claimed on waivers.

The Orioles don’t want to lose Andino given that he’s a young player and he can play multiple positions.

The final move could come down to Wednesday, which is when Bergesen throws. But if I had to handicap things, I say it comes down to Tillman and Tatum, with the edge going to Tillman. Keep in mind this is only the Opening Day roster, and the team will have a wealth of roster moves to make in the first few weeks.

More on roster cuts..

The Orioles 25-man roster is starting to shape up as the team trimmed the roster by eight players on Monday, removing pitchers David Riske, Mark Hendrickson, Ryan Drese, Clay Rapada, Pat Egan, outfielders Nolan Reimold and Randy Winn and infielder Nick Green from contention. Pitcher Rick VandenHurk was also informed he wouldn’t make the team on Monday morning.

The moves leaves the bullpen picture nearly set and the team with 29 players in camp, although there is expected to be one or two more cuts before Monday is over. Brendan Harris and top pitching prospect Zach Britton are likely headed to Minor League camp, and with starter Justin Duchscherer expected to begin the season on the disabled list the team’s Opening Day roster is starting to sort itself out.

The O’s bullpen projects to be Kevin Gregg, Koji Uehara, Michael Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, Jeremy Accardo, Josh Rupe and Jason Berken, although nothing is official.

A lot of what the Orioles still have to decide on depends on starter Brad Bergesen, who threw a bullpen on Monday, and is scheduled to throw a couple innings on Wednesday to keep the Orioles “options open” in terms of Sunday’s series finale start against Tampa Bay. There is a chance Bergesen could make the team as a starter or an extra reliever, with the latter scenario meaning Chris Tillman would get the start.

The Orioles can go with four starters until April 10 by using their scheduled off-days, and they will make do until April 21, which is when Britton could come up and not be allotted a full year of service time. By keeping Britton in the Minors for at least 20 days, he will remain under team control for another full year, until 2017. The decision isn’t financial — the O’s have no intention of leaving Britton in the Minors long enough to delay his arbitration years — but they do want to keep the 23-year-old lefty from entering free agency a year early.

Duchscherer, who was slated to throw two innings in a Minor League game Monday ,is also targeting April 21 for his return. 

Orioles cuts

The Orioles have begun trimming their roster in anticipation of Monday’s 25-man deadline. The O’s are expected to make 7 or 8 cuts today, with David Riske, Rick VandenHurk and Randy Winn among the early empty lockers.

Riske left camp last night to tend to a personal issue and the Orioles aren’t sure at this point if he will accept an assignment to Triple-A Norfolk or not.

Based on my roster guesses,  Ryan Drese, Nick Green, Brendan Harris,  Zach Britton (who is starting today’s game),  Craig Tatum, Clay Rapada and Nolan Reimold could also be on the chopping block.

As could Chris Tillman or Brad Bergesen.

There’s rain the forecast so stay tuned on whether the Orioles play the Tigers this afternoon. The O’s are hitting in the cages this morning.

Projecting the Orioles OD roster

The Orioles will make cuts on Monday and they should be at or very close to their 25-man roster when those are through.

Here’s my projections at where it’s headed with blurbs on why.  Again,  nothing is set in stone, but things are starting to take shape and should be done well before Thursday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline.

“We are just trying to stay as flexible as we can,”  president of baseball of operations Andy MacPhail said of the O’s Opening Day roster.  “We know what the options are, how it might look with three or so variations maybe.”

“We spend way to much time and generally what this Opening Day roster is, is as few irrevocable decisions as possible,” MacPhail added. “Then as events unfold, you start to make whatever adjustments you have and that’s why you want to keep the inventory as large as you can. Because you know you are going to go down and pick the guy that’s not necessarily had the best spring here but if you’re making a move in May it’s going to be about who had the best month in Norfolk.”

Here’s my best go at what April 1′s roster will be. Keep in mind this is ONLY for the first two weeks or so,  with a lot of potential moves after that.

BULLPEN
KEVIN GREGG
KOJI UEHARA
MICHAEL GONZALEZ
JIM JOHNSON
JEREMY ACCARDO
JOSH RUPE
JASON BERKEN

The only LHP here is Gonzalez, but keep in mind Jim Johnson and Josh Rupe have both shown the ability to get out lefties, as has Jason Berken. Gonzalez will probably be the only lefty in ‘pen to start, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Clay Rapada comes up relatively soon.

POSITION PLAYERS
DERREK LEE
BRIAN ROBERTS
J.J. HARDY
MATT WIETERS
MARK REYNOLDS
LUKE SCOTT
ADAM JONES
NICK MARKAKIS
VLADIMIR GUERRERO

*No shocker here.

BENCH PLAYERS
FELIX PIE
JAKE FOX
CESAR IZTURIS
ROBERT ANDINO

*Felix Pie is the only true CF backup and he also adds a lefty bat off the bench. He’s also shown signs of maturing this year.

*Jake Fox and Robert Andino are out of options so they will break camp. Catcher Craig Tatum would start at Triple-A Norfolk in this scenario, but only for a few weeks. The team likes his catching ability and it will be interesting to see if Fox can keep up his torrid spring at the plate.

The Orioles can go for two weeks without a true backup catcher given their early off days, but they can’t go much longer than that.

*Nolan Reimold would also start the season at Triple-A. He’s impressed but Pie can backup in CF and adds a lefty bat. Reimold will be able to get regular at-bats in Triple-A and he’s another guy who would be among the first to get the call to Baltimore.

STARTERS
JEREMY GUTHRIE
BRIAN MATUSZ
JAKE ARRIETA
BRAD BERGESEN
CHRIS TILLMAN

*Why do I have 5 starters breaking camp when the team only needs 4 until April 10? A couple different reasons. One, the Orioles starters have been far from impressive this spring so the team would need to account for innings.  That’s why it makes sense to potentially take Brad Bergesen AND Chris Tillman –at least for the first two weeks — rather than another one-inning reliever or a position player.  At least until the rotation shakes out the first two weeks.

Roberts and Lee have both been progressing well and the biggest question mark this spring has been the starting rotation. It would make sense to keep some depth there.

What could change very soon

*Zach Britton will be up as early as April 21, and Justin Duchscherer could be ready then as well.

That gives the Orioles a potential rotation of Guthrie, Matusz, Arrieta, Britton and Duchscherer by the end of April. Tillman and Bergesen could be in there as well, or Bergesen could be in the bullpen.

Lefty specialist Clay Rapada is also a guy who could get a call to Baltimore soon, although that will largely be at the expense of another reliever and will depend on how the ‘pen works out.

So, who goes?

Working under this projection Monday’s cuts would likely be:  David Riske, Ryan Drese, Rick VandenHurk, Nick Green, Brendan Harris,  Zach Britton, Craig Tatum, Randy Winn, Clay Rapada and Nolan Reimold.

*Duchscherer will start the season on the DL.

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