May 2011

Teammates talk Wieters

This just in: this Matt Wieters guy is pretty good. Wieters, who celebrated his 25th birthday yesterday by setting a new career-high hit streak (10 games), threw out a pair of runners in Sunday’s 2-1 series win over the Nationals.

Wieters ended the game by taking Roger Bernadina’s called third strike –which was a full-count breaking ball from Kevin Gregg — and firing it down to second base to nab pinch-runner Brian Bixler. Wieters also threw out Michael Morse to end the second inning and has caught 13 of 27 potential base stealers this season.

While Wieters will be the first one to give credit elsewhere –citing Gregg’s quick time to the plate and the accuracy of the pitch he caught — his teammates had no problem heaping on the praise. Neither did manager Buck Showalter. Here’s what they had to say.

[KEVIN GREGG]
“To catch and throw that ball, he’s probably the best throwing catcher in the game right now.”

“I knew [Bixler would] be running. They didn’t put him over there just to stand over there. I’ll take my chances anyone running on Wiets. I’m pretty quick to the plate every time I go out there.”

[J.J. HARDY]
“That’s what he’s been doing this whole season, just putting good throws out there. All we do is catch it.”

[On comparing Wieters defensively to Joe Mauer, his teammate last year]

“I don’t know what his numbers are, but I feel like he’s thrown everybody out that runs,” Hardy said of Wieters. “That’s pretty good.”

[BUCK SHOWALTER]

“That’s amazing. I’ll tell you the other thing is Kevin, and we have him talk some to the young pitchers, he’s 1.2 [seconds] to the plate…and that doesn’t happen with a lot of guys who pitch out of the bullpen. We’ve said all along, if you guys can just give Matty a chance, he can really help you. That’s happened more than once this year in situations like that.

And being accurate…just watched it coming through. We have players go in and watch it. Nick [Markakis] was in there watching it. The accuracy of it. I’ll tell you how hard that is to do.”

Orioles/Nats lineups and pregame tidbits

* Orioles starter Brian Matusz will take a work day on Tuesday before the team makes a final decision, although it’s likely he will make another rehab start before being activated by Baltimore. He is on the 15-day disabled list from a left intercostal muscle strain and tossed six scoreless innings for Double-A Bowie on Saturday night in a strong second rehab start.

On Sunday Matusz said that he is right on track for recovering, but still didn’t feel ready to start yet.

“I had good results yesterday. I was able to make good pitches,” Matusz said. “I didn’t have the best feel for all my stuff. I didn’t feel like it was coming out of my hand like I wanted it to, but I feel like I’m on track, I feel like it’s real close to being where I want to be.”

*The Orioles pregame media notes have Brad Bergesen skipped for the upcoming Royals series, although manager Buck Showalter said a decision hasn’t been made yet. The O’s could take advantage of Monday’s off day to skip Bergesen and allow Matusz to make one more rehab start before being activated.

*Manager Buck Showalter said there are no plans for Brian Roberts to start any physical activity right now, which means Roberts will definitely not be ready to come off the 7-day disabled list on Tuesday. Roberts, who is on the DL with concussion-like symptoms, has been consulting with local and national specialists.

*Bench coach Willie Randolph will again be the O’s third base coach again today, in place of John Russell who will probably be out of commission a few more days. Russell is recovering from an injection in his left knee.

*Here are the lineups as the Orioles go for the series win this afternoon….

ORIOLES LINEUP
Felix Pie LF
Adam Jones CF
Nick Markakis RF
Vladimir Guerrero-DH
Matt Wieters C
Luke Scott 1B
Mark Reynolds 3B
J.J. Hardy SS
Robert Andin 2B

Chris Tillman RHP

NATIONALS LINEUP
Roger Bernadina CF
Ian Desmond 3B
Laynce Nix LF
Jayson Werth RF
Wilson Ramos DH
Michael Morse 1B
Danny Espinosa 2B
Ivan Rodriguez C
Alex Cora 3B

Ryan Zimmermann RHP

–Avi Zaleon

Matusz makes what could be final rehab start

Orioles starter Brian Matusz (left intercostal muscle strain) tossed six scoreless innings for Double-A Bowie Saturday night, a strong second rehab start that could be his final tune-up before rejoining Baltimore.

Matusz — who was placed on the 15-day disabled list prior to making what would have been his first start of the season — threw 70 pitches for Bowie, allowing just three hits and a walk. The 24-year-old lefty also picked up a strikeout in the no-decision outing.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said prior to Saturday’s game in Baltimore that he wasn’t learning “one way or the other” in terms of whether Matusz would get a third rehab start. But given Saturday’s strong showing, and the fact that Matusz was economical enough to go six innings within his pitch-count limit, only furthered his case to be activated sooner rather than later.

Matusz is expected to be in Baltimore for the team’s Sunday afternoon game, and the earliest he could start for the Orioles would be Thursday’s home game against Kansas City.

In two Minor League outings, Matusz –who also made two starts in extended spring — has allowed a run on five hits and two walks, striking out three over the 10-inning stretch. His return will force either Chris Tillman or Brad Bergesen out of the starting rotation, although one of them could shift to the bullpen and avoid going to Triple-A Norfolk.

Tillman, who is Sunday’s scheduled starter, is 2-3 with a 5.35 ERA in eight starts, while Bergesen is 1-5 with a 5.64 ERA in nine games (eight starts). Of the two, Bergesen would be the more likely candidate to be moved to the bullpen/swingman role, given that he made the team’s Opening Day roster in that capacity and Tillman has never pitched out of the bullpen.

Roberts’ return still up in the air

Second baseman Brian Roberts –who is on the 7-day disabled list with concussion symptoms — has not begun any physical activity, making it increasingly unlikely that he will be ready to be activated anytime in the near future.

Roberts met with the media Saturday afternoon for the first time since going on the DL prior to Thursday’s game and said that while his headaches are getting better there is still some concern given the nature of his condition. Roberts, who has talked with a concussion specialist, is still dealing with some mild symptoms and felt the lingering effects of last September’s concussion for months afterward. He said Saturday he doesn’t believe it will be an extended recovery period this time around, although he appeared doubtful that he would ready the first day he is eligible, which would be Tuesday.

“It’s certainly concerning,” said Roberts, who compared what he’s feeling right now with motion or car sickness. “It’s not life and death, but when it comes to baseball right now, today it’s not great. From talking to some doctors that deal with concussions a lot, I think we can get our arms around it and I think that we can fix the problem. We can do things to hopefully make it better quicker. I don’t think it’s going to be anything that lasts like last year at all. But it’s not fun right now.”

Roberts also confirmed that the headaches started Monday after a headfirst slide into first base at Fenway Park. On that play, his helmet banged his head, but his skull didn’t hit the ground directly and instead suffered what doctors believe was more a “jarring and whiplash effect”, according to Roberts.

“We originally had hopes he would play Tuesday and you hold out hope he’ll be able to play then,” manager Buck Showalter said of Roberts, who is the team’s leadoff hitter and igniter of the offense. “But I also know the reality of some of the diagnoses. Talking to him [on Saturday] some of the headaches have gone away, which is a good sign.”

Limited to just 59 games last season with a herniated disc in his lower back, Roberts was slowed this spring by back and neck injuries, including one that originated from a headfirst slide against the New York Yankees. Asked Saturday if he may have to consider avoiding that part of his game in the future, Roberts didn’t rule it out.

“I just never knew or dreamed that sliding headfirst would cause something like this,” he said. “I always assumed that I’d have to actually have a head collision of some sort in order to experience these sorts of things again. So once I get back on the field, there might be things, like I said. If I don’t slide headfirst into first then I won’t slide headfirst into first. I guess it’s one of those things I learned in a way that I didn’t really want to learn.”

The Orioles can keep Roberts on the 7-day DL until the period reaches 15 days, in which case they would have to transfer him over to the 15-day DL.

Orioles/Nats lineup and pregame tidbits

*Reliever Jason Berken, who was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after last night’s game, is scheduled to start on Tuesday and will continue to be stretched out. Manager Buck Showalter said it’s not a role change for Berken per se, but it could become one given that Berken is a converted starter and the team has a glaring lack of depth in their rotation.

The problem with Berken isn’t physical. In fact, the team thinks Berken –who shed 20 pounds this offseason while rehabbing his rotator cuff/labrum– could be too strong, which is why they think the extra innings will be good for him.

*Second baseman Brian Roberts said his headaches are getting better,but he admitted the concussion-like symptoms are a concern. Roberts confirmed that this started with Monday’s headfirst slide into first base in which his helmet hit his head, and he has not done anything physical since then.

He is eligible to come off the 7-day DL for concussions on Tuesday, but it doesn’t look likely at this point.

*Derrek Lee (left oblique strain) made little secret of the fact that he’s unhappy to be on the 15-day disabled list while speaking the media this afternoon. He said he’s confident it will be 15 days and doesn’t think he will need to go to extended spring –which is what J.J. Hardy did with the same injury — although Showalter acknowledged Lee will have to get some at-bats at an affiliate before returning. He will remain with the team through the rest of this homestand.

*Starter Brian Matusz (left intercostal muscle strain) is making his second rehab start, this one with Double-A Bowie, later this evening. Showalter said he’s not leaning one way or another in terms of whether this will be Matusz’s final rehab outing or not.

*Right-handed pitcher Alfredo Simon is here and will be activated tonight off the restricted list and serve as the long man in the Orioles bullpen. Showalter said he spoke with Simon and doesn’t see his legal issues as something that will prevent him from concentrating on baseball.

Simon, who has lost about 30 pounds, said he feels good physically and was pleased with his last outing in Bowie in which he threw all of his pitches.

*Showalter met with the Orioles four young pitchers this afternoon and the talk centered on the frustrating see-saw act that has been going on. While the ups and downs are part of learning in the American League East, it was pretty clear that Showalter was stern in his message that these guys need to find a way to limit the damage and give the team some innings. The Orioles have had consecutive starters –in Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta — who were unable to make it out of the fourth inning. It goes without saying that it makes it incredibly hard to get anything going as a team when that happens.

*It’s Matt Wieters’ 25th birthday today.

ORIOLES LINEUP
Robert Andino 2B
Adam Jones CF
Nick Markakis RF
Vladimir Guerrero DH
Matt Wieters C
J.J. Hardy SS
Mark Reynolds 3B
Nolan Reimold LF
Jeremy Guthrie SP

Berken optioned, Simon to be activated

Seeking to bolster a depleted bullpen, the Orioles optioned struggling right-handed reliever Jason Berken to Triple-A Norfolk following Friday’s 17-5 loss to the Washington Nationals.

Berken has allowed 15 runs (14 earned) in his last 8 2/3 innings, surrendering 22 hits and eight walks over that stretch.

He entered Friday’s game with the bases loaded in the fourth inning and hit Jayson Werth with his first pitch to score a run. It was an ominous start for Berken, who allowed six earned runs on five hits and a walk, with both Roger Bernadina and Jayson Berth homering in the process.

Following Wednesday’s 15-inning loss, the Orioles have had consecutive starts of less than four innings and have been forced to dip into their bullpen at an alarming rate. While Berken is hardly the only reliever struggling, he does have an option remaining, meaning he won’t have to clear waivers to go to Norfolk.

The corresponding roster move will be officially announced Saturday, although Alfredo Simon –who was scheduled to be added from the restricted list to the 25-man roster on Sunday – is now expected to be added a day early. The Orioles will have to make a move to add Simon to the 40-man roster, with the most obvious choice transferring Cesar Izturis from the 15 to the 60-day disabled list.

A few odds and ends

*Orioles manager Buck Showalter couldn’t resist another dig at the Yankees in today’s pregame session. The subject of last night’s at-bats in the ninth inning came up and Showalter went on to switch gears.

“Contrary to popular belief, every time the Yankees get hit by a pitch, it’s not intentional,” he said. “Every time they take a pitch, it’s not a ball either.”

*Second baseman Ryan Adams is making his Major League debut tonight. He found out about the promotion a little after midnight and left the hotel with Nolan Reimold –who was also recalled — around 3:30 a.m. His parents, Rick and Susan, are here from New Orleans to watch.

*Luke Scott said his right labrum tear is feeling the best it has all spring and has been encouraged by his pregame batting practice the past few days. While Scott knows he won’t be 100 percent, he has been doing rehab exercises to help strengthen the area around it and said his shoulder is feeling the strongest it has all spring. He has altered his full-bore swings pregame to save his strength from the game, but was also pretty upbeat about the effect of playing first base versus the outfield. The pain in his shoulder is the worst when making a long throw in from the field, so having Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold here could also help Scott, who figures to get more first base time with Derrek Lee on the DL.

*I’ve gotten a bunch of questions on the roster move with lefty Troy Patton last night, so let me try to explain it.

Patton’s situation isn’t a straight option to Norfolk as he has to be put on waivers given a quirk in his contractual status. He will remain on the 40-man roster but has been designated off the 25-man roster. He isn’t expected to report to Norfolk until early next week.

Another team can put a claim in on Patton, but the Orioles can pull him back. He has an option year remaining, so next season he would have to be exposed to waivers and could be lost in this kind of scenario.

LaRoche on facing Baltimore, picking the Nats

It didn’t hit Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche until he was on his way to Camden Yards on Friday afternoon: this could have been his every day routine.

LaRoche, one of the Orioles targets to fill their first base hole this offseason, said there were three teams with serious interest in him this winter although things with Baltimore never got “serious enough” for him to really envision making Camden Yards his home.

“It got serious enough that we were going back and forth a little bit [in negotiations] but it never got to the point where I really had a tough decision to make,” said LaRoche, who ultimately signed a two-year, $15-million contract with Washington. “If it had gotten a little more heated, [facing Baltimore] probably would feel a little bit different.”

LaRoche will make $15 million in the first two years of his contract, $7 million this season and $8 million the next. He and the Nationals also have a mutual option for 2013 and LaRoche said Friday he has no regrets about how things transpired.

“I like it here,” LaRoche said of Washington, which is 20-23 entering this weekend’s set. “I like not only where we are at, but what this team is willing to do moving forward and the direction they are wanting to go. So far, it’s been a good feeling.”

Baltimore ultimately signed Derrek Lee –who was placed on the disabled list Thursday – to a one-year deal, and while Lee has struggled offensively all season, LaRoche hasn’t fared any better. He enters Friday’s game batting .172 with three homes and 15 RBIs in 41 games. Asked what kind of reaction he might get from the O’s home crowd, LaRoche –who was slated to bat sixth and start at first base – wasn’t sure.

“I don’t know what the impression here is,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s bitterness or they don’t care, I have no idea.”

Orioles/Nationals series opener

NATIONALS LINEUP
Roger Bernadina CF
Ian Desmond SS
Laynce Nix LF
Jason Werth RF
Matt Stairs DH
Adam LaRoche 1B
Wilson Ramos C
Danny Espinosa 2B
Jerry Hairston 3B
Jason Marquis SP

ORIOLES LINEUP
Felix Pie LF
Adam Jones CF
Nick Markakis RF
Vladimir Guerrero DH
Matt Wieters C
Luke Scott 1B
J.J. Hardy SS
Mark Reynolds 3B
Ryan Adams 2B
Jake Arrieta SP

Patton, Jakubauskas demoted, Adams and Reimold to be activated

Following Thursday’s 13-2 loss to the Yankees, the Orioles demoted pitchers Troy Patton and Chris Jakubauskas and are expected to recall outfielder Nolan Reimold and purchase second baseman Ryan Adams’ contract from Triple-A Norfolk prior to Friday’s series-opener against the Nationals.

Patton and Jakubauskas were both recalled prior to Thursday’s game to provide reprieve from Wednesday’s 15-inning game, in which the Orioles used every reliever and starter Jeremy Guthrie. With a 14-man pitching staff on Thursday, the Orioles will revert back to 12 and help bolster a depleted bench that is particularly short on middle infield help with Brian Roberts (concussion) on the seven-day disabled list.

Adams went 1-for-3 in Norfolk’s 9-4 loss to Syracuse and is hitting .303 with 10 doubles, two triples, two homers and 8 RBIs in 39 games. One of this spring’s final cuts, Reimold is hitting .237 with six doubles, six homers and 22 RBIs.

It’s important to note Patton’s situation isn’t a straight option to Norfolk as he has to be put on waivers given a quirk in his contractual status. He will remain on the 40-man roster but isn’t expected to report to Norfolk until early next week.

The Orioles only have 39 players on their 40-man so they don’t have to make a corresponding move to add Adams.

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