April 2011

Orioles/Twins lineups

The sun is breaking out here and it looks like we are going to play…

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

Jake Arrieta SP

TWINS LINEUP
Denard Span Cf
Matt Tolbert
Jason Kubel
Jim Thome DH
Michael Cuddyer RF
Danny Valencia 3B
Luke Hughes 1B
Drew Butera C
Alexi Casilla SS

Carl Pavano SP

On the Orioles closing situation

It’s no secret that nothing has been going the Orioles way lately, including the late innings.

Orioles closer Kevin Gregg, who surrendered a game-tying homer to Jorge Posada in Thursday’s loss, continued to struggle on Monday. Gregg allowed two runs to score in the top of the ninth, laboring through a 34-pitch inning in which he was charged with two hits, two walks and a wild pitch.

“I’m just trying to be too perfect when I’m out there,” said Gregg who did not pitch in this weekend’s Cleveland series.

“I’ve only pitched once coming into the last week, so you lose feel when you get out there. It’s a delicate balance obviously, to not be overused, and to be underused kind of. It’s an unfortunate situation we’re in where we’re not playing real well right now and it’s tough to keep the feel.”

Gregg said the same type of thing on Thursday, and manager Buck Showalter echoed that sentiment again following Monday’s loss.

“It’s probably as much our fault as his,” Showalter said of Gregg. “There just haven’t been that many opportunities. He needed to pitch and [Jim Johnson] had been up yesterday and gotten hot. We knew going into the game tonight that Kevin needed to pitch. And we like him out there. He’s pitched pretty effectively for the most part this year, and tonight he struggled a little bit with his command somewhat.”

In fairness to Gregg, he has appeared very sporadically so far this season. In Gregg’s five outings, two have been in save situations and he has never appeared back-to-back. He’s never pitched more than once a series, appearing in games April 2, 6, 10, 14 and 18. he has one save and one blown save.

It’s early and April stats are always overblown. Still, Gregg –who pitched to a 9.82 ERA this spring — needs to get back on track. He is well known for tightrope acts in the late innings, and it will be interesting how long of a leash he has.

As for Koji Uehara, the Orioles can’t use him on back-to-back days. The team has to be careful that they don’t overextend Koji and wind up with him on the DL. Gregg was signed to be the team’s closer and he came here because Koji is not dependable enough to be relied on through an entire 162-game season. Maybe he will be able to go consecutive games soon. Maybe he will start to tell Showalter he can handle it. But until that starts to happen consistently, the Orioles will hand the ball to Gregg more often than not.

Tillman not satisfied

Chris Tillman took some flak for saying after Wednesday’s disastrous outing that he thought he had good stuff and was “a few pitches away”. So give the 23-year-old credit for being not OK on Monday: both with the way he pitched and with the team’s final outcome.

“I wouldn’t say I’m pleased,” Tillman said of the 96-pitch outing. “I felt OK about it. It was OK. It wasn’t good enough. It’s definitely a work in progress here.”

During the Orioles’ current skid, they have faced three teams that rank in the top five in the American League in runs scored. The Twins –playing without Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau — entered Monday’s contest ranked dead last in that category.

Tillman –coming off one of the worst outings of his career – wasn’t going to bask in a 6 2/3 innings three-run start. He expected to pitch better on Monday, a sign –hopefully — of better things to come.

“Tilly’s been working on some things and it got away from him a little bit there in the second inning,” manager Buck Showalter said. “[Pitching coach Mark Connor] reminded him and got him back a little bit on line with some adjustments. He fights himself sometimes…He got it together and gave us some innings and gave us a chance to win a ballgame.”

Tillman allowed nine hits and six earned runs in Wednesday’s loss to the Yankees. He didn’t make it out of the second inning in that start, prompting questions regarding his status in the team’s rotation. He was in dire need of a quality start and he got one on Monday, although there are still things –his velocity, his cutter – that Tilman acknowledged need to improve.

“It got me in trouble twice tonight,” Tillman said of his cutter. “That’s been the pitch I’ve been going to late last season and in spring training, and of a sudden it’s not there for me. That’s one thing I’ve got to get back to.”

Tillman gave up a two-run double to Drew Butera in the second and allowed another run in the fourth but was able to right himself and keep the Orioles in the game.

Following Michael Cuddyer’s RBI double, Tillman retired 11 batters in a row before shortstop Robert Andino’s errant throw awarded No. 9 batter Alexi Casilla second base. That ended Tillman’s outing in favor of lefty Clay Rapada.

Tillman’s 6 2/3 innings were a season-high and he tied a season high with five strikeouts. He also didn’t issue a walk. When asked if his velocity –which still sits in the mid to upper 80s — is a concern, Tillman said he’s working on it but it’s not something he’s alarmed about.

The sense is if Tillman can get back on track with his location and movement getting back to more of a steady low 90s on the radar gun will come easier than if the just pound it in his head now that he has to throw harder regardless of where it goes. Velocity isn’t everything, but it is something Tillman needs to improve on, along with several other things.

“Like I said, I was OK with it,” Tillman said of his outing. “It’s frustrating right now. Nothing is really going our way. We’re all kind of frustrated. We’ve got to keep plugging way. It’s a work in progress.”

Orioles/Twins lineups and pregame tidbits

*The Orioles officially purchased the contract of Clay Rapda, putting Chris Jakubauskas on the 15-day disabled list and putting Justin Duchscherer on the 60 day. Jak has been dealing with some right groin tightness that started in the first game of the New York series. It crept up again while he was fielding his position in Cleveland.

Duchscherer is still throwing in Sarasota and the team remains optimistic he will be able to help them this season. Given the Orioles lack of starting pitching depth, they could certainly use a healthy Duke. It’s worth nothing that if the Orioles felt that he had no chance of return, they could just release him. Moving Duchscherer to the 60-day DL means the organization still feels there is a chance.

*Brian Matusz threw from 60 and 90 feet today (on flat ground) with no pain. He had been dealing with a little discomfort prior to that, so Monday’s news was encouraging. The Orioles are hoping Matusz can progress enough to throw off a mound, at which point he would rejoin Baltimore to throw in front of pitching coach Mark Connor and bullpen coach Rick Adair. Matusz will still need several rehab outings after that and Showalter said the team will be cautious. “There’s nothing imminent there,” he said regarding Matusz.

*J.J. Hardy is feeling better, although he’s not participating in any baseball activities yet. Hardy (left rib cage strain) is in extended spring with Matusz right now and the Orioles, who originally thought Hardy would be out 2-3 weeks, are now hopeful it will be three.

*Luke Scott is taking a day off with Jake Fox in left field. Scott is still not 100 percent since suffering that groin injury earlier in the year and said that he felt it in his leg a little bit as well while in New York and Cleveland. It was well noted in the press box that he wasn’t running quite full bore. He’s also a little banged up in his right shoulder, so the Orioles are hoping giving him a day will help things along. Right now, there’s no indication they will DL Scott, who is also struggling at the plate. Scott didn’t blame his lack of hitting on anything physically, he just said he’s not comfortable at the plate.

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

Chris Tillman RHP

TWINS LINEUP
Denard Span cf
Matt Tolbert 2b
Jason Kubel rf
Jim Thome dh
Delmon Young lf
Michael Cuddyer 1b
Danny Valencia 3b
Drew Butera c
Alexi Casilla ss

Francisco Liriano LHP

Rapada here, Tillman time

Clay Rapada is in Baltimore and is expected to be activated prior to Monday’s series opener, which kicks off a long three-team homestand against the Twins, Yankees and Red Sox.

Rapada signed a Minor League contract with the Orioles this offseason and was one of the spring’s final cuts given that the O’s couldn’t afford the luxury of going with a lefty specialist in their bullpen. But given the struggles of their lone lefty Michael Gonzalez, and the groin injury to reliever Chris Jakubauskas, adding Rapada should give Showalter another late-game weapon.

Rapada has thrown two scoreless innings for Triple-A Norfolk and would be available out of the ‘pen tonight. Jakubauskas to the DL gives Rapada a spot on the 25-man roster, but he still needs his contract to be purchased, which adds him to the 40-man. The simplest move would be to transfer Justin Duchscherer to the 60-day DL although the Orioles can certainly take a handful of guys off their current 40-man and chances are they would not lose them to waivers.

Adding Rapada, who is mostly a few batters kind of guy, in place of Jakubauskas makes it even more important for the starters to be getting deeper into games. Josh Rupe is still the O’s primary long man and Jeremy Accardo and Jason Berken are capable of going multiple innings as well. But it’d be nice to see the starters start to get into a rhythm similar to what we saw the first week of the season. It starts tonight with Chris Tillman, who turned 23 on Friday.

Tillman has been anticipating this start since his last outing ended. He’s not a particularly emotional guy, but you can tell he was upset that night at Yankee Stadium. Make no mistake, he knows he’s pitching for his rotation spot. The O’s might not have a lot (or any, depending on how you look at it) starting pitching depth, but manager Buck Showalter is not going to keep running a struggling Tillman out there every five days.

Cleveland

I’m not in Cleveland with the team and am taking a few days to recharge (something I never did following spring training). So, what does this means for you? Not much besides maybe a slower Twitter feed. All your news will still be available on Orioles.com.

In case you missed it, check out my feature on tonight’s starter Zach Britton here. Britton will be followed by Jeremy Guthrie and Brad Bergesen, weather permitting.

Britton on his best pitch, and why it might not be the sinker

Zach Britton’s best pitch might not be his sinker. At least that’s what the 23-year-old Britton, who makes his third Major League start tonight against Cleveland, believes to be the case.

Britton started working on a new changeup grip this spring at the advice of pitching coach Mark Connor, who told him about how Roy Halladay basically throws everything off his fastball and just makes a minor tweak with his hands, placing his wrist on the ball. Britton, who just starting throwing a changeup regularly last year, gave it a try and has been using the pitch –with favorable results – since his final Grapefruit League outing.

“[I] came up with a split-change which is pretty much a sinker but slower,” Britton said. “It’s my best pitch right now. It’s better than my sinker right now, I honestly believe that. The reason I say it’s better than my sinker is it looks like my sinker but slower and it makes my sinker better. It has to be my best pitch because it makes my best pitch better.

It really worked against the Rangers because they have a really heavy right-handed team and it really helped against them. I only threw like three or four sliders.”

When I asked Connor about the changes with Britton’s changeup, he didn’t need to say much. He just raised his eyebrows and commented that the young lefty has “quite the aptitude for pitching”. Britton, it seems, picks things up and is able to make tweaks to his pitching at an impressive rate.

He has also gained a tick on his velocity this spring by changing his delivery to be more rhythmic and relaxed.

“The way I stand on my mound, the way I move my hands, [is all different],” Britton said. “The movements are more fluid, less robotic, and I started throwing a little harder in spring training as a result.”

Britton has allowed one earned run in 13 2/3 innings and is 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA in his first two starts. You can read more about where Britton and how he got to the Baltimore in my feature story on site.

Yankees/Orioles lineups & pregame tidbits

*Brad Bergesen will start Sunday’s series finale in Cleveland and he will be followed by Chris Tillman on Monday.

*Joe Mahoney, the Orioles Minor League Player of the Year was placed on Double-A Bowie’s 7-day disabled list with an injured quad.

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
Cesar Izturis SS

Jake Arrieta RHP

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

Phil Hughes RHP

Showalter on Tillman: “Not good. Not good enough.”

That was not a good start tonight for Chris Tillman, whose performance all but buried the Orioles in Wednesday’s series opening 7-4 loss.

Tillman admitted afterwards that his outing wasn’t “going to cut it” up here, and the Orioles are hoping that he can start to show signs of being an effective Major League starter.

“I was disappointed, the results are results,” said Tillman, who is now 1-2 with a 8.27 ERA in four career starts against the Yankees. “I think anybody would be disappointed in this, you know? I’m more disappointed that I made some good pitches and when it counted I didn’t make those pitches.

I missed middle almost every single one of those pitches, I missed middle. Whether it was up or down. It just goes to show, that’s not going to cut it here.”

Manager Buck Showalter remarked that Tillman has had one good start “statistically”, a so-so one last time out and obviously he struggled tonight. The statical comment is due to his six no-hit innings against Tampa Bay, an offense that has struggled to put any runs on the board against anyone. Clearly, Showalter wasn’t overly impressed with that first start from Tillman, although it was light-years better than what we saw on Wednesday night.

“He’s obviously a guy that doesn’t have a lot of experience,” Showalter said of Tillman who turns 23 on Friday.

“You’re going to have some innings. You just can’t let them get away from you and keep the team in the game. It was 6-0 there. 3-0 you take. But he didn’t make a lot of good pitches and he paid for it.

He had some problems in the first one in Tampa, too. Up here, a lot of times these clubs don’t give you a chance to get your feet on the ground. There was not a whole lot there for Matty [Wieters] to work with tonight.”

Wieters said command was the big issue for Tillman, who turned in the second-shortest start of his career and matched a career-high in hits allowed.

“We were a couple pitches way from being a little better than 6-0, but we got behind the counts early,” Wieters said. “And with this lineup you can’t get behind the count and have to come in there with a fastball, they knew what was coming.”

Tillman is next slated to start on Monday at home, and all signs point to him getting at least one more turn.

“There’s always options if you have to make an adjustment. We hope not,” Showalter said of Tillman’s performance perhaps forcing the Orioles to examine other options such as long relievers Chris Jakubauskas and Josh Rupe.

“I’m not at that point now. “We just go through a game.”

Orioles/Yankees lineup and pregame tidbits

*Brian Matusz threw again at extended spring today today and manager Buck Showlater reported that Matusz did more than yesterday, which is certainly encouraging. The team hopes to get him back to Baltimore next week, although he might not be ready to throw off a mound immediately. As Showalter said yesterday, they’ll “be careful” in moving along Matusz, so that he doesn’t suffer a setback.

*Kind of a cool moment pregame, with the UCONN’s men’s basketball team on the field. Baltimore native Roscoe Smith was wearing an Orioles’ hat and Jeremy Guthrie was collecting signatures on a baseball to give to Smith. When Guthrie came to get Showalter’s he was talking to the media. “Any Yankees hats?” Showalter asked of the UCONN group. Guthrie said, there were not and quipped it was “1-0, Orioles.”

*As long as the game gets in today, and they will do everything possible to get it in, Brad Bergesen will be activated and available tonight in relief. Kind of a complicated situation, but I explained it a little last night. The team need to get Bergesen throwing again, and if they weren’t in this situation he’d already have a start at Triple-A.

*Justin Duchscherer had the guided injection in his left hip that I blogged about yesterday.

*J.J. Hardy (left oblique strain) is in extended spring and getting treatment. Showalter was asked yesterday if Hardy’s MRI results –which have the Orioles targeting a 2-3 week timeframe — was a positive considering this is usually a longer DL injury.

“I can’t say it could be 2-3 weeks, we hope so,” Showalter said. “Could be less than 3, I don’t know. I think the first four or five days in Sarasota will give him a better idea.”

*I will keep you updated on the weather as best as I can. Both teams did go outside today for batting practice, but that was more out of necessity than clear skies. For instant updates, follow along on Twitter.

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
Chris Tillman RHP

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

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