February 2012

Johnson to be slowed to start camp

Orioles reliever Jim Johnson will be slowed through the beginning of camp, although he estimated Sunday morning that he was “about a week behind” the rest of the team’s pitchers.

Johnson has been dealing with a lower back issue that he categorized as a “little strain” since the beginning of January and his rehab regimen consists mostly of stretching and some core work.

“It’s not a big deal,” Johnson said of his back issue.  “I’ll be on the mound fairly soon, [I’ll] be right back out there. I’m just probably not going to be out there running as much.”

Johnson, who admitted that the back issue was “pretty much the nail in the coffin” on him being used as a potential starter, projects to be in the backend of the Orioles bullpen. He was used increasingly in the ninth inning to end 2011, and is considered to be a strong candidate to close for the Orioles in 2012.

While there has been a strong undercurrent of rumors surrounding the Orioles’ preference to trade Kevin Gregg –signed last winter as the team’s closer – Johnson’s status could change things considerably. Gregg’s role, like most of the bullpen, is largely to be determined and the Orioles’ will closely monitor Johnson’s injury in the first few weeks of camp before making any definitive decisions on Gregg going forward. While the organization was shopping Gregg this winter –and willing to eat a good chunk of his contract — if Johnson’s injury is more serious, it’s safe to speculate that Gregg would probably stay put.

Johnson, who was slated to do some light throwing Sunday, went 6-5 with a 2.67 ERA and nine saves in 69 games last year, converting on his final eight save changes to end the season. Gregg went 0-3 with a 4.37 ERA in 63 games last season, converting 22 saves in 29 opportunities.New acquisitions Luis Ayala and Matt Lindstrom also figure to factor into the later innings of the O’s bullpen.

More pics- scoreboard, new LF area, etc.

A few pictures

The biggest change from last year’s Ed Smith Stadium Complex to this year is the clubhouse area which has been completed redone and looks amazing. The players’ clubhouse is bigger than the one at Camden Yards and apparently the weight room (which is off limits to reporters) is state of the art. Even the media area is a far cry from the trailer we were in the past two seasons. I’ll have more when we get an official tour next week, but here’s a few pictures of the outside area where the clubhouse, caf, media area, weight room, etc are.

You can click on the photo to zoom in. I’ll try to post as many pictures as possible this spring, but since my camera phone quality isn’t great you’ll have to patient most days and wait for me to upload the pics off my regular camera instead. Enjoy…

A few notes

*Zach Britton reported that he felt good following a 60 pitch session of long toss today. The plan for Britton –who has been dealing with left shoulder inflammation — is to throw Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of next week.

*Jim Johnson is dealing with some lower back tightness and manager Buck Showalter told reporters Johnson will be brought along slowly to start camp.

*Left specialist Clay Rapada –who was released by the Orioles a few days ago– has agreed to terms with the New York Yankees. The deal, which is a Minor League contract with an invite to big league Spring Training, is pending a physical Monday in Tampa.

P&C report day

Spring Training is finally here.

The Orioles will christen the 2012 season at Ed Smith Stadium this weekend, as the team’s pitchers and catchers –who  reported Saturday morning to a brand new clubhouse – will take the field for the first workout at approximately 9:15 a.m. ET Sunday.

“I get excited for spring,” said catcher Matt Wieters, one of several Orioles who makes his offseason home in Sarasota.  “I get excited every January when you start thinking about Spring Training.”

You can click here for a Spring Training preview on Orioles.com, and below are some quotes from around the clubhouse this morning. I’ve got some (better) pictures off my actual camera that I’ll upload here later as well…


MATT WIETERS

[on the feeling in camp with 31 pitchers]

“It’s a little bit different than in years past because almost every single one of these guys has a chance to make the team; they are all fighting for a spot in that bullpen or rotation. And you’re really going to have to learn a lot because it’s probably going to come down to that last week or two to decide who’s going to travel north with us.”

[on new international signings Wada and Chen] “I’ve met them both and they both seem to grasp pitching which is what our relationship will be mostly, is the pitching-catching relationship. And that’s what this spring will be about one  learning new stuff and also just learning how they like to communicate and how they like to pitch. Because you can get through a game and get through a year once you learn their secrets and tendencies and each game I catch them it’ll get easier.”

[on his focus this offseason]

“It’s kind of the same as last year. I felt like last offseason I had a good plan and came in and was healthy for the whole year which is big. So I just tried to sort of increase last year’s offseason a little bit and come in healthy to camp, which is all you can ask for.”

JASON HAMMEL

[Whether it’s sunk in that he’s here]
“It was a pretty wild week when it happened, obviously because a week before spring training, it’s difficult to change your plans. It basically flips your world upside down because we were all set for everything being in Arizona and Denver. But I’m coming to a good group of guys here and meeting a bunch of new people and making some new friendships on a team that’s made some changes. So I’m really excited.”

[On where he thinks he will slot in, or whether his mentality is that he has to win a spot.]
That’s the way I approach every spring, whether I’ve got a seven-year deal or a one-year deal. It doesn’t matter. I’m a big proponent of earning you places. Nothing should be given to you, so obviously I’m going in with the mindset of winning a job. It hasn’t been given to me.

[How did it flip your world around?]
We had leases and cars being shipped places and boxes being shipped places. We had to stop all that and flip it around. It was slim pickings in Florida and Arizona this time of year trying to find a place, so we canceled the leave in Arizona and we were lucky to get out of that. There were six guys going for two places down here so we had to basically pull the trigger on one.

[On getting comfortable w/ Wieters:]
“I’ve heard great things. Obviously, he’s big so he’s going to be able to block some balls from getting away. I’ve heard he calls a real good game. He’s a young kid, so obviously it will take a little bit of time to get used to him but it’s a challenge that I think we’re both accepting and have a lot of fun with.”

[On being one of the more experienced guys:]
“It’s pretty crazy that at 29 I’d be one of the old guys. I’ve seen other guys in the same position when I was a young kid. I’m still young, but, the guys really reached out and tried hard to be a leader at that age. That’s exactly what I’m foing to do. Whatever my role is, I want to be a leader. I remember at the end of the year with the Rockies knowing that the next year it would be a pretty young rotation there. I’m just going to try to give out whatever advice and experience I can hand out, so any help I can get from them back is also going to be a big bonus.”

CHRIS TILLMAN

[Excited to be back?]

“Absolutely. It’s good to be here. I’ve been here for a couple days, getting myself ready. Getting used to the humidity. It’s been fun.”

[on looking forward to the competition]

“Absolutely. I think competition is what fuels everything. It’s going to be a fun camp. I know I’m excited. I think that goes for most people.”

[on what he got out of last year?]

“I think I learned a lot. It definitely was a long year…not the year I expected, but I think this offseason was good for me. We got in pretty good shape and I think I’m mentally where I need to be right now so I’m very excited.”

[on his he's made any changes to his repertoire]

“Nothing yet. Just doing my strength and conditioning so far. Being able to repeat my delivery, that’s what we’ve been working on. It’s been a good offseason. I’ve learned a lot in the weight room and what I can do physically, conditioning-wise, so I think it’s pushing me that much farther.”

WEI-YIN CHEN [through interpreter Tim Lin]

[on being in Sarasota]

“I feel really good here. It’s a beautiful ballpark and I’m really excited to be here.”
“Especially I like the ballpark very much. It’s so beautiful here. Everything’s great. The weather in Florida is beautiful. Not like in Japan because it’s so cold over there right now. I feel very comfortable to be here.”

[on lifting weights and other changes he's made to his offsesaon program to get ready for MLB]   “I did a lot of early preparation in Arizona because I know American baseball is totally different than Japan. I did a lot to prepare for that.”

[his mindset this spring]
“I will be ready before the season starts and I hope I can get in the rotation.”

[on his future]
“I hope I can be here at least 10 years or longer. When I was in high school, a lot of my classmates and teammates went to the states to play baseball, so that’s always been my dream to play in the MLB.”

Quick Britton update

Orioles lefty Zach Britton threw between 30-40 pitches with no pain on Thursday, and the 24-year-old reported after his session at the Ed Smith Stadium Complex that his arm felt “like brand new”.

The next step for Britton will be to throw on Saturday, and that will be a big test given how much of the problem –in dealing with lingering left shoulder inflammation – has stemmed from throwing in succession. While Saturday’s session still affords a day’s rest, if he comes through that with no problem Britton seemed optimistic that he wouldn’t be very far behind the rest of the arms in camp.

“It went really well,” Britton, who has been working with head athletic trainer Richie Bancells, said of his throwing session, which was presided over by pitching coach Rick Adair. “They were impressed with the velocity I was able to put up. So, like I said, the arm strength is there.”

Britton has been dealing with left shoulder inflammation –which prevents him from getting into his natural arm slot – since hitting the disabled list last August. An MRI taken earlier this winter on Britton’s shoulder showed no structural damage, and he’s been taking anti-inflammatories and working with Bancells at the team’s Spring Training facility in Sarasota. Britton and the Orioles have been aware of this situation –which crept back up when he started throwing – since mid-December and he’s spent the offseason doing rehab work with Dr. Keith Meister — who works with the Texas Rangers — at TMI Sports Medicine before reporting early to O’s camp.

Britton is expected to compete for a rotation spot this spring and, given how early it is, he has the luxury of time in making sure everything with his shoulder is 100 percent.

A few things

*Left-handed reliever Clay Rapada was released yesterday –after being designated for assignment following the Jeremy Guthrie trade — and he’s now a free agent. Best of luck to Rapada, who played Minor League baseball in Lansing, Mich. and always enjoyed a good Michigan vs. Michigan State debate. (Although, in my opinion there’s no debating the Spartans’ superiority.)

*The decision to void the Orioles contract with Seong-Min Kim makes sense for all parties. Major League Baseball wants to keep ties with Sout Korea friendly and the Orioles are free to pursue and sign Kim again, within the proper protocol of course, if they still feel the need. It’s still unknown if MLB will hand down a fine to Baltimore, which issued a formal apology last week, or issue any other punishment.

*Gotten a lot of questions about Zach Britton’s status and his throwing session today –and whether he’s plagued by shoulder inflammation during it — will dictate his progression moving forward. The main problem is Britton’s  been unable to get in his proper arm slot because of that inflammation, although right now the problem is being categorized as minor. You can read more on that here.

*Spring Training will get going over the weekend, although there’s a good group already down in Sarasota, and I wrote a preview earlier this week on some of the main issues. Obviously, there’s still plenty of questions surrounding the Orioles and you can count on daily stories on Orioles.com, as well as pictures/analysis and other breaking news here on the blog and on Twitter.

Finally, today marks the official two-year anniversary of my start date as the beat writer for Orioles.com. It seems like just yesterday I was getting lost on my way to Ed Smith Stadium with my printout of names and faces that took weeks (ok, months) to really get down. I thank all of you for reading, listening, criticizing, asking questions and sparking debate based off my articles, blog posts, Tweets, etc.  Here’s to better things in the future.

Britton on his shoulder

I just got off the phone with Orioles lefty Zach Britton and –while I’ll have a full updated story on Orioles.com shortly– I wanted to take a minute and briefly update you on what he had to say.

Basically, when Britton came off the disabled list with a left shoulder strain last season he was still dealing with some inflammation. It wasn’t enough for him to not pitch and he just dealt with it by taking some anti-inflammatories. He sat down with team orthopedist Dr. Wilckens after the season ended to tell him what was going on, and the thought was the inflammation would go away given the rest from the offseason.

But when Britton started resuming a throwing program in mid-December, he was still dealing with inflammation and the Orioles had him fly to Baltimore to see Wilckens again. The diagnosis was his shoulder area was still weak, so Britton was started on a physical therapy program to try to strengthen that area.  Since he lives in Texas, he started seeing Dr. Keith Meister –who works with the Rangers — and he had an MRI which showed no structural damage and was normal by baseball’s standards for a starting pitcher.

The inflammation was creeping up mostly when Britton would try to throw consecutive days since his shoulder had no time to rest and recover in between, and it started to alter his arm slot as a result. That’s why he’s been working on rehabbing the area and adding strength at TMI Sports Medicine with Dr. Meister and he’s been taking stronger anti-inflammatories (which he wasn’t taken at all when he started to throw in December).

Britton reported to camp early to work one-on-one with Orioles head athletic trainer Richie Bancells and said the early reports have been favorable regarding his strength and shoulder exercises.

The plan is for him to throw from about 90 feet on Thursday to see how things go, and Britton said the issue –which he and the Orioles have known about since mid-December — is a minor one.  He had gotten back to about 200 feet long toss earlier this winter, so right now the 24-year-old Britton said he’s optimistic if all goes well throwing he wont be more than a bullpen or two behind.

It’s far to early to speculate his availability, but it’s early enough in the year that Britton didn’t foresee this issue being something that would hamper his chances at making the rotation. If all goes well Thursday, he could be put on a progression that would easily have him ready for Opening Day. The key issue is getting rid of the lingering inflammation that, for whatever reason, his shoulder holds on to a little longer than most.

Report: Britton to be slowed this spring

Orioles pitcher Zach Britton is still dealing with lingering issues stemming from a left shoulder strain that landed him on the disabled list in August and, according to MLB.com analyst Jim Duquette, the 24-year-old will be limited to start Spring Training.

Duquette tweeted the news early Wednesday morning and O’s executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette had this to say on the matter:

“We are currently monitoring Zach Britton. He has already reported to Spring Training and is scheduled to begin his throwing progression this Friday.”

Britton has admitted before that he showed up to last year’s camp overprepared and he tired considerably down the stretch of his rookie season. The young lefty won five of his first six Major League starts and carried a 2.93 ERA into June, emerging as a legitimate American League Rookie of the Year candidate.  But he won just one of the 14 starts that followed, as he struggled to remain in the game more than five innings and watched his ERA balloon to 7.78 over a nine-start stretch that ended with him going on the DL.

Britton’s stay on the DL wasn’t long — he  was activated just over the minimum 15-day stay– and he made eight starts after that to finish the season 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA over 154 1/3 Major League innings.

It’s unclear how much Britton’s injury is effecting his offseason regimen and how it will impact his chances to make the team’s Opening Day rotation. He told MLB.com in December that his focus this winter had been less on throwing and more on building strength and stamina in an effort to better handle the 162-game grind.

Britton won’t be the only Oriole who is expected to be slowed in Spring Training, with right fielder Nick Markakis (ab surgery) expected to be limited through the first week of March.

Thoughts on Jones

In case you missed it last night (or were out celebrating Valentine’s Day), the Orioles agreed to a one-year deal with center fielder Adam Jones, thus avoiding an arbitration hearing which had been scheduled for Friday.

You can read contract details and more quotes on that here, but I wanted to focus in on the the biggest question surrounding Jones, which is how long he will be in Baltimore.

As it stands now, Jones will be a free agent after the 2013 season and while executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said the two sides had some very preliminary talks about a long-term extension, the primary focus has always been working out his 2012 salary.

It isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility that the two sides remain in talks and reach a long-term agreement with Jones sometime this spring, but I get the sense that the Orioles will probably wait until next offseason.

“I wouldn’t revisit it during the season,” Duquette said of Jones’ contractual status. “We’re glad we have a mutual agreement this year, and then we can take a little bit longer and more detailed look at a future contract. But, it was important for the team to get a deal done this year.

“I think [negotiating during the season] is a distraction to the player and the team. I think everybody’s interest is better served by putting the interest of the team first.”

The 26-year-old Jones, who was named the Most Valuable Oriole in 2011, has had to field a fair amount of extension questions over the past year and reiterated on the  phone Tuesday night that it’s not up to him. The organization first has to approach Jones with a serious offer to extend him, and so far that hasn’t happened.  Jones, who also spent this winter dealing with more trade rumors than at any point in his career, figures to again be one of the Orioles’ most talked about names at this year’s Trade Deadline and there’s no doubt he’s one of –if not the best — trade chip the O’s have.

So, what do you do with him? In my opinion, Jones’ future depends on the team’s pitching. If the young arms that the previous regime built around — most notably Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton — aren’t the future frontline arms you thought they would be, you trade Jones to try to acquire that pitching in the form of top prospects.  Under that scenario, the O’s would still be several years away from contending and Jones would likely have his best years behind him at that point.

If the young arms — and the rest of the pitching staff — bounce back from a disastrous 2011 and show signs of improvement, I think there would be more of an inclination to keep Jones because the timeline for the organization to start to move forward would be accelerated. The Orioles’ offense, while without a true cleanup hitter, was right around League average last year and if the pitching can keep them in games, I do think they can be more competitive than last season.

Again, it all comes down to the pitching and it’s sink or swim for a lot of the Orioles’ arms this year. Are Matusz, Arrieta and Britton part of a rotation that’s going to start to turn the tide –as so many national and local media outlets had written the last two years — or are they part of a group of young arms that were overhyped and rushed through a system that has been heavily scrutinized for its player development? To me, that’s the biggest question this season and one that has serious ramifications up and down the organization.

Of course, there’s the question as to whether Jones would want to stay in Baltimore and pass up a shot at free agency and I think his camp would certainly be willing to listen. Jones is a fierce competitor who wants to win badly, but he pointed out to me last night on the phone that there’s a certain pride in staying and watching an organization turn things around.

“Who wouldn’t want to win in Baltimore?,” Jones said. “I go to my girlfriend’s dad’s, he has old newspaper clippings of when they were good in the 90s, and it’s just boatloads of newspapers. He reads the newspaper every day and he’s just got piles of stuff like that from when they were good.

People say the fan base is going away, I dont think they’re going away; I think they’re angry. They want to win.”

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