March 2012

Johnson passes back-to-back outing test

Orioles reliever Jim Johnson looked particularly sharp on  Saturday afternoon, tossing a scoreless eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates split-squad in his first consecutive outing this spring.

“I thought JJ had his best outing of the spring,” manager Buck Showalter said. “The biggest thing is the location., You can tell when he is locating the ball, he feels good about himself. I think that second day in a row did him well.

Johnson hit 94 mph with his fastball in the 19-pitch inning, picking up a strikeout along the way, and Showalter didn’t deny that it gave him a little piece of mind to see Johnson –who was slowed in camp with a back injury — back to his old self.

“There was some unknown, he went through a little bit of an offseason that he has never done before,” Showalter said of Johnson, who didn’t start throwing until February. “Like I said before, I always feel like he is going to get there it was just a matter of time. And that was real encouraging today.”

Arrieta on his outing

Jake Arrieta got his final spring tune-up Saturday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Pirates split-squad. Arrieta, who is heavily speculated to be the team’s Opening Day starter, allowed six runs on eight hits and two walks over five innings.

“Some misses were up, yeah. I was pulling a couple of pitches out of the zone, but mechanically my body feels great,” said Arrieta who also struck out five and allowed a pair of solo homers.  “Out of the stretch I felt really good and was able to command the ball and still be quick to the plate. So that was really all I was trying to do today.”

The 26-year-old Arrieta lines up to start Friday April 6 on an extra day of rest, although manager Buck Showalter has not officially announced who will pitch the season opener. Asked if he knew he was pitching next, Arrieta said hopefully he would find out on Sunday.

Arrieta ends spring with 14 2/3 official innings (he also recorded 16 outs in a Minor League game) over four starts, having allowed 11 earned runs on 17 hits and four walks. He struck out 12 and finishes with a 6.75 ERA and confident he’s ready to start the season.

“All of my pitches are pretty crisp besides the changeup,” Arrieta said. “Still have to work on that but if I can just keep that pitch down and throw it when I’m ahead in the count I’ll still have success with it. But still need to work on that a little bit but, mechanically with nobody on and runners on base I feel great and that’s really what I wanted to get out of spring.”

 

Tillman optioned to Norfolk

Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, with plans for the 23-year-old to be stretched back out as a starter. There was some thought to keeping Tillman in the Opening Day bullpen, particularly given his impressive spring, but manager Buck Showalter confirmed Saturday that the plan is for him to still start.

Tillman allowed five runs (four earned) on 12 hits and three walks with six strikeouts over 12 1/3 innings. He last pitched three innings against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, giving up a run on three hits and a walk in one of his worth outings this spring.

“He’s made strides, and keep in mind he’s still one of the young guys in camp pitching-wise,” Showalter said.  “But Tillman, the maturity level, everything, he’s so close to putting it together. He understands. but there’s a reason why he stayed here as long as he did. He’s made a lot of strides, I like where he is. I expect him to have a good year.

Tillman will throw in the Minor League game, opposite Tommy Hunter, on Sunday with the plan for him to go five innings.

The move leaves the Orioles with 15 pitchers for 12 spots. Assuming the rotation is Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, Hunter and Brian Matusz, and the bullpen has Jim Johnson, Kevin Gregg, Luis Ayala, Matt Lindstrom and Pedro Strop, you are looking at two spots between five guys.

Tsuyoshi Wada could start the season on the disabled list, and the preference remains for him to be used as a starter so you’re down to four guys for two spots: Darren O’Day, Pat Neshek, Troy Patton and Zach Phillips. Patton is out of options –meaning he would have to clear waivers if he doesn’t make the team — while Phillips has had an impressive spring and is looked at as a favorite to make the team. Both Neshek and O’Day can be sent down to the Minor Leagues without being exposed to waivers.

So, it looks most likely that the team’s bullpen will include Patton and Phillips, with one of them possibly stretching out to help bridge as a long reliever if needed. With Alfredo Simon being placed on outright waivers and Tillman being optioned the Orioles’ bullpen –as presently constructed — has no long reliever. Showalter said the club has had most of their relievers pitch two-inning stints and back-to-back and Luis Ayala is another option to pitch multiple innings if needed.

“Hopefully our starting pitching is deep enough where we don’t have to do that, but we know every club is going to have some of that,” Showalter said. “It’s part of deciding on the final spots in the bullpen.”

Simon on being on waivers

Orioles reliever Alfredo Simon has been placed on outright waivers, something the right-hander was made aware of by his agent Friday night.

“I mean, I know the situation here is a little tough. They feel like they don’t have any spot for me, I understand that.,” Simon said Saturday morning. “Just see what’s going to happen, if another place is going to pick me or not.”

Simon believes he will get claimed by another team, which is likely given his power arm and ability. He has struggled to establish consistency, but it’s a safe bet another team would take a chance on him. If he isn’t claimed, Simon will become a free agent.

“I’m not really surprised,” Simon said, when asked about his reaction to the news. “I didn’t think they were going to put me on waivers but I understand [executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette] has a lot of pitching and the guy they need to put in the rotation and everything. So, I [will] just wait for the next three days and see what’s going to happen.

I mean, I understand the situation. That’s the business and I have to handle whatever is going on. I have to handle it because I’ve been in that situation before. It’s nothing new for me.”

Simon went 3-8 with a 4.96 ERA in 16 starts for the O’s last season, and he was one of a dozen starting candidate in O’s camp this spring. Still, a groin injury that caused an early exit March 18 seemingly took him out of the running for anything but a long relief role. Simon allowed six runs over two innings in his first outing back since injury on Wednesday. Simon said Saturday physically everything feels good and he’s slated to throw three innings in a Minor League game on Sunday.

“It’s been getting better and I feel really good to pitch,” he said. “I’m good right now. I just try to healthy and see what happens, you never know what’s going to happen. So I have to wait and see what’s better for me.”

 

Orioles @ Pirates lineups and pregame notes

*Outfielder Jamie Hoffman is in the clubhouse this morning, having signed a Minor League deal with the Orioles yesterday. Hoffman said he will stay in big league camp for a few days since Sunday is the final day of Minor League spring training. Hoffman was in Rockies camp and became a free agent after he was designated for assignment.

He was also the Carolina Hurricanes eighth-round pick in the 2003 NHL draft.

*Reliever Matt Lindstrom said the cramp in his right leg came after throwing two innings in a Minor League game on Monday, he was doing some conditioning and felt something tweak. He did throw off a mound yesterday and doesn’t think it’s going to be anything serious that would require a trip to the disabled list to start the season.

*Chris Tillman will throw five innings in a Minor League game Sunday and he will face Tommy Hunter, who will go six. Alfredo Simon, who is on waivers, is scheduled to pitch three innings in that game as well.

*The team will use their relievers for Monday’s game against Florida Southern with Jason Hammel slated to start Tuesday’s game against State College of Florida. Tsuyoshi Wada will start on the other side.

*Jim Johnson is slated to go back-to-back for the first time this spring this afternoon.

ORIOLES LINEUP

Endy Chavez CF
Nolan Reimold LF
J.J. Hardy SS
Nick Johnson DH
Wilson Betemit 3B
Chris Davis 1B
Ronny Paulino C
Jai Miller RF
Robert Andino 2B

Jake Arrieta RHP

PIRATES LINEUP (split-squad)
Alex Presley LF
Nate McLouth RF
Andrew McCutchen CF
Neil Walker 2B
Casey McGehee 3B
Garrett Jones 1B
Rod Barajas C
Clint Barmes SS

Erik Bedard LHP

Simon on waivers

In a somewhat surprising move the Orioles have placed right-handed pitcher Alfredo Simon on outright waivers, two industry sources confirmed Friday evening.

Reached for comment, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said the waiver process is confidential and confirmed in a text message that Simon is “on the roster”.

Technically, that is true. Simon is still on the 40-man roster and will be until he is claimed by another team or cleared, with the latter an unlikely scenario. Simon is a power pitcher who has served a myriad of roles for the Orioles, as a starter and reliever, and another club will almost certainly take a flier and claim him. The move is surprising given the Orioles lack of pitching depth and could be financially driven –since Simon’s salary would be picked up by the claiming team– particularly since the club feels Simon hasn’t pitched well enough for an Opening Day spot. Simon went 3-8 with a 4.96 ERA in 16 starts for the Orioles last season.

Simon has shown flashes of effectiveness, but has been unable to put together any sort of consistency. He was also set back this spring with a groin strain that caused him to leave March 18’s start earlier than anticipated. He struggled in his first outing back from the injury, going two innings on Wednesday and allowing six runs, and was seen mainly as a long relief option for the Orioles. The club could now use Chris Tillman in that role or stretch out one of their other relievers, with left-handed reliever Troy Patton –who is also out of options — another candidate for the role. The preference remains for Tsuyoshi Wada, who will start Tuesday, to remain a rotation candidate.

The Orioles have five  right-handed relievers who have spots –in Jim Johnson, Kevin Gregg, Luis Ayala, Matt Lindstrom and Pedro Strop — and Simon being placed on waivers frees up a space for Tillman or both lefties –Patton and Phillips– to make the club. Sidearmer Pat Neshek is another pitcher who has impressed in camp, although he’s a Minor League deal and can be sent down without being placed on waivers. The Orioles are expected to add two non-roster players to the 40-man before Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, in catcher Ronny Paulino and Nick Johnson, and placing Simon on waivers opens one spot. The Baltimore Sun first reported Friday that Simon had been placed on waivers.

A few post-game notes and roster thoughts

*Tsuyoshi Wada was moved back to start Tuesday instead of Monday a move that manager Buck Showalter explained is “prudent” in the event Wada needs to be put on the disabled list. The team can backdate Wada’s DL stint to have him return as early as April 10 since Tuesday’s game against State College of Florida is not a paid admission contest. The team’s game on Monday, against Florida Southern, is open to fans but they are charging at the door.

This doesn’t mean that Wada to the DL is a conclusion, although it’s certainly setting up that way. He struggled in his only Major League spring start and when asked what he wanted to see from Wada, Showalter ended his quote with, “more than anything I hope he’s physically sound.”

If Wada’s not able to go, that would make Brian Matusz the Orioles’ fifth starter. Matusz allowed three first-inning runs today,  but rebounded to go five innings, retiring the last Tigers in order.  Matusz is 1-1 with a 3.65 ERA in  24 2/3 spring innings and it would be difficult to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t make the team.

“From where he was to where he is, I’m happy with the progress,” Showalter said of Matusz, who went 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA last year.  “There’s another level. And we’ll be making those decisions shortly. But I’m pleased that he’s been able to get a return for what he put into it. Hopefully, he will never go back to that place again.”

*I mentioned pregame that Matt Lindstrom will make his next outing in a Minor League game, with the thought the same as Wada. If Lindstrom, who had a leg cramp the other day, needs to be DL’ed the team can backdate it since his last outing in  a big league spring game was March 24. Right now, Showalter doesn’t think Lindstrom will be a DL case.

“Not with a week away. But I never say never,” he said.  “Until someone gets up there and pitches, he threw some today and said it felt fine. Tomorrow I think he’s going to cover first a little bit, see about that. From what I know of Matt, he’s that type of guy, [that’s like] ‘Really? They got me on the medical report, come on.'”

*Probably the most interesting camp battle still going on is between lefty relievers Troy Patton and Zach Phillips. Patton hasn’t allowed a run in 10 1/3 innings over 10 outings, giving up eight hits and four walks with four strikeouts. Phillips has allowed two runs in 12 1/3 innings, giving up four hits and two walks and striking out eight.

Phillips has held left-handed hitters to a .118 average this spring while lefties are hitting .286 off Patton. Asked how vital it would be for the team’s lefty to be able to get out left-handed hitters, Showalter paused for a minute and leaned back in his chair.

“Well if you kept two of them the lengths important for one of them,” he said.  “If you get one, it’s a little different scenario. But, Zach’s pitched very well this spring. And Zach –I’m not going to handicap who’s pitching better than the other guy, there’s a way u can take both of them. It’d be hard, but I just caution everybody there’s a lot of things moving that you can construct when you are trying to do what’s best for the organization and the depth. But, Zach, both of them are capable of getting left-handed hitters out they showed us that in a previous environment last year, but also know that both of them don’t have a real long track record of doing it. I’m a little cautious with it.”

Patton is out of options, meaning he would have to clear waivers if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, while Phillips has two options remaining. The way the bullpen is constructed it would take an injury or trade for both Patton and Phillips to make the club. The team has five right-handed guys who look to be locks: Jim Johnson, Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstrom, Luis Ayala and Pedro Strop. Asked if the Orioles would need a long man, Showalter said they are trying to set it up so the club has a “maneuverable bullpen,” although he didn’t say it would be a long man per se.

“There’s just so much unknown there,” he said. “We feel like we’ll have some people in our bullpen that can provide more than one inning.”

Alfredo Simon –who is out of options– is a candidate for that job, and Chris Tillman is a another option although it remains to be seen if the organization would prefer to keep the 23-year-old Tillman as a starter.

Matusz rebounds from shaky start (w. quotes)

Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera — in his first game back since taking a ball to the face more than a week ago–showed no signs of rust, sending Orioles starter Brian Matusz’s 0-2 offering into right-field for a two RBIs double to put the Tigers up before Matusz could record an out.  The 25-year-old Matusz allowed a three-run first inning as the Tigers opened the game with four consecutive hits, but settled in nicely after that to retire the final nine batters faced.

“[I] just came out of the gates amped up with a lot of energy,” Matusz said. “The first inning, it killed me not getting ahead in the count, gave up some two-strike hits. After that first inning, I was able to shake it off and just get back to work with [catcher Matt] Wieters. I really found a nice rhythm.”

Matusz was charged with three runs on five hits and walk over five innings, throwing 57 of 86 pitches for strikes in a solid outing that should put him as the favorite for the final rotation spot. His fastball was clocked in the 91-93 mph range on the Ed Smith Stadium radar gun and, assuming he stays on regular rest, Matusz’s next outing would be April 4’s game against Triple-A Norfolk, although he said Friday he doesn’t know what the schedule is for him.

“I did what I needed to this spring in order to go out and continue to build up my pitch count and get comfortable on the mound again,” said Matusz, who went 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA last year. “I feel like I’ve built my pitch count up and I’m strong and I’ve made the adjustments I’ve needed to mechanically and I feel like I’m on the right track to prepare myself for the season.”

Matusz is 1-1 with a 3.65 ERA in  24 2/3 spring innings and he appears to be the favorite now for a rotation spot. With Dana Eveland being designated for assignment yesterday and Friday’s news that Tsuyoshi Wada won’t start until Tuesday, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario where Matusz doesn’t make the team.

Orioles vs Tigers (updated with lineups)

*Orioles manager Buck Showalter confirmed Friday afternoon what was already expected in regards to Taylor Teagarden starting the season on the disabled list. Teagarden will receive his second epidural on Monday morning at 8 a.m. and he could be activated off the DL as early as April 10. What this means for the Orioles is Ronny Paulino will be the team’s backup catcher. Paulino reported to camp three weeks late because of visa issues.

*Showalter also confirmed that the club will likely go with 12 pitchers and 13 position players, meaning a seven-man bullpen and a four-man bench. Nothing is official, but you can pencil in Endy Chavez, Ryan Flaherty and Nick Johnson to go along with Paulino. The pitching remains in flux, but asked if the team needs a long man, Showalter said that they will have guys who can go more than one inning. That may not necessarily be a “long man” such as Alfredo Simon. Chris Tillman is another option in camp as well seeing as those he’s gone multi-inning stints, although the jury is still out as to whether the organization would prefer to have Tillman continue as a starter. Simon is out of options and his situation will obviously impact what happens here. He missed nine days with a groin injury and it’s possible the team could DL Simon.

It’s also possible the Orioles make, moving Simon or Kevin Gregg, in a move that could free up space to take both lefty relievers Troy Patton and Zach Phillips. Both guys have had good springs and Patton –who hasn’t allowed a run — is out of options and would likely be claimed on waivers if he doesn’t make the team.

Tsuyoshi Wada will make his second spring start on Tuesday with the goal being to get him 75-80 pitches against Florida Southern, and the team continues to publicly keep him in the starting rotation competition. I doubt he’d be a guy that they would put in the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever –he’s been a starter his whole career- and the fifth spot  depends on how Wada throws Tuesday and how Brian Matusz fares today. I think the team would have a hard time not keeping Matusz in the Opening Day rotation if he has a good start against the Tigers today.

*Endy Chavez will return to the lineup today and shortstop J.J. Hardy is also back after sitting out with a sore right shoulder.

*Jason Berken will start for Triple-A Norfolk and pitch against the Orioles on April 4. Showalter declined to name the O’s starter for that game because it would tip his hand as to who would line up for Opening Day, which the team continues to keep secret.

*Reliever Matt Lindstrom, who tweaked his hamstring the other day, will pitch in a Minor League game next. That’s worth noting because if the injury worsens for any reason the Orioles can backdate his DL period as long as he doesn’t pitch in a Major League game.

ORIOLES LINEUP

Nolan Reimold DH
J.J. Hardy SS
Adam Jones CF
Matt Wieters C
Mark Reynolds 3B
Wilson Betemit 1B
Endy Chavez LF
Jai Miller RF
Robert Andino 2B

Brian Matusz LHP

TIGERS LINEUP
Austin Jackson CF
Brennan Boesch RF
Miguel Cabrera 3B
Don Kelly 1B
Delmon Young LF
Ryan Raburn 2B
Clete Thomas DH
Ramon Santiago SS
Gerald Laird C

Duane Below LHP

Orioles @ Yankees lineups and pregame notes

*In case you missed it, the Orioles designated Dana Eveland for assignment on Thursday afternoon, claiming infielder Zelous Wheeler on  waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers in a corresponding move. The 28-year-old Eveland pitched Wednesday and afterward said he felt he was out of the starting rotation competition.  More on that move here.

*J.J. Hardy received a Cortisone injection in his right shoulder Tuesday to help alleviate nagging discomfort in the area, but the shortstop said Thursday that there’s “no chance” he wouldn’t ready to start the season April 6. Hardy took Wednesday completely off and said he will do the same thing on Thursday. He last played in Monday night’s game against the Pirates and said he’s hoping to “get over the hump” and play on Friday. More on that here.

*I’ll be working on some feature stuff during tonight’s game, but Adam Berry will have you covered. You can also followed him on Twitter @adamdberry.

ORIOLES LINEUP

Nolan Reimold LF
Nick Johnson DH
Nick Markakis RF
Adam Jones CF
Matt Wieters C
Mark Reynolds 3B
Chris Davis 1B
Robert Andino SS
Ryan Flaherty 2B

Jason Hammel RHP

YANKEES LINEUP
Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson DH
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Raul Ibanez LF
Garrett Jones RF
Brett Gardner CF
Eduardo Nunez 2B
Francisco Cervelli C

D.J. Phelps RHP

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