February 2012

Notes & images from camp: Day 11

*There was no morning clubhouse access for reporters as the players had their annual media training.

*Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado, who came over to Major League camp yesterday, were both on the field working out today and figure to be here for the next few days. Schoop, a second baseman was wearing No. 87, while Machado (shortstop) was wearing No. 85. The pair of young infielders are considered to be the organization’s top position prospects. O’s manager Buck Showalter said there was some thought to inviting those two officially to Major League camp, but he wanted to reward LJ Hoes and Xavier Avery -who are both further along — on good seasons in Double-A.

*Right-hander Dylan Bundy again created a mini-scene in throwing his first true live batting practice this afternoon. (the first time through was mostly tracking and the hitters couldn’t swing.) The 19-year-old Bundy, who is the Orioles’ top pitching prospect, started off throwing to first baseman Chris Davis and infielder Robert Andino, and the two were beyond impressed. Andino needed just four words to describe Bundy’s repertoire and two of those words were expletives while Davis couldn’t believe Bundy had five pitches as a high school arm. Yeah, he’s that impressive.  Bundy then threw to Endy Chavez and Wilson Betemit.

*Tsuyoshi Wada will take another day off of throwing after having his left elbow drained of inflammation, as well as a Cortisone shot, on Sunday.  He has reported to be feeling better every day and he could pick up a ball as soon as Thursday.

*Other pitchers who threw live BP today were: Wei-Yin Chen, Brian Matusz, Pat Neshek, Jon Link, Armando Galarraga, Chris Tillman, Oliver Drake, Steve Johnson and Miguel Socolovich.

*As a freshman walk-on hopeful at the University of Florida, Darren O’Day was cut from the Gators’ baseball squad. He was done with baseball, not willing to go to a junior college as the program suggested, because O’Day — an animal biology major with a minor in geography — valued a four-year degree more than being a reserve pitcher.

It wasn’t supposed to be a career revival that summer when O’Day’s coworker needed a pitcher for his adult men’s league, but that’s exactly what it was. There in Starke, Fla., where O’Day’s family rented a house on Kingsley Lake, he started experimenting with throwing sidearm. A traditional overhand pitcher his entire life, O’Day and his brother had occasionally messed around with different deliveries while playing catch in the backyard. But that summer, where games came with cigarettes strewn in the dugout and cans of Keystone Light beer on the bench, O’Day found his niche batting cleanup, playing shortstop and baffling 40- and 50 year-old men when on the hill.

O’Day has a very interesting back story (including a funny story with Texas) and you can read my full feature piece here.

*Pitching matchups for the first week of spring games, where each starter will go two innings include:

Monday- Brian Matusz (home) Alfredo Simon (road at Tampa Bay)

Tuesday- Tommy Hunter and Dana Eveland

Wednesday- Wei-Yin Chen and Chris Tillman

Thursday- Jason Hammel and Armando Galarraga

Friday- Jake Arrieta followed by the bullpen

Saturday will reset the order with Matusz and Simon.

The intrasquad games on Friday and Saturday will feature each pitcher just throwing one inning and Arrieta and Hammel will start the first game and Galarraga and Chen on Saturday. For those curious, Dylan Bundy will throw in Saturday’s intrasquad game.

All of the team’s position players, with the exception of Nick Markakis (abdominal surgery) and Brian Roberts are expected to get into the intrasquad games, including Machado and Schoop. Showalter said Markakis had a good day swinging the bat.

*Oscar Villareal was not in camp today because he had to go to tend to some immigration issues. He’s expected to be back tomorrow.

*Hunter is dealing with some lower back tightness, according to Showalter, but it’s considered a minor issue and he’s been cleared to pitch. As for catcher Taylor Teagarden’s he progressing really well and will catch 3-5 innings in the intrasquad game. Teagarden, who had a second knee surgery last month, said the biggest hurdle to clear now is endurance, and catching in games should give him a much better idea of where he’s at.

*Former Orioles DH and new Tampa Bay Ray Luke Scott discussed the end of the 2011 season and how he dislikes Red Sox fans in a story by my colleague Bill Chastain. The always-quotable Scott is in rare form here, and it’s worth a read.

Dylan Bundy throwing live BP.

Pitching coach Rick Adair talks with Dylan Bundy after his live batting practice session.

Adam Jones getting ready to take some coaches’ BP.

Wei-Yin Chen throwing his first live BP.

Top infield prospects Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado talk to Minor League instruction coordinator Brian Graham.

Orioles give Banks a tryout

In a continuing effort to beef up their pitching staff, the Orioles signed  right-handed journeyman Josh Banks to a Minor League deal on Tuesday.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette met briefly with Banks’ agent, former player Gary Sheffield at the Ed Smith Stadium Complex and Banks departed for the team’s Minor League facility at Twin Lakes Park shortly after to throw in front of director of player personnel John Stockstill and a handful of other team officials.

“He’s a local kid,” Duquette said of Banks, who is from Severna Park, Md. “He went and pitched effectively in winter ball and showed that he was healthy.”

The 29-year-old Banks is coming off a stint in the Dominican League Winter League, and given the Orioles current pitching situation –they have 29 arms in camp and are trying to foster competition and depth – Duquette said Sheffield reached out to him because he “saw an opportunity” with Baltimore.

Originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, Banks had the most success with the San Diego Padres in 2008, putting together a stretch of 22 consecutive scoreless innings. He has bounced around in the Minors the last two seasons, most recently with the San Francisco Giants –who released him during the season – and is a career 4-8 with a 5.66 Major League ERA.

Sheffield, who was originally signed by Duquette as a scout for the Brewers, represents a handful of players, including pitcher Jason Grilli, and said Banks is the final player of his to sign.

Notes & Images from camp: Day 10 (updated)

*The Orioles signed right-handed pitcher Josh Banks to a Minor Legue deal after watching him tryout on Tuesday. Banks is represented by former player Gary Sheffield, who represents a handful of players, including Jason Grilli.

Banks is a Baltimore native, who had the most success with the Padres in 2008.  The 29-year-old right-hander has bounced around in the Minors the last two seasons, most recently with the San Francisco Giants who released him during the season. For more on Banks’ tryout, and thoughts from executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, click here.

*Jim Johnson (lower back) threw 25 pitches off the mound with no problems this morning and he said he’ll go again on Friday and Monday. Johnson also took part in some pitcher’s fielding practice today and was able to work in some offspeed throwing for the first time.

*Willie Eyre (groin) played catch yesterday and did so again today. He’s still having some trouble moving laterally and estimated it’d be about 5-7 days before he was ready to throw another bullpen.

*The pitchers who threw today included: Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day, Alfredo Simon, Dana Eveland, Kevin Gregg, Pedro Strop, Luis Ayala, Brad Bergesen, Pedro Strop & Matt Lindstrom. Most of those guys will throw in Friday’s intrasquad game.

Brian Matusz will start Monday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates with Alfred Simon starting the afternoon game in Port Charlotte against the Rays. That should answer questions about if Simon will be considered a starter (at least at first), with the team expected to start breaking off starters and relievers around March 15.

Manager Buck Showalter said of the decision: it was “about 80 percent” someone just needed to be first, although part of that also had to do with the organization wanting to make things relatively smooth for Matusz, who will pitch the home game.

“I’d be less than frank if I said that doesn’t figure into it,” Showalter said.  “But you can say the same thing about four or five other guys, too.”

The plan is for Simon and Matusz to go two innings each.

*Zach Britton threw today with no problems and the plan is for him to get up on the mound Friday and again on Monday.  He said being healthy is his main focus, and right now he has five weeks to get himself ready to start the season on time. Both pitching coach Rick Adair and manager Buck Showalter said Britton is still very much in competition for being part of the Opening Day rotation.

For the full story on Britton, click here.

*Top position player prospects Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop are here and will be in big league camp the next few days. They could also be used in the intrasquad games later this week.

*Showalter said Nick Markakis (abdominal surgery) won’t get into games until at least March 10, and it could be later than that.

*Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver is expected to be at the team’s spring complex sometime this weekend.

*Tsuyoshi Wada (left elbow discomfort) came in much better today and Wednesday will  mark the third day since Wada had his elbow drained of some inflammation. The team will wait and see how he feels before deciding his progression schedule.

*With Jason Varitek set to retire, I spent a few minutes this morning picking the brain of Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette on Varitek, who he traded for in Boston in 1997. Here’s what Duquette had to say…

“We had Mike Stanley and Mike could still hit, but his catching skills, as he spent more time with us, we needed a younger, more vital catcher. So that’s what drove the move,” Duquette said. “Jason Varitek played in the Cape League and he played at Georgia Tech with Nomar [Garciaparra] and he was drafted several times before he started his career. He was very stubborn about starting his career and that stubbornness was really one of the great qualities that he brought to the catching position with the Red Sox.”

“We were looking for a catcher. Everybody in the business knew Jason Varitek because he was drafted twice in the first round. Did we know he’d be with the Red Sox for 15 years and lead the team to two championships? No. But to his credit, he had all the skills and he deserves all the credit for the great work ethic that he developed. His tenacity as a competitor. This kid, whenever we went into Yankee Stadium, he always had a big game. He always did something to help the team win on the big stage.”

Duquette –who hailed Varitek as a “rare leader” — said keeping him in the organization was the right move for the Red Sox.

“He has a terrific work ethic and leadership ability,” Duquette said. “He learned and became the best in the business at getting hitters out, which is the key part of the job.”

For more on Varitek’s retirement, be sure to check MLB.com for complete coverage.

Jake Arrieta signing autographs.

Brad Bergesen throwing to hitters.

Brad Bergesen and Darren O’Day warming up.

Catcher Caleb Joseph with spring training instructor Chris Hoiles.

Left to right: Zach Phillips, Pedro Strop and Troy Patton.

Gary Sheffield and Orioles’ EVP Dan Duquette discuss Josh Banks’ tryout, which resulted in a Minor League deal on Tuesday. Banks is in the gray t-shirt behind Sheffield.

Notes & Images from camp: Day 9

*In case you missed it, I wrote about Matt Wieters evolving into a leader and taking a more vocal approach in camp here.

*Zach Britton (left shoulder inflammation) did some light throwing on flat ground, after going 60, 90 and 120 feet yesterday. Right now, he hasn’t had any setbacks and continues to progress along on schedule.

*Today was the second day of live batting practice, although it’s more “tracking” for the hitters, who aren’t allowed to swing in the batter’s box. After today’s  second group of pitchers throw, the hitters will get to swing in the next go-around and then the team will have intrasquad games on March 2 and 3rd. Among the pitchers who threw today: Wei-Yin Chen, Pat Neshek, Armando Gallarraga, Chris Tillman, Dylan Bundy, Oliver Drake, Steve Johnson and Miguel Socolovich.

Chen looks like he has a firm grip on a rotation spot –assuming he stays healthy — and manager Buck Showalter said the 26-year-old has been impressive.

“He has a good look in his eyes,” Showalter said of Chen. You can see why he’s had success. It was fun watching him throw with a hitter in there. He looks pretty comfortable.”

Bundy continues to draw a crowd and the most impressive part –to me, at least — in watch him throw is it looks effortless. He doesn’t look like he’s trying to throw hard, but there’s an unmistakable pop in the catcher’s mitt pretty much every time.

*A few people have asked if the Orioles’ intrasquad games are open to the public, and I’m going with no since they weren’t last year. Obviously, if that changes, I’ll be sure to note it. The plan right now is for each pitcher to on an inning, no one will go more than that, and the Orioles will have between 18-20 arms including some from Minor League camp. Last I checked, there were nine pitchers already at the Twin Lakes Park Complex that the Orioles could use over here if needed. Keep in mind the team has a split-squad game the first day, which is Monday, against the Rays and Pirates.

*I wrote about reliever Pedtro Strop yesterday, and asked today if there was a scenario where both Strop and Alfredo Simon –who have adjoining lockers and are inseparable in camp — could make the Opening Day bullpen. (Both are out of options and are right-handed power arms.) Showalter said there was.

“You never can have enough of those guys,” Showalter said. “We’ve got a chance to have some guys who can make you swing and miss.”

*Jake Arrieta discusses returning from elbow surgery and getting ready for the 2012 season in a video interview here.

Arrieta has been a full participant in camp and given his work ethic in the weight room and conditioning he admitted the first days have actually been easier than he thought. Now with the bone spur on his right elbow removed, his body has essentially relearned his delivery and he said yesterday that he feels better than he has in a long time, not having to be in the training room for several hours a day just to get ready.

“There’s no tightness, no soreness, no pain or discomfort,” said Arrieta, who went 10-8  with a 5.05 ERA last season before being shut down in early August. “I was telling some guys this is the first time since I can remember that I haven’t needed to go to the training room for an hour, two hours before the workout, just to be able to get through the day. So, that’s a good feeling.”

I’ll have more from Arrieta on his progression and possibly being the Opening Day starter, up shortly on Orioles.com

 

Robert Andino, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds taking some batting practice.

Chris Davis and hitting coach Jim Presley.

Top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy throwing to hitters.

Catcher Brian Ward, who did a nice job with Bundy on Monday.

Wei-Yin Chen throwing to hitters.

“There’s no tightness, no soreness, no pain or discomfort,” said Arrieta, who went 10-8  with a 5.05 ERA last season before

being shut down in early August. “I was telling some guys this is the first time since I can remember that I haven’t needed

to go to the training room for an hour, two hours before the workout, just to be able to get through the day. So, that’s a

good feeling.”

Wieters evolving into leader, “captain” of O’s staff

In his fourth Major League camp and entering his third season as the Orioles starting catcher, Matt Wieters finally seems comfortable with the fact that this is his pitching staff, his team. The transformation, from a reserved, hyped to-the-moon prospect into a leader not afraid to get in his starting pitcher’s face, has not gone unnoticed by those in the organization, particularly coaches and teammates.

I’ve got a full feature story on Wieters on Orioles.com, and you can click here to read it. As always with a story this long, there’s plenty of leftovers and quotes I haven’t used yet, which I have below.

One thing to point out: I purposely wanted to avoid using statistics and figures in this story because as good of a year as Wieters had, his contributions to this team far exceed what you can find on his player page. There seemed to be a common thread in talking to everyone for this story, that there’s no doubt his best is yet to come. I’ve said before that the Orioles really need strong leadership from some of their young core, and watching Wieters this spring –compared to my first camp in 2010– has truly been night and day.

Here are some leftovers….

CHRIS TILLMAN

[on Wieters growing into a leadership role] “Absolutely, I think it’s been a drastic change over the last couple years. I started with him in 2008 ‘til now, he kind of went from baby Wiet to daddy Wiet, in taking control of the reins. I’ve seen him go through that change and I think the best is probably still to come from him. He’s still young and still getting his confidence to become that captain that he’s really going to be.”

[on being lucky to have Wieters] “We are spoiled to have him back there. He controls the running game pretty much himself. We got to help him a little bit. If you get a ball by him, you did something special. You got to try to get it by him to get it by him. He can play with the best of them, I think he deserved that Gold Glove last year. I’m happy for him.”

BRIAN MATUSZ

[on Wieters] “Wieters is the captain back there behind the plate. He spends a lot of time getting to know each pitcher on an individual level and know how to reach guys in different ways to bring out the best ability in each guy. Wieters is so well respected by the entire pitching staff, we are blessed and lucky to have him back there so it’s exciting, I look forward to this season to be able to work with him again.  Getting in a good grove like we had in 2010. He’s the captain of this team.”

[more of a leadership role ever season?] “Oh, sure. Yeah. Just with the experience Wieters has really stepped it up and been able to get to know his pitchers really well. It’s been, this is the fourth year now getting to work with Wiet and he really knows the guy well. Having that relationship for so long now, we are able to communicate a lot better.”

[shock you that he does all this extra work?]  “It doesn’t surprise me. He’s one of the best catchers in the game for a reason. He really cares about his teammates and his pitching staff. He’s willing to put the time in and the work in to get to know us. He helps make every guy on this pitching staff better just by putting that time in, and we are real lucky to have a guy like him behind the plate.”

JOHN RUSSELL

[Wieters transformation] “I think its more you get more comfortable, [his] first year there was a lot of expectations and things he had to fight through there and last year what his job was, what he needed to do and as he got through the first month he just started to develop to where he felt more comfortable in his surroundings. I think he’s grown a lot in that sense. Being an All Star, winning a Gold Glove, I think that just added to his confidence level. He knows how important it is to prepare, but also that all the things he does is being noticed.

[wieters as a person] “He’s the most unselfish player I’ve ever met. “[Wieters] keeps going out there every day and I think that’s what really has helped him be the kind of guy who can be more vocal. This spring he is, in talking to the catchers, talking to the pitchers. Not that he’s never done that, but I think he realizes the challenges of being the everyday catcher, that he has got responsibilities. And he knows what he has to do.”

[how is he unselfish?] “He does what’s best for the team. He knows that the pitching staff is very important and he wants to be sure that they have what they need for them, and he needs to get them through what they need to get through. And also as a teammate, he’s there for everybody. And I think that’s the most important. He doesn’t let things go to his head, the All-Star game, the Gold Glove. Obviously he’s going to like that, but it doesn’t make Matt Wieters any different in terms of growing up to be a Major League player, and a very special one in my opinion.”

[on his ceiling—can he keep getting better?] “Oh, absolutely. The thing about him, he’s never satisfied with just being good. He wants to do it the way it’s supposed to be done and when you do that, that’s when you start developing into a great player. He’s still going to continue to grow and learn and I just [think] the sky’s the limit for him. He wants to be that guy, but it’s not a cockiness. That’s the great thing about him, hes not cocky. He knows he has to work. When you prepare like he does, you work like he does, there’s no room but to get better.”

[on Wieters knowing his words carry extra weight?] “He does, and he cares about the team. He’s really focused and wants to be part of a good team. But he also has the respect, people watch him, and a lot of times guys don’t talk a lot –he leads by example. He plays so hard, and catches every night. That’s a grind. And I think players respect that, they see what he goes through and how he battles and continues to go back there day after day after day. Players respect that. It puts him in a situation where he can be more vocal and he can be one of the leaders of the team.”

MATT WIETERS

[on if last year was vindication for being labeled a bust] “I don’t try to look at it that way. I try to look at it as if you pay attention to the bad things people write about you, then you have to pay attention to the good things people right about you. And when people write good things about you it’s very nice, and when people right bad things about you it’s their opinion, it’s their right. Whatever I feel about myself is what I go with and I try not to put any [stock], or draw any conclusions from people’s opinions, because no one knows yourself better than you.”

[so it's never been something that has drive you either way?] “No. I mean yes it’s nice to make All Star teams and it’s nice to win Gold Gloves. It’s something that  you know is goals of mine, but at the same time it’s really just every year it comes down to trying to get better each day and getting better each year.”

[on veteran pitcher Jeremy Guthrie's departure] “Last year I really tried to take control of the pitching staff and Guthrie being here definitely helped to be able to work with me on things that he learned. Guthrie is going to be missed, but at the same time, I don’t think my role changes, but it might help these younger guys take the next step forward, and start feeling like, ‘We are what the team needs to be able to be successful,'” he said. “When Guthrie was going out there and giving us innings, guys could kind of just sit back and watch him, which is good for them, but now somebody’s got to take up that No. 1 job.”

BUCK SHOWALTER

[on if Wieters' work ethic shocks him] “No. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t doing that. That’s why you like him so much, that’s his responsibility, he wants to. You bring up Wieters to [Wei-Yin] Chen and [Tsuyoshi] Wada, they know Matt’s going to try to make their job easier instead of harder. And I was telling him, he’ll lead you through it. They are excited about throwing to Wieters. I was asking what they thought about him, they were saying it was a lot bigger target than they were used to. I said, ‘That’s a big man.’

[on Wieters growing into a leadership role] “I think Matt is only going to do more and more of that. The beauty of Matt is he doesn’t force anything. It’s sincere. So far, his timing has been impeccable. With the struggles we had with our pitching staff last year, for him to win a Gold Glove was quite an accomplishment and everybody around baseball recognized that. I think we have a lot of guys that you are going to see continue to take strides of ownership that comes with having a track record.”

Wada dealing with left elbow discomfort

Orioles pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada did not practice Sunday and is dealing with left elbow inflammation, although an X-ray on the area showed no new structural damage.

Wada — who first started feeling discomfort after some fielding drills on Saturday — received a cortisone injection and had the fluid removed from his elbow Sunday afternoon to get rid of the swelling. The 31-year-old has had this procedure performed before, and manager Buck Showalter said the team will likely wait a day or two and then re-evaluate the injury.

“It’s some discomfort that I feel about every year [around this time] and I just thought I’d say something about it right off the top,” Wada said through interpreter Danny MacLeith. “It’s not even something to really recover from.”

Wada was clear that he’s in no pain and said that he was told it would be about three days before he’s back throwing, although he felt like it could be sooner. As for whether adjusting to his first Major League Spring Training factored in, Wada admitted it could have expedited some of the soreness.

“In Japan when we do our drills, we always play catch before we start doing anything, then we will do some PFP [pitchers fielding practice], we’ll take a 10-minute break, go to the next drill,” he said. “So I think, in part, this came from getting used to the flow of practice here. That we jump right into it and then go from drill to drill.”

Signed this winter to a two-year, $8.15 million deal with an option for 2014, Wada is one of about a dozen candidates expected to compete for a spot in the Orioles’ rotation. If he doesn’t make the starting five there’s also a strong possibility the club will use Wada, a veteran Japanese pitcher, in the bullpen.

“I thought about trying to push through it and throw and pitch today but that would cause problems for the team,” Wada said. “I thought doing it this way was best.”

Showalter, who has said previously that open communication will be key in managing Wada and Taiwanese lefty Wei-Yin Chen, was glad Wada spoke up Sunday morning.

“We’ve been stressing that all along, and I’m happy that he made us aware of it instead of, in the past I think he’s probably tried to throw it,” Showalter said. “You know this is a 31-year-old guy who knows his elbow, knows his arm. We are going to trust him. It’s not some uncharted territory for him with some of the things he’s feeling, so we will trust the way he’s managed that and help him along the way with that.”

 

Notes & images from camp Day 8 (w. injury updates)

*Pedro Strop is one of the Orioles’ 10 players out of options and he’s competing for a spot in the bullpen this spring. Acquired from Texas late last year –after the Os’ sent Michael Gonzalez to the Rangers, Strop was the player to be named later– Strop said his focus is making the Opening Day roster.

“I’m aware of it but I don’t want to go anywhere, I want to stay here,” Strop said of the possibility of not making the team and ending up elsewhere in a trade or waiver claim.  “I know this team is going to be good. I don’t want to miss that party.”

Strop estimated he threw about three bullpen sessions before arriving at camp, where he’s thrown another pair. So far, he’s feeling good and ideally would like to take over a spot in the later innings, given that he’s thought of as more of a power arm that works primarily off his fastball.

Asked why he has such faith that the Orioles can turn things around, Strop said: “Because the way we played the last month of the season, I’m sure we can just start doing the same thing. [This year] we don’t have to wait until the last month.”

You can read more on Strop here.

*Orioles pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada did not practice Sunday and is dealing with left elbow inflammation, although an X-ray on the area showed no new structural damage.

Wada –who first started feeling discomfort after some fielding drills on Saturday —  received a cortisone injection and will have the fluid removed from his elbow to get rid of the swelling. The 31-year-old has had this procedure done before and manager Buck Showalter said the team will likely wait a day or two and then re-evaluate the injury.

Wada was signed this winter to a two-year, $8.15 million deal with an option for 2014 and is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation. If he doesn’t make the starting five there’s also a strong possibility the Orioles will use Wada, a veteran Japanese pitcher, in the bullpen. Wada posted a 16-5 record with a 1.53 ERA and 168 strikeouts in 184 2/3 innings for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2011 and is the second Japanese-born player in Oriole history.

You can read more on Wada here.

*Reliever Jim Johnson (lower back) threw 20 fastballs off a regular mound today with no problem and the plan is for him to throw again Tuesday or Wednesday. Johnson said he’s in no pain or discomfort, even when he wakes up in the morning, and right now he’s encouraged with how things are going. Johnson estimated he’s about a week away from trying to throw any offspeed, and Showalter said he will throw two more bullpens before facing live hitters.

*Zach Britton (left shoulder inflammation) threw off flat ground today, getting up to 120 feet, and remains right on his progressed schedule as well.

*Willie Eyre (groin) will take a few days off still. Eyre, who is in Group 2 slated to throw tomorrow, said he won’t go as scheduled. He’s been dealing with a sore groin since Friday, when he came off the mound after warming up prior to his bullpen session.

*The last major addition in the Orioles’ renovations at the Ed Smith Stadium Complex was officially unveiled Sunday morning, as the team’s artificial turf field –which last year ran into serious drainage problems – was completed and given the green-light for the club’s use this spring.

The field’s completion gives the Orioles’ state-of-the-art spring complex–which got a final boost with a redone clubhouse, training and baseball operations area – another option for inclement weather and also prepares the Major League club for playing in Toronto and Tampa Bay, two divisional foes which use the exact same turf.

“I think it helps too with our rehabs down here, being able to put them on that surface as they start out with leg injuries,” manager Buck Showalter said of the field’s benefits.”I can name a hundred different reasons…It’s no doubt it’s going to be very much an upgrade from where it was last year.”

The Orioles, who had the pitcher’s throw with hitters in the box for the first time Sunday morning, supplied the additional funds necessary to redo the field although there was some initial arguing as to who was responsible for the initial mishap. Showalter, who has said before that the new complex “eliminates excuses” and helps foster a winning culture, singled out Orioles’ managing partner Peter Angelos for agreeing to foot the bill.

“I don’t know if there’s anybody in Spring Training that has three fields they can get on 15 minutes after it rains,” Showalter said.  “Because we have a tarp now for the Camden Yards [replica] field and we have a tarp for the stadium field and an astroturf field. There should never be a reason why the Gulf Coast League, or us in Spring Training, at some point during the day can’t have three fields, and you can [also] include the cages.”

“It’s like if you’re comparing colleges,” director of pitching development Rick Peterson said of the facility. “This is Ivy League. And who doesn’t want to go to Yale or Harvard?”

*Brian Roberts was out on the artificial turf field doing some running drills with special assistant Brady Anderson. Roberts reportedly had a good day on Saturday and seems to be in pretty good spirits being around the team the last few days.

Special assistant Brady Anderson working with second baseman Brian Roberts.

Matt Lindstrom throwing on the mound with a rotation of hitters stepping into the batter’s box.

Mark Reynolds was one of the hitters who tracked Lindstrom’s pitches.

Chris Davis, upon noticing several cameras pointed at him, smiled and yelled “Facebook me.”

Pirates and Orioles team up to dedicate first Miracle League field

The Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates joined Sarasota County and the Miracle League of Manasota in the dedication of the first Miracle League Field in the Sarasota-Bradenton area on Friday afternoon.  As part of the partnership, which also includes dozens of private-sector supporters, the Pirates and Orioles donated a total of $150,000 towards the construction of the baseball field designed specifically for children and adults with special needs.

“You ever been to one of those fields? Unbelievable,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who was headed to the ceremony along with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette.  “Make your problems seem pretty meaningless. They get a big thrill out of it, it’s completely patterned towards handicaps they have. I’m looking forward to it.”

The Miracle League of Manasota Field presented by the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates, which is located at Longwood Park off of University Parkway, features a flat rubberized surface to eliminate barriers and create a safe playing environment for players challenged with any form of special need.

In addition to the initial funding, the Pirates and Orioles will continue to play a key role in assisting Bob Mitchell, President of the Miracle League of Manasota, and other partners in executing the Miracle League program.  Following the official opening of the Miracle League season on March 17, players, coaches, alumni and front office personnel from both teams will actively participate in the games that the Miracle League program offers.

“What began four years ago as a dream is now a reality,” Mitchell said. “The Miracle League Field of Manasota is now ready for play. Players with special needs can enjoy playing baseball on a unique surface specially built for them. Our goal is to create an environment where self-esteem can flourish and with everyone’s help, we are meeting that goal.”

This is the fifth Miracle League project the Pirates, through its official philanthropic arm Pirates Charities, has partnered to build and the first in its Southern home of Bradenton.

“The passion that Bob Mitchell, the Baltimore Orioles and our other partners have brought to this project is contagious, as is the excitement we all share in seeing the impact this field will have on the children facing personal challenges,” said Bob Nutting, Chairman of both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pirates Charities. “I would like to especially thank Trevor Gooby, our Senior Director of Florida Operations, for his personal commitment to this project and leading our efforts.  The Miracle League program is one which I am especially proud to support because it is so much more than allowing children the opportunity to play organized baseball.  As we have seen with the Miracle League fields already in Pittsburgh, this field will give special needs children and their families the chance to develop positive relationships with their peers and other families facing similar challenges.”

After committing to Sarasota as its new Spring Training home beginning in 2010, the Orioles and its charitable arm, OriolesREACH, have actively demonstrated a commitment to making a positive impact in the Sarasota community.

“The Orioles are proud to join the Miracle League, our friends at the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sarasota County Government, and so many benefactors in the community in building the first Miracle League field in Sarasota-Bradenton,” said Peter Angelos, Baltimore Orioles managing partner. “This is, indeed, a field of dreams for young people and adults who are going to experience the thrills of baseball, many for the first time.”

More than 240 Miracle League organizations operate across the country with the goal of empowering children and adults challenged by any form of special need to experience the joys and thrills of baseball regardless of their ability to play.  The Miracle League, whose motto is “Every child deserves a chance to play baseball,” allows for each player to bat once each inning and that all batters are “safe” and score a run before the inning is over.  Games are two innings long and each team and each player always wins.  Integral to the Miracle League concept is the “Buddy System.”  Buddies assist all Miracle League players, and are volunteers from youth baseball organizations, local civic and community groups, and individuals with an interest in helping players with special needs.

For more information about joining a team, volunteering during games or supporting the Miracle League of Manasota, please visit http://www.miracleleaguemanasota.org.

Notes & images from camp: Day 7 (updated)

It’s been a slow day here at camp, with the first scheduled off day for the pitchers meaning no bullpen sessions. They still had to show up and do defensive skills and conditioning, but it was a pretty light day. Here are some links and notes…

*In case you missed it yesterday, Orioles Rule 5 Draft pick Ryan Flaherty talks about trying to win a utility spot here.

*Nick Markakis has been progressing well –although he won’t be going 100 percent for a few weeks –and talks about being ready for Opening Day here.

*Brian Roberts talks about his concussion recovery in a video interview here. I also have a fully story up on Orioles.com and Roberts had a good day today as well, which is encouraging.

*Mark Reynolds discusses his offseason and getting ready for 2012 here.

*Jason Berken (left hamstring) had ice on the area when walking through the clubhouse and said he continued treatments and did light stretching on Friday. Berken said he’s feeling better progressively, but still isn’t close enough to try to test things. Pitcher Jon Link is also dealing with a hamstring issue.

*Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the plan is for the clubs to play a pair of intrasquad games March 2 and 3rd. They could potentially get a third one in as well and they will also play a pair of games after Spring Training.

*With 10 players on the 40-man roster out of options, the Orioles have limited roster flexibility and Showalter estimated the team would make “2-4″ moves before this camp is over.  The players out of options are: Robert Andino, Chris Davis, Dana Eveland, Jim Johnson, Jai Miller, Troy Patton,  Nolan Reimold, Alfredo Simon, Pedro Strop, and Taylor Teagarden. Ryan Flaherty is a Rule-5 guy, so he’s essentially out of options in that if he doesn’t make the 25-man roster he must be offered back to the Cubs.

*Wilson Betemit has been taking ground balls at third base primarily, but Showalter said he will also get time at first base and possibly shortstop during this camp.

*Reliever Jim Johnson (lower back) is slated to throw off a regular mound for the first time on Sunday, and I asked Showalter to categorize the team’s closing situation, which right now appears to be Johnson as soon as he’s healthy.

“I like the options we have and we will see where we are with the health,” Showalter said. “[It's] kind of like the starting pitching. We think we have the people here who can do it, it’s just the matter of sorting it out. That’s the easy part and the hard part. I’d feel differently if I didn’t think we’d have some people here who could do it.”

So, are there multiple options for the ninth-inning in Showalter’s mind?

“Well, because of where we are. As we get healthier, we feel like we’ve got some givens about a guy, where he is physically, as soon as we cross those hurdles we will get a little more definitive on it,” he said. ” I’ve got some ideas in the back of my mind, having some conversations, continuing some conversations that I’ve already had last year in the offseason. Making sure they know what they’re expected to do. I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves right now.”

Sounds to me like as soon as Johnson is deemed healthy and 100 percent ready, he will be the team’s closer. The Orioles made it no secret they were shopping Kevin Gregg this winter, even with him, and Showalter’s had several early talks with Gregg this spring. To me, the bigger question is how this all plays out if Johnson takes over the closer’s spot. Gregg could certainly help another team if traded, or the Orioles could hang on to him and use him in a setup role, although I don’t see that happening, particularly with the signing of Matt Lindstrom and Luis Ayala, two other late-inning right-handed arms.

I already mentioned that the team has 10 players out of options –more than any other Major League club — and the expectation is for them to make at least a couple moves this spring. I would be very surprised if one of those wasn’t something that impacted the backend of the bullpen, assuming those four guys all stay healthy.

 

 

Orioles manager Buck Showalter talking to Nick Markakis.

Running some drills.

Jake Arrieta.

Brian Roberts speaks

I’ll have a story on Brian Roberts  up shortly, but here’s what he had to say to the media today…

[How are you feeling?] “I’m feeling pretty good in general. I took part in some beginning baseball activities–hitting off the tee–throwing, first of all, trying to get my conditioning up–going through a systematic progression of trying to get where we want to get to.”

[More encouraged than you were earlier in the winter?] “Definitely. Every day that goes by you’re more encouraged. We’ve certainly had some rough patches for sure, but every day is a new day, and every day we’re taking a step forward at this point.”

[on dealing with an injury without a timeline] “I think that’s probably the hardest part. I didn’t think I’d ever go though a harder injury than I did
in ’05. When I walked off that field in ’05, I didn’t think I’d ever experience anything worse, but once I had the surgery, I had a timeline. Essentially once I was done with the surgery, I knew within six or eight or ten months, I’d probably be feeling good. With this, there is no timeline. That’s hard mentally-that they can’t tell you. It could disappear every day. More likely, it’s going to be a progression.”

[on if Opening Day is possible] “I can’t go that far. I don’t go backwards any more, and I don’t go too far forward. At this point, I wake up, and it’s Friday morning, and that’s today, and I say, ‘this is going to be a great day. I’m going to do everything that ehy allow me to do today and tomorrow morning–Saturday morning-I’m going to do the same thing. If that results in me being in Baltimore on April 6, I will be grateful–for sure. If that ends up being some other day, then so be it, but at this point, I take it day-by-day–as cliche as that is. That’s probably what we all should do in life, but at this point, that’s what I do.”

[Do you talk to the doctors every day?] “Almost every night, we go through what I did that day and what I want to accomplish the next day. Based on how you’re feeling, you kind of move along with that.”

[on if he's had moments where he said it's not going to happen] “I think everyone in life has moments of doubt–things that they’re doing. I’ve
had times when I’m healthy that I said, ‘God, I can’t do this any more.’ I don’t mean that negatively. At any point in life, sometimes you don’t think you’re that good at what you do and through this, I’ve had my tough days. I’d be lying if I said, I didn’t have some really, really tough days and some days where you had to think pretty deeply about where your life was going and what you still wanted to accomplish and still could accomplish, but all along I couldn’t listen to those thoughts as much as the professionals who deal with it who were telling me, ‘we’re going to get there. We are going to get there.’ Unfortunately, it’s always on your own timeframe.”

[Will you still slid headfirst to bases?-Change the way you play?] “I’ve been asked that question–obviously–a bunch of times. I don’t know
that I can sit here and answer that today. I think you have to play instinctively. If you don’t play instinctively, I think you have as much chance of getting hurt as trying to change. However, as you evolve as a player, and you evolve over time, you change things in general. I don’t work out like
used to work out. I don’t do a lot of things like I did when I was 23–not in a negative way. There are some things I’ve thought about it, and I
will continue to think about. My main objective is to be on the field every day. I want to play 162 games for the Orioles. My main objective
is to try and help the Orioles win games–to help those guys in the locker room be the best they can be–and that’s my goal every single day. If I can do that when I get on the field. I can’t answer that today.”

[on being back with his teammates] “As we had our first meeting last night and Buck [Showalter] and some of the members of the organization, talked about the meaning of a team, there’s nothing else like it in the world. Being a part of a locker room and one of 25 guys, the camaraderie, and having each other’s backs and supporting each other and caring about each other and enjoying the ups and even the downs, I miss that enormously. There’s nothing that can replace that and you only have a short window to do that, and to think you’re missing out on any of that in that short window you have to go out there and play major league baseball is very difficult. To go out there and be a part of that atmosphere, there’s nothing like that atmosphere. I love being in that atmosphere. I enjoy being a part of it. That’s why we’re here. That’s what we love to do.”

[things you’ve learned about yourself?) “Things I already knew. There’s more to life for me than baseball. There always has been, and there always will be. I love the game to death. I do. It’s given me and afforded me a lot of great opportunities in life, a lot of great memories, a lot of great relationships, a lot of great moments. But, I live by my faith. I trust that God has a plan for my life. I think it goes a lot farther than baseball for me. It put it in perspective for me that I probably haven’t had it put in perspective for a long time–to know that this can be taken away from you every day. Tomorrow isn’t promised–to be breathing–much less to be playing baseball. Sure I’ve learned
some things.”

[plan now is to come in with the team and go as long as you can?]
“Sure, I’d love to be with them the whole day. I’ll be with them as much as the doctor will allow me to be with them every day and right now, that’s to go out and stretch and play catch and then go off and do everything I can to be ready to play as soon as possible and we’ll adjust that day-by-day.”

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