March 2011

Post-game notes and roster musings

*Koji Uehara looked good today, throwing a scoreless  innings in his first outing against Major League hitters since Feb. 28.  Manager Buck Showalter said prior to the game, if Uehara kept throwing like he had been at Twins Lakes Park, they’d take him.

Koji was clocked at 88 mph consistently on the radar gun this afternoon, and all signs point to him being on the Opening Day roster.  He won’t go back-to-back this spring and will pitch again on Tuesday. Assuming he stays healthy these next few days he’s in the Orioles backend of the bullpen on April 1.

Koji said, through interpreter Jiwon Bang, he’s  “more than enough to be ready” physically for Opening Day, although he did say he needs to work on his stuff a little more.

*Kevin Gregg also made an appearance for the first time since March 15 and joked with reporters that he’d been hiding out at Twin Lakes Park showing the Minor Leaguers the ropes.  He’s actually been working on getting his old mechanics back, after a slight tweak this spring produced disastrous results.

“I’m good,” Gregg said after throwing a scoreless eighth inning Sunday.  “It’s a long year. You play 162, you’re not going to feel good all the time. I feel fine right now to start the season. I’m ready for the season to start. I’m kind of sick of being here.”

As for his mechanics, Gregg said: “I was pretty much right there. I thought I threw the ball well. Located good. Apparently, they don’t want to call a strike on Big Papi [David Ortiz]. Whatever.”

*The Orioles will make another round of roster cuts on Monday, trimming the roster further in anticipation of Thursday’s 4 p.m. deadline for the Opening Day roster. There’s a lot of guys in camp still, but there are really only four or five who are truly on the bubble.

Keep in mind that the Orioles are in a weird situation where they only need four starters until April 10. A lot could change after that and a lot will change after April 21, which is the first date that Zach Britton could be recalled from the Minors and not be allotted a full year of service time and the tentative date that Justin Duchscherer will be ready to rejoin the big league club.

“Generally what this opening day roster is, is as few irrevocable decisions as possible,” president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. “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 [Triple-A] Norfolk.”

*Top pick, and third overall, shortstop Manny Machado batted in the eighth inning and grounded out. The ball was fielded in the shortstop’s hole and it looked for a second like Machado might beat it out.

Tillman on his day and new delivery

Chris Tillman just spoke to reporters following his final spring start this afternoon and was happy with his performance given that he has been reworking his delivery and he had his worst stuff this spring.

Still, not exactly an outing you would want given that Tillman is still in contention for the team’s final rotation spot. When asked if he thought he had done everything he could to make the team out of camp Tillman said he couldn’t answer that.

“They’ve told me the things to work on and I felt like I’ve worked on them, and they said they’re happy with the way it’s going and I’ve got to keep working,” said Tillman, who has a 3.93 ERA this spring. “The two or three percent [of the time], I feel like I’m trying to go back to my old self. I’ve got to fight myself and battle myself to make the changes.”

Tillman is confident that he is pitching better this spring than a year ago, when right-hander David Hernandez beat him out for the fifth starter spot.

“Absolutely. With the changes I’ve made, I’m more consistent, my pitches are better, more crisp,” Tillman said of the differences in 2011. “Later in the game today, that was probably the worst stuff I’ve had all spring, and to still be able to get guys out like, I think that’s a positive.”

Tillman’s reworked delivery isn’t a minor tweak, it’s more of an overhaul from the way he described the changes.

“[It's] pretty much my whole delivery. As you can see, my tempo is much faster, much quicker. I don’t have that hitch in it anymore,” Tillman said.  “I think it’s going well, actually. Been working on it for two outings now. Overall, I’m pleased with the way it’s going.”

“I just wanted to focus on my game plan, which is working on my delivery. That’s what I’m going out there trying to do, get better for my teammates.”

Tillman’s day

Chris Tillman is done after 5 2/3 innings and he didn’t do much to help his rotation case against the Red Sox this afternoon.

Tillman got through the first two innings unscathed but never could establish a rhythm, with catcher Matt Wieters making two mound visits in the first three frames and J.D. Drew taking advantage of a 1-0 pitch for a two-run homer.

Drew’s third-inning blast was followed by a four-pitch walk, Tillman’s third in as many innings. The Red Sox tacked on another run courtesy of No. 9 batter Drew Sutton, who tripled down the first base line to score Paul Hoover, who singled.

Tillman exited after walking Hoover, his fourth free pass of the day, and his final line was three runs on six hits and four walks plus a hit batter.  In 18 1/3 official spring innings Tillman has allowed 11 runs (eight earned) on 20 hits and 10 walks,plus two hit batters. He has struck out nine.  His spring ERA is 3.93.

Talking “Theo’s Tenure”

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein hasn’t commented on Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s comments about him in April’s Men’s Journal.

We found out this afternoon that Boston’s manager Terry Francona is not happy with what was said, and it’s interesting to note that today’s Red Sox game notes, which are available to the media in the press box, have a new blurb today called “Theo’s Tenure”.

Here’s what it says: “Theo Epstein has led Boston to 6 playoff appearances and 6 95-win seasons in years since taking over as GM, prior to 2003. Under Epstein, the Sox lead MLB in World Series titles (2), and postseason series wins (8)…He was named GM of the decade by Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News…Boston was also tabbed by Baseball America as having the best amateur drafts of the last decade.”

I was told this is a new addition to the game notes.  Interesting timing isn’t it?

Other pregame notes

*If Koji Uehara continues to pitch as he has been, he will be on the team’s Opening Day bullpen.

“His velocity is where it was last year,” manager Buck Showalter said of Uehara, who has made two Minor League outigns and is slated to pitch in Sunday’s Major League game against the Red Sox.

“There’s not a pitch he can’t throw. He’s thrown a lot of splits. We had to keep out there yesterday so he could get his pitches. He’s in a good spot if we continue to take this every other day. We’re not going to be able to give him the back to back down here. That’s the exception. It may be in the season. If he stays where he is now, we’ll take him on the plane.”

*Brad Bergesen (right forearm contusion) said he was encouraged by his throwing session this morning, where he threw from flat ground and stretched out to 120 feet.

“I call it light toss, but I warmup like I do any other day,” Bergesen said. ” Like I said, it’s nothing I can’t throw through. [The forearm is] a little tender, a little sore. But we deal with that type of stuff all the time. I don’t think it’s going to be a big problem. Very encouraging.”

The Orioles are hoping Bergesen will be able to throw in Tuesday’s game which would put him on track for Sunday’s series finale against Tampa Bay.

*The Orioles have a mapped out plan for Justin Duchscherer that would involve him being ready on April 21. He would pitch in extended spring and then go to the team’s affiliates.

Francona aggravated by Showalter’s words

Terry Francona did not take kindly to Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s comments regarding Boston’s GM Theo Epstein, and the usually reserved Red Sox manager expressed his annoyance prior to Sunday’s game against the Orioles.

“[I] just thought that was a little bit out of line — I don’t think he’d be appreciating if I said something about Andy [MacPhail, Orioles president of baseball operations], which I wouldn’t,’’ Francona told Boston reporters from the visiting dugout. “None of my business. And for the record, I think Andy’s really good.’’

Showalter addressed his much-publicized comments –which appeared in April’s issue of Men’s Journal – on Thursday and was not asked to regurgitate that discussion on Sunday. He did make clear last week that he didn’t mean for the two quotes in question to be perceived as him attacking anyone.

“I didn’t really say it in that [context],” said Showalter, who told the magazine Yankees captain Derek Jeter backs off on balls at the plate to get calls, and praise for Epstein is overrated given that Boston’s two acquisitions, left fielder Carl Crawford and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, had more to do with the club’s large revenues than the GM’s cunning work.

Francona said he initially wasn’t upset because he heard about the story “third-hand”.

But when he went back and read the article in question, he was “aggravated”.
“I don’t think that’s anybody’s place,” Francona said.  “That’s my boss. I was actually kind of aggravated a little bit. It’s not the end of the world but I thought he shouldn’t have done it.”

Showalter also told the magazine, “That’s why I like whipping their butt. It’s great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, ‘How the hell are they beating us?’ ”

He admitted on Thursday his remarks may have had a little jealous undertone.

“Maybe it is envy or something on my part,” Showalter said on his comments. “But obviously you all know what I think of Derek and the success the Red Sox have had. Hopefully, we can get to their level one day.”

The Orioles went 3-3 against the Red Sox under Showalter, and Francona remarked that he didn’t remember Baltimore beating his club that much. Maybe it was a different schedule,” he said.

Francona added that he doesn’t plan on addressing the article with Showalter, although it clearly got under his skin. Showalter has said that he doesn’t feel a need to mend any bridges and chalked up his comments to the typical gamesmanship that goes on in baseball’s clubhouses.

Given the size of the media market of New York and Boston, Showalter wasn’t surprised that the article had become a hot-topic in New England, and MacPhail — who calls himself “conservative by nature” — told MLB.com Thursday that he didn’t have any inherent problem with what was said.

“It’s probably not my first choice [for airing opinions], but I don’t really think it’s a big deal,” said MacPhail, who added that it will all blow over in a few days.”If that’s how [Showalter] feels, that’s how he feels.

“I think we all understood when we interviewed Buck, one of the things we were looking to get was somebody that has a personality about him, has some success,” MacPhail added. “This is part of it. You raise the profile of the team which is a good thing, and we just got to do everything we can to make sure we play as well as we can. Which we’ve done.”

Bergesen update

Brad Bergesen will try to play catch today and see how it goes. The Orioles are tentatively targeting Tuesday as Bergesen’s next spring start, which would put him in line to pitch Sunday’s series finale at Tropicana Field.

“[Head athletic trainer Richie Bancells] said that we’re leaving it at, ‘You’re going to try and throw today and we don’t know what’s going to happen after that.’,” Bergesen said this morning. “Obviously, my goal is to throw on Sunday. How I get to that point, I’m not too concerned about it. Whether I throw Tuesday, that would be great, or Wednesday, maybe a few less innings.  I’m not sure what it’s going to be. Obviously, that’s my goal, not to push myself for Tuesday but to be ready for the season.”

The Orioles haven’t announced their Sunday starter yet, although it’s known that Jeremy Guthrie will pitch Opening Day followed by Brian Matusz. Jake Arrieta has April 4’s home opener.

Today’s start is big for Chris Tillman, who is in direct competition with Bergesen for that final spot. There’s also a school of thought that Bergesen could end up in the bullpen. That’s not an option for Tillman right now. He’s a starter, whether it’s in Baltimore or with Triple-A Norfolk.

I’ll have more details on Bergesen after he throws.

Orioles/Red Sox lineups and pregame tidbits

The Orioles are playing a split-squad game today,  home against the Red Sox and on the road against the Blue Jays.

*Last year’s No. 3 overall pick, shortstop Manny Machado is here and will be available for today’s game in Sarasota. Ryan Adams, Xavier Avery, Kyle Hudson, Trent Mummey, Brandon Waring, Tyler Townsend, Michael Ohlman, Wynston Sawyer and Blake Davis also are on the home roster.

*Along with the Dunedin lineup below, the Orioles are taking prospects Mychal Givens and L.J. Hoes.

*Brad Bergesen said his right forearm is still a little tender, but there’s no visible bruising or anything which is good. Bergesen will try to throw today and the plan is for him to throw on three days’ rest in Tuesday’s game, if all goes well.

ORIOLES LINEUP (Is this the Opening Day lineup? Very well could be..)
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 Tillman RHP

RED SOX LINEUP
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Marco Scutaro SS
J.D. Drew RF
Kevin Youkilis 3B
David Ortiz DH
Darnell McDonald LF
Nate Spears 2B
Paul Hoover C
Drew Sutton 1B

*Opening Day starter Jon Lester is on turn in the rotation but rather than travel to Sarasota for an abbreviated start, he will stay back in Fort Myers and pitch in a Minor League intrasquad game.

The Orioles are having their OD starter, Jeremy Guthrie, go to Dunedin to avoid facing an AL East opponent that they play next month. They don’t face Toronto until June.

Pitching: RHP Brandon Duckworth, RHP Matt Albers

ORIOLES @ BLUE JAYS
Robert Andino LF
Randy Winn DH
Nolan Reimold RF
Jake Fox 1B
Brendan Harris 3B
Felix Pie CF
Nick Green 2B
Craig Tatum C
Cesar Izturis SS

Jeremy Guthrie RHP

BLUE JAYS LINEUP

Rajai Davis CF
Yunel Escobar SS
Jose Bautista 3B
Adam Lind 1B
Aaron Hill 2B
Juan Rivera RF
Travis Snider LF
Edwin Encarnacion DH
J.P. Arencibia C

Ricky Romero SP

Pie impressing

Felix Pie drew a 12-pitch walk in the eighth innings of Saturday’s game off Rays’ lefty reliever Cesar Ramos that didn’t go unnoticed by manager Buck Showalter.

“That was a great at-bat,” Showalter said. ” In years past, Felix would have let him take him out of the strike zone with strike three not foul as many balls off. But he spit on that one. Hopefully, that’s a sign of maturity. I think he’s come a long way since he’s come to Baltimore.

Pie has started to hit his stride at the plate as of late, and hit his first spring homer during Thursday’s four-RBI afternoon.  Showalter also praised Pie’s great catch in centerfield during Saturday’s 7-2 win.

Projecting the Bullpen

Josh Rupe tossed another scoreless two innings this afternoon and hasn’t allowed an earned run in 13 2/3 innings this spring.

Manager Buck Showalter also raved about Jason Berken, saying that the right-hander looked as crisp on Saturday as he’s seen him all spring. Berken also tossed two scoreless innings, lowering his ERA to 3.46 in the process. Both Rupe and Berken are guys who can give the Orioles multiple innings and Showalter said they aren’t necessarily in direct competition with each other. There’s a scenario where they could both make the team, a pretty likely one in my opinion.

Let’s take a look at how the O’s pen is shaping up. Assuming Koji Uehara stays healthy, here’s how it could shake out. This is based on speculation, performance and what’s been said around camp. It also has the Orioles going with a seven-man bullpen and an extra position player.  There’s a chance they go with an eight-man ‘pen and 13 position players, the team hasn’t officially decided one way or another yet.

Bullpen locks:

RHP KEVIN GREGG

LHP MICHAEL GONZALEZ

RHP KOJI UEHARA

RHIP JIM JOHNSON

Looking likely:

RHP JOSH RUPE

RHP JASON BERKEN

RHP JEREMY ACCARDO.

*I realize this only has one lefty in the ‘pen in Michael Gonzalez and I could see a scenario where LHP Clay Rapada makes the team, although I think it’s less likely that Mark Hendrickson breaks camp.

If Uehara starts the season on the DL, or if the O’s go with an extra reliever, Rapada would be the guy that goes on this list.  There’s also though to having Berken start the season in Triple-A Norfolk (he has an option remaining) but he’s pitched well as of late.

Rupe has also pitched himself into a spot on the team.

“Fortunately, I’ve seen him do this before,” said Showalter, who had Rupe in Texas.  “He’s just trusting [Matt] Wieters. Put it down and let’s go. When a guy has that many quality pitches in his arsenal, sometimes you can have too many. He threw, I think, six straight sinkers to [Evan]Longoria. That’s Matt as much as it is Rupe. Pretty good. Let’s go.Why do you want to mess with anything else.

He’s got a quality arm. Some time like that, a 28-year-old kind of figures it out. You can’t overthink it. Just trust your pitch quality. He knows it too. It’s funny. He was sitting there after he came in from the inning, three up and three down, the four pitches to Longoria. He was saying, ‘I was thinking about curveball there.’ Matt’s just sitting there and he kind of looks at me and says, ‘Just throw the ball.’ We’ll see if it carries over to the season if he makes the club.”

Asked about Berken’s chances to make the club, Showalter said: “You guys see the numbers. The competition is there. He brings some length and a guy that is flexible. Rupe’s got some length, too. I don’t think it’s a competition between both of them. I think both of them could make it.”

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