April 2011

Rupe on hitting Martin: I know what it looked like

Orioles reliever Josh Rupe knows what it looked like. So did manager Buck Showalter. But Rupe said following Saturday’s ugly 15-3 loss to the Yankees that the pitch that hit Yankees catcher Russell Martin in the back was not intended to send any kind of message.

“Trust me, that’s the last thing that I want to do,” Rupe said of the first-pitch fastball that hit Martin –who had already homered twice – in the upper back.

“I know how it looked and for me, and a lot of these guys on this team, I pitch in. That’s what I do when I’m coming out of the pen. I’ve already given up a home run and yeah, I was really pissed off. But I’m not going to resort to possibly hurting a guy, and end his career or anything like that. There’s no reason for me to do that.”

“I was all over the map. For me, did I want to send a message? No, I’m not that type of guy.”

Rupe entered the game with the bases loaded in the eighth inning and surrendered a grand slam to Alex Rodriguez. After recording two outs in the ninth, he hit Martin and – after flipping his bat — Martin had some choice words for Rupe before taking first base.

“Yes. There’s no doubt about it,” Martin said when asked if he thought Rupe’s pitch was intentional. “I want to stay in the lineup so I’m not going to do anything stupid but I wouldn’t recommend him doing that again.”

It was the common sentiment in the Yankees clubhouse: Rupe’s 91-mile-an-hour fastball was intended to hit their catcher.

“I’ll just say it’s [was] beautiful,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of watching the next batter, Brett Gardner launch a two-run homer.

Asked again about Rupe’s pitch, Girardi was less subtle.

“It was right at his head,” he said.

“That’s a heck of a coincidence if it wasn’t intentional,” added Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira. “I’ve never understood it…it doesn’t make any sense. All it takes is one stray pitch to hit you in the head, hit you in the wrist, the elbow and ruin your season. That’s not baseball. There’s no place for it.”

Showalter, who asked Rupe point-blank following the game, stood by what he was told.

“I choose to believe my pitcher and I’ve known Josh for a long time,” Showalter said. “I think he’d be very straight with me. But I do understand what it looked like and it didn’t look good.”

Rupe, who went back and watched the video, said he will speak to Martin if he sees him on Sunday and hopes to diffuse the situation before it escalates in the series finale.

“I feel bad, too,” Rupe said. “Not only was I not trying to hit him, but I don’t want our guys to get hit in return or anything like that. I’m not here to get anybody hurt – our team their team. I’m here to try to get people out.”

After a solid spring, Rupe has pitched to a 7.71 ERA, allowing eight earned runs on 10 hits in 9 1/3 innings, four of those hits have been homers. Still, he maintained on Saturday night that he didn’t let his frustration boil over

“There’s no way that I would do that and intentionally go at somebody’s head or go way up there,” Rupe said. “I know how to hit a guy when the situation calls for it and that wasn’t it.”

Matusz’s return mid-May at the earliest

As expected, lefty Brian Matusz will go back to extended spring next weekend when the Orioles embark on a two-city roadtrip.

Matusz (strained left intercostal muscle) will throw a bullpen in some capacity on Tuesday and Thursday in Baltimore and the plan is for him to progress enough to get in a two-inning stint in extended spring before joining an affiliate.

“One, we know that the weather will be better there and we’d like to have his first outing be in that type of weather. Who knows what it’s going to be [with] our affiliates?,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We’d rather have [Matusz] right there so when he’s ready to go, he can go, and we can kind of pick and choose where the best place might be from there.”

Matusz will need at least three rehab outings, which puts him at a mid-May return at the earliest. Showalter said the team has it laid out conservatively up to when Matusz would be activated, but he didn’t divulge specific details.

“It’s pretty one-sided for all of us,” Showalter said when asked if it was tough to be patient given that the 24-year-old Matusz is the team’s No. 2 starter. “We’re going to get it right. We’re not going to have this [continue].”

Orioles/Yankees lineups and pregame tidbits

*As expected Brian Matusz won’t be ready to start a rehab assignment when the team leaves for Chicago following Thursday’s game. He will return to Sarasota and continue to progress, with the expectation being that his first outing will be an extended spring game. Manager Buck Showalter said the team has it laid out conservatively up to when Matusz (left intercostal strain) would rejoin the club, but he didn’t divulge specific details.

Matusz would need at least three rehab starts so don’t expect him back before mid-May, at the earliest. The Orioles are going to get this right and hopefully they won’t have to do deal with any setbacks or issues related to Matusz’s injury down the road.

*J.J. Hardy is expected to start baseball-related activites on Monday. This will be just dry swings since he hasn’t had a bat in his hands in a few weeks now. He will need to play in some rehab games, but Showalter said that’s a “moving target” right now.

*Chris Tillman (right groin soreness) said he was disappointed with the decision to skip his start but understood the consensus that it would be a good idea to end any lingering issues. He will be available out of the bullpen tonight if needed, but the Orioles will try to stay away from him.

*The Yankees have decided to go with Freddy Garcia for Sunday’s game. He will face Jake Arrieta.

ORIOLES LINEUP
Brian Roberts 2B
Nick Markakis RF
Derrek Lee 1B
Vladimir Guerrero DH
Adam Jones CF
Mark Reynolds 3B
Matt Wieters C
Jake Fox LF
Robert Andino SS

Brad Bergesen RHP

YANKEES LINEUP
Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Jorge Posada DH
Rusell Martin C
Brett Gardner LF

CC Sabathia LHP

Orioles rotation plans

Given tonight’s rainout the Orioles will now go with Brad Bergesen –who was scheduled for Friday’s start — on Saturday. They will skip Saturday’s scheduled starter Chris Tillman, who has had right groin tightness in favor of Jake Arrieta.

Given Monday’s off day, the Orioles won’t need a fifth starter again until next Saturday. Jeremy Guthrie and Zach Britton are scheduled for the first two games in Boston, although manager Buck Showalter said those two could be flipped.

With Tillman, it’s a minor issue that has crept up. He would have been able to pitch if needed, but the Orioles will use the rainout to err on the side of caution. He could still be used out of the bullpen this series if needed.

The Yankees will stick with CC Sabathia on Saturday and have not decided on Sunday’s starter yet.

There has been no makeup date announced for tonight’s game, although there will definitely not be a doubleheader this weekend. This is the second rainout between these two clubs.

Orioles/Yankees lineups and pregame tidbits

*Brian Matusz threw again today (getting up to 120 feet on flat ground) and will take Saturday off and throw again on Sunday. The plan is for him to get on the mound in some form –possible a half mound — on Tuesday.

*In honor of Earth Day, Jeremy Guthrie is rocking a green glove. You can read more on his eco-friendly efforts here.

*Alfredo Simon has made two outings in extended spring training and the plan is for him to continue to get stretched out as a starter to add more organizational depth.

*Given his recent struggles, manager Buck Showalter said Michael Gonzalez will start to be used in less-pressurized situations until he gets back on track. Gonzalez, who said he is healthy, called this stretch the toughest of his career. Look for Clay Rapada to be used more as a late-game lefty.

*Look for Cesar Izturis to get in to tomorrow’s game. Robert Andino has been playing well so he’s gotten the bulk of time lately for injured shortstop J.J. Hardy. The Orioles are hoping Hardy can start baseball-related activities this weekend.

*Mark Reynolds’ two-strike approach has changed dramatically since he was in Arizona, a facet of his game that hitting coach Jim Presley has focused on. As for Reynolds’ lack of power, both Presley and Reynolds feel that will come from piecing together good ABs.

ORIOLES LINEUP
Brian Roberts 2B
Nick Markakis RF
Derrek Lee 1B
Vladimir Guerrero DH
Adam Jones CF
Mark Reynolds 3B
Matt Wieters C
Jake Fox LF
Robert Andino SS
Brad Bergesen RHP

YANKEES LINEUP
Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Jorge Posada DH
Russell Martin C
Brett Gardner LF

CC Sabathia LHP

Orioles/Twins lineups and pregame tidbits

*Jeremy Guthrie, who makes an effort to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, has an MLB-approved green glove that he will use in honor of Friday’s Earth Day. Not sure if he will pitch with it tonight or just use it tomorrow when with the team. But we will find out soon enough.

*Brian Matusz (strained left intercostal muscle) is here and will remain with the team for the rest of the homestand, which runs for another week. He is off today and will throw from 120 feet on Friday and Sunday and progress from there. In a perfect world he will get on the mound at some point next week, but that all depends on how Matusz feels.

He had a brief setback in Sarasota and had to be temporarily shut done, but Matusz said Thursday he’s pain free.

“I feel really good,” he said. “I played catch three days in a row now and I feel like I’m on track. I really held back at one point in time there. I had thrown two days in a row and I went to throw a third day and it just didn’t feel comfortable. It wasn’t hurting or anything. I just felt discomfort. At that point we took a couple more days off for precautionary reasons, but the last three days have been very good. I think that’s when [pitching coach Mark Connor] and Buck [Showalter] were talking and they wanted to get me here for the homestand so they could monitor me and kind of see where I’m at and evaluate me, and that way I’ll know when I can start my sides or even rehab.”

Matusz said it has been hard to stay patient at times, especially now that his body feels really good.

“It’s tough because I’ve got to be able to hold back a little,” he said. “We’ve just got to go day by day. I get so excited I just want to get out there, but I’ve got to be able to take it day by day. That’s all we can do.

I can’t start planning things out and saying, ‘Oh, this is the day I want to be on the mound,’ or, ‘This is when I want to be in a game,’ because every day is different. But right now I feel good. It’s all positive.”

The Orioles have three choices when they leave for Chicago Thursday night: bring Matusz with them, send him back to extended spring or send him out on rehab assignment. Obviously they hope it’s the third option, but it’s still a moving target at this point.

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
Robert Andino SS

Jeremy Guthrie RHP

TWINS LINEUP
Denard Span CF
Alexi Casilla SS
Jason Kubel RF
Michael Cuddyer 1B
Jim Thome DH
Danny Valencia 3B
Luke Hughes 2B
Drew Butera C
Jason Repko LF

Scott Baker RHP

A few odds and ends..

*I mentioned Adam Jones this morning on 105.7, and wanted to pass along what manager Buck Showalter had to say about Jones, who has been really impressive –offensively and defensively — the last few games.

“I don’t think anybody has played harder since Day One of spring training than Adam Jones,” Showalter said. “I am sure you all are watching, he has brought a great level of effort since Day One of spring training.”

Jones legged out a two-out infield hit on Tuesday that really started the offense in the 11-0 rout. He had another great at-bat –resulting in two-RBI double in last night’s win. Prior to Wednesday’s game, Showalter also raved about Jones’ effort and the ease in which he scored on Matt Wieters’ double that followed in Tuesday’s game.

“You’ll see a lot of people, because they are running on the pitch, just casually start running to second base… He took off like he was trying to steal second base. And he scored standing up,” Showalter said. “I cannot tell you how many people in the major leagues that do not score from first base on that ball as quick as it got off the wall. And he made it easily.”

Jones also made a great catch to end the game, going back on Denard Span’s deep fly ball to secure the win and give closer Kevin Gregg his second save in three opportunities. The 25-year-old Jones has a six-game hitting streak entering tonight’s game.

*Zach Britton’s final line last night wasn’t that impressive. But any shred of doubt about the young lefty’s character was removed in a brief between-innings exchange in the tunnel of the home dugout, where Showalter found Britton — one of several Orioles dealing with an upper respiratory illness, bent over with his hands on his knees, wheezing and hacking.

The 23-year-old Britton, who has been under the weather for the last few days, assured his manager that he was fine. Than he went on to gut out six innings against the Twins, an 88-pitch outing shortened because Showalter wanted to be cautious with Britton, who clearly wasn’t 100 percent.

“When your bad nights are six innings and three runs, that’s not too bad,” Wieters remarked afterward.

*Top prospect Manny Machado has been getting some press for his hot start at Delmarva, but 19-year-old infielder Jonathan Schoop has also been impressive. Schoop has an eight-game hitting streak and is batting .395 with two homers and nine RBIS over his last 10 games. He’s been playing third base since Machado is considered the organization’s shortstop of the future. Not a bad left side of the infield for the Shorebirds.

Orioles/Twins lineups and pregame tidbits

*Tonight’s game is an ESPN telecast, and rookie Zach Britton will get the start against the Twins Nick Blackburn. I did an in-depth feature on Britton before his last start in Cleveland, including the shirt he wears under his uniform in memory of one of his childhood friends, who was killed by a drunk driver a few years ago. You can read more about that -and how Britton got his start– here.

*Brian Matusz (strained left intercostal muscle) had another good day today (throwing from 60-100 feet) and will fly to Baltimore on Thursday to rejoin the team. He will throw again on Friday, take Saturday off and throw again on Sunday. The earliest Matusz –who will stay with the team for the rest of the homestand — would throw off the mound be sometime next week.

The Orioles are being cautious with him right and the plan is for pitching coach Mark Connor to see who the ball is coming out of Matusz’s hands before they continue to progress.

*J.J. Hardy (left rib cage strain) is feeling better but there is still one exercise in twisting his core that gives him some trouble. Manager Buck Showalter spoke with Hardy today and once he clears that last step he will start baseball activities. They are targeting Saturday or Sunday for that.

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
Robert Andino SS
Zach Britton LHP

TWINS LINEUP
Denard Span CF
Jason Repko LF
Jason Kubel RF
Michael Cuddyer 1B
Jim Thome DH
Danny Valencia 3B
Luke Hughes 2B
Steve Holm C
Matt Tolbert SS

Nick Blackburn RHP

Arrieta’s night

Largely lost in tonight’s 11-0 offensive rout was the performance of starter Jake Arieta, although the 25-year-old certainly went out and set the tone.

He tossed six scoreless innings for his third quality start in four tries, holding a Twins lineup –that was without Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau — in check despite some command issues.

“At times, his breaking ball was unhittable,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Arrieta, who used a plus-fastball to set up his offspeed. “He misfired a little bit here and there…He’s got a great fastball. The trouble that he got into, he kind of regrouped and made some pitches when he had to/”

Arrieta scattered four hits and would have gone longer, but a trio of walks ran his pitch count to 108, prompting manager Buck Showalter to turn the game over to the bullpen for the final nine outs.

“He’s driven to be good,” Showalter said of Arrieta, who is intensely competitive.

“He holds himself to a high standard – sometimes too high, which I’m not going to keep him from doing. He’s going to give himself a chance to be successful. You can’t always say that about everybody.”

Arrieta only had one clean inning Tuesday night, but he kept the Twins in check with runners on base, getting solid play from shortstop Robert Andino — playing in lieu of the injured J.J. Hardy — and a double play to final batter Danny Valencia. While pleased with his overall performance, Arrieta wasn’t totally satisfied.

“It would have been great to get in the seventh or eighth inning with a little bit lower pitch count, but that wasn’t the case,” said Arrieta, who turned the ball over to reliever Jason Berken. “I want to pitch deeper in games and that’s not only going to benefit me but it’s going to help our offense, help our bullpen. That’s the kind of guy I want to be, someone who is going to go out there and not give the ball up until the seventh or eighth inning. Just got to get out of some deep counts, that’s all.”

Catcher Matt Wieters, who Arrieta hailed for calling a great game, had this to say about his pitcher.

“Jake was outstanding,” Wieters said. “I think he got the first hitter of the inning out most of the time. He had outstanding stuff. He was great. He had two hitters where I think he had a little bit of a mental lapse and walked them there in the fourth or fifth inning but after that he was lights out.”

Showalter said prior to the game that he was looking at the stat sheet and noticed that Arrieta’s ERA wasn’t really in line with how good he is. Obviously it’s April and stats are always skewed this early in the season, but Arrieta has gotten off to a solid start. Even the lone bad outing he had against Texas, he had good stuff, he just struggled to get in a rhythm with backup catcher Jake Fox. His command unquestionably needs to improve. But for a guy who was in Triple-A at this time last season, he’s certainly impressive.

Gregg on closing, his struggles etc.

On a new team, in a new city, on a multi-year deal, this is not the start that Orioles closer Kevin Gregg envisioned this spring.

“You just try to deal with it,” Gregg said of his struggles in Baltimore, which include two runs on Monday night and a blown save on Thursday in New York. “Am I panicked about [my performance]? No. Am I disappointed about not starting better? Yeah. But I’m not worried about it. I know it will all even out as the season goes. You have good spells and bad spells, I could easily go eight scoreless innings and at the end of that nobody would even think anything of [this].”

I’ll have a full story up later, but here are some quotes from Gregg, who spent Tuesday afternoon in the video room with bullpen coach Rick Adair and pitching coach Mark Connor.

[on not getting a lot of work]

“This is an extreme [case of not throwing],” said Gregg, who could only think of one other stretch in his career where he was used less.

“I’d rather throw and keep myself sharp and if that caused me to throw three days in a row and only one is a save opportunity, if the team has a chance to win it’s going to make me better in the long run. I’d rather do that. We have the arms in here where I can take a day off and if I do have to throw in games that aren’t save situations, it’s not a big deal.

“I didn’t want to go in this year and say,’ I only want to throw in save situations.’ It doesn’t make me any good, and it doesn’t make our team any good.”

[on if manager Buck Showalter has talked to him about his job security given his performance lately]

“No. I have had two save opportunities. And if I’m going to lose my job over a non-save situation, then I’m never pitching in a nonsave situation. All over baseball go watch closers in a nonsave situation, it doesn’t work. Because the adrenaline, the sense of urgency, it’s not there. It never works. And that’s the hardest part about doing it. We live for having the game on the line.”

[on the sense around the team's 8-game skid]

“I think the anticipation of a great team that everybody had from last year coming into this year, it gets to guys. We are all excited about it too, but we are human. We play 162 [games] for a reason. We have high expectations for [Derrek] Lee, for [Mark] Reynolds, for Vladdy [Guerrero], but they aren’t producing the way we thought they would be producing. Are we worried about it? No.”

[on being booed at Camden Yards, and the sense that fans want Koji Uehara to close.]

“Koji’s a great pitcher, he’s done great things. But what does he have, 15 career saves? I’ve saved 17 in a row, or something like that. It happens. I’ve also blown three in a row before.

“I’m going to guess Koji didn’t save every game he ever pitched in, either. I think people are excited about what he’s done so that’s where all that anticipation is coming from. I was in the same situation in Chicago [in 2009, replacing Kerry Wood.]

[on his shaky command and high-wire act]
[In Chicago Carlos] Marmol was going to walk 2 or 3 and strike out five. He had that kind of stuff. I don’t have that kind of stuff…But it was never clean and [manager Lou Piniella] didn’t like that. He also exploded and sometimes it was 5 runs [he would allow].

“I might be trouble and I might give up a run, but I can bear down and catch myself in situations. Once it’s perspective right now. It’s April. There’s a difference…I could have 10 saves in a row and they could all be clean.”

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