March 2013

Betemit exits with injury (updated)

It was a rare sight to see Buck Showalter leaving the dugout during Monday’s game, but it was a testament to the character of Wilson Betemit, who was carted off the field in the bottom of the fifth inning with a right knee injury that put a dark cloud over the Orioles’ 12-9 win.

“Wilson is one of the better young men in the game,” Showalter said of Betemit, who was diagnosed with a ligament sprain and will have an MRI Monday night to evaluate further.  “For him personally, I hope we get lucky. He’s a tough guy. For him to lay there, you know he was in some pain.”

Betemit, who had four RBIs prior to his last at-bat, walked and crumpled to the ground on his way to second base, writhing in pain and doubled up halfway down the basepath on Manny Machado’s fly ball. After being examined by the team’s athletic trainers he was carted off the field and later helped into the locker room with a protective brace already on his knee.

“I’ve got a heavy heart with Wilson, boy. That’s tough,” Showalter said. “It really sucked the energy out of the dugout. I didn’t even feel like coming back out on the field. I was hoping it was his hamstring. I’m hoping if it’s the PCL, you’ve got a different dynamic, if it’s not the ACL [anterior cruciate ligament]. You can rehab and there’s on surgery. I’m hoping for even better than that. I don’t think I’m going to get it, but I’m hoping it’s the PCL.”

Betemit hasn’t had an previous injury history on his right knee and he worked hard this offseason–forgoing winter ball—to keep his body in good shape and arrive this spring strong and ready to go.

“The whole time [after the injury] I was there we were talking about it,” said reliever Pedro Strop, a close friend of Betemit’s who took the mound in the seventh. “I was just trying to make my pitches and everything. But it stole everybody’s attention, everybody was talking about it. I mean, hopefully everything is all right. It’s tough to see one of your teammates [get hurt] and even more when you know how hard he worked for the 2013 season.”

Betemit entered the game hitting .194 and previously had a three-run homer and a sacrifice fly to give him eight spring RBIs.  If he was to go on the disabled list, it would likely solidify a spot for Ryan Flaherty — who was already competing for a bench spot – to give the Orioles another left-handed hitter option. That, in turn, would also open a spot potentially for another outfield/first baseman to make the club as a reserve. Possible candidates still in camp include Steve Pearce, Conor Jackson, Lew Ford and Chris Dickerson.

“We will talk about that if we lose him,” Showalter said. “I’m going to think positive thoughts. Obviously it doesn’t look good right now, but I’m concerned about Wilson the human being as opposed to what he does for our club. That’s where everybody is, see where he is physically. What he does for our club kind of pales in comparison. Don’t want to lose the person as much as the player.”

Orioles announce Fans’ Choice Bobblehead is back

The Orioles have announced the return of the AT&T Fans’ Choice Bobblehead promotion for 2013. Fans will once again be able to select the player they want to be immortalized in a bobblehead giveaway, scheduled to be distributed during Fan Appreciation Weekend on Sunday, September 29 to the first 20,000 fans age 15 and over.

Fans can vote for any of five players selected by the Orioles who have not had a bobblehead before: Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Davis, Jason Hammel, Jim Johnson and Nate McLouth.

Voting begins today and fans can vote three ways throughout the promotion. The first is through unlimited mobile voting by texting 1 for Chen, 2 for Davis, 3 for Hammel, 4 for Johnson, or 5 for McLouth to 31826. Texting is available on all mobile carriers and is subject to standard text message rates.

New in 2013, each time fans text their vote using their mobile phone they will automatically be entered into a sweepstakes for a chance to win a Bobblehead VIP experience that includes four lower box tickets to attend the September 29 game and an autographed bobblehead of the 2013 Fans’ Choice Bobblehead player, plus an on-field experience prior to the game!

The second way fans can vote is on the Orioles website at http://www.orioles.com/bobblehead. The third and final voting method can be found on the Orioles Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/orioles. The vote will conclude on Wednesday, May 15.

Spring Trainings news & notes 3/25 (updated)

*The Orioles have optioned Russ Canzler to Triple-A Norfolk and reassigned Jason Pridie to Minor League camp. The pair of cuts puts them at 38 players in Major League camp, including 10 non-roster invitees.

*Orioles starter Chris Tillman -who threw four innings in a Minor League game yesterday– has more confidence and maturity and people have taken notice.  How did Tillman get here, to a place where he has an aggressive instinct that manager Buck Showalter likens to Norman Bates? As the 24-year-old puts it, it’s a “potpourri” of things and you can read the full story on that here.

*Nick Markakis has been cleared to play in games and, assuming he feels OK tomorrow, he will serve at designated hitter in tomorrow’s game at Fort Myers. Markakis took batting practice for the second day this afternoon and continues to target being ready come Opening Day.

*Steve Johnson (back discomfort) has been pushed back a day and Jair Jurrjens will now start Wednesday’s game with Johnson scheduled for Thursday. Kevin Gausman will start Tuesday’s game in Fort Myers.

*Miguel Gonzalez will start today in a Minor League game at Twin Lakes Park this afternoon and Jake Arrieta will throw over there tomorrow. Both of those guys could be on track to pitch in the Orioles home opener on April 5.

ORIOLES LINEUP
Brian Roberts 2B
Nate McLouth Lf
Adam Jones CF
Matt Wieters C
Chris Davis 1B
J.J. Hardy SS
Wilson Betemit DH
Manny Machado 3B
Ryan Flaherty RF

T.J. McFarland LHP

RED SOX LINEUP
Shane Victorino CF
Jonny Gomes LF
Mike Napoli DH
Will Middlebrooks 3B
Lyle Overbay 1B
Ryan Sweeney RF
Jose Iglesias SS
Brock Holt 2B
Christian Vazquez C
Graham Godfrey RHP

A few post-game notes (updated)

*Rule 5 Draft pick T.J. McFarland will make his first spring start tomorrow against the Boston Red Sox and joked with reporters  –who reminded him that the game is televised nationally on ESPN–  it should be totally pressure-free.

“I’m extremely excited to get a start under my belt,”said McFarland, who is trying to stick in the organization as either a starter or reliever. “It’s funny because I was just kind of getting used to coming out of the ‘pen and now I’m going to start, but there is no difference to me in my mind.

I’m just going to go out and do exactly what I did the previous outings.”

McFarland has really turned it around this spring and has made three scoreless appearances, totaling eight innings, after making a mechanical adjustment and getting back toward facing the plate. His confidence has gone up as well.

“It’s a big difference,” McFarland said from how he felt in February to now. “Confidence plays a huge part in this game, for sure, and with me, I know if I have a good outing, I can build off that and my confidence exponentially raises up. And that’s huge for me in terms of just being around the strike zone and throwing strikes and playing into what I want to do to hitters.”

The Orioles like McFarland –who is getting his first spring start on Monday– and want to keep him, but it could be a numbers crunch. Right now, they don’t have room in the bullpen for three lefties. Troy Patton has a spot and Brian Matusz could be the second guy assuming he doesn’t win the fifth rotation spot, which is looking more and more like Jake Arrieta.

How could McFarland fit in? If the Orioles move one of their other relievers in a trade they could keep the 23-year-old and have him serve as the long man. Or if there’s an injury situation that allows another spot to open up.

Chris Tillman threw 62 pitches (4 innings) in a Minor League game with no reported problems. He has been slowed with abdominal soreness but is on track to still make the Opening Day rotation. But, should there be an issue, the team can backdate his disabled list date which would open another spot, possibly for McFarland.

*Starter Brian Matusz struggled with his location and reliever Troy Patton also didn’t have a good outing this afternoon but manager Buck Showalter acknowledged it was a tough day to pitch with the weather conditions and the nature of a four-hour spring contest that had more than 10 stops in play in the first inning alone. Showalter agreed Matusz’s main issue was being up in the strike zone and said he’s OK with where Patton is at this spring.

*Trayvon Robinson exited Sunday’s game after a first-inning single with a lower back strain and is considered day-to-day.

*As expected, outfielder Nick Markakis took batting practice at the team’s spring facility in Sarasota as he continues to progress toward playing in games.

*The Blake High School baseball team in Montgomery County will have a No. 4 stitched into this year’s hats to honor Orioles manager and Hall of Famer Earl Weaver, who passed away in January.

Matusz struggles with location

With the Orioles fifth starter competition ongoing, left-hander Brian Matusz didn’t help his case on Sunday afternoon in a four-inning outing in which he surrendered five earned runs on nine hits and a walk over four innings.

“Just went out there never found a rhythm and didn’t pitch well,” Matusz said of the start which came against the same Pirates club that Jake Arrieta, who is also competing for a rotation spot, tossed six scoreless innings against Thursday. “I was able to get my work in, throw pitches and be able to use all four pitches, but I was just leaving the ball up in the zone and they were hitting it.”

Two of the runs came off Andrew McCutchen’s first-inning homer and Pittsburgh added another pair of runs in the third with doubles from McCutchen and Gaby Sanchez. Neil Walker picked up an RBI on an infield hit that first baseman Travis Ishikawa made a diving stop, but found no one covering the bag.

Matusz waited quite a while to take the mound after the Orioles plated eight runs in the top of the first inning, but didn’t use that as an excuse. The 26-year-old also didn’t think that the heightened competition –which has Arrieta as the frontrunner –means he has to pitch better than he normally would.

“I feel like every time I go out there I want to be the best I can be,” Matusz said. “Stay within myself. And today I didn’t do that.”

Matusz has a 4.26 ERA in six spring games, four starts, while Arrieta has a 1.56 ERA in five games (four starts) and will next pitch Tuesday in a Minor League game. Right-handers Steve Johnson and Jair Jurrjens along with Rule 5 Draft pick T.J. McFarland are still in the mix for the final rotation spot and Matusz is expected to be in the bullpen if he doesn’t make the starting five.

Spring Training news & notes 3/24 (updated)

*The Orioles acquired right-handed pitcher Julio Rodriguez from the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday afternoon in exchange for outfielder Ronnie Welty.

Rodriguez is a 22-year-old prospect who went 7-7 with a 4.32 ERA for Double-A Reading last year, allowing  121 hits and 76 walks with 136 strikeouts over 134 innings. He is expected to start the season at the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate in Bowie, Md.

“He has all the ingredients you look for in a young pitcher,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said of Rodriguez. “Size, arm, stuff. And he has the results, also.”

Rodriguez pitched in the Futures Game last year and was named to the Eastern League All-Star team. He was the Phillies 17th-best prospect in 2011, according to Baseball America, and did not appear in the organization’s top 30 last  year.

*As expected, manager Buck Showalter wouldn’t bite when asked if the team had decided Jake Arrieta –who pitch in a Minor League game on Tuesday– was the fifth starter.

“No,” said Showalter, who continues to  keep the competition among five guys: Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson, T.J. McFarland and Jair Jurrjens.

Will it be Arrieta? Seems like it right now. But it’s a big start for Matusz this afternoon and the Orioles aren’t expected to make any definitive decision on the fifth starter –at least publicly– until the final days of spring.

Speaking of Jurrjens he threw a side session at the team’s complex today –along with Jason Hammel, Tommy Hunter and Kevin Gausman — and the right-hander continues to impress.

“Jurrjens has come a long way with some of the strength stuff and whatever,” Showalter said. “He seems to be…he’s got a little better base, he’s rotating on a little more. When he first got here his recovery was a challenge the next day. It’s not much of an issue now. A lot of the stuff they are doing has done good. There’s nobody in our camp that has his track record at 27 as far as wins and losses and stuff.”

Jurrjens has an outside shot of breaking camp with the team and will most likely be in Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation, but he could certainly be an option for the big-league camp sooner rather than later. His opt-out clause isn’t for a few months and the organization has been encouraged with his recent starts after a shaky first few Grapefruit League games.

ORIOLES LINEUP
Alexi Casilla SS
Ryan Flaherty 2B
Nolan Reimold DH
Wilson Betemit 3B
Jason Pridie RF
Trayvon Robinson LF
Travis Ishikawa 1B
Taylor Teagarden C
Chris Dickerson CF

Brian Matusz LHP

PIRATES LINEUP
Starling Marte LF
Russell Martin C
Andrew McCutchen CF
Gaby Sanchez 1B
Pedro Alvarez 3B
Neil Walker 2B
Jose Tabata RF
James McDonald SS

Chris Leroux RHP

Post-game notes

*T.J. McFarland will make his first start this spring on Monday. The spot was vacated by the Orioles optioning Zach Britton to Triple-A earlier today. (More on that here.) Tuesday will be started by Kevin Gausman, with Jake Arrieta throwing in the Minor League game.

*The Orioles will make another few cuts tomorrow morning.

*Britton was one of four cuts today along with top positional prospect Jonathan Schoop.

“Time for him to go down there and get ready for his season,” Showalter said of Schoop, who is expected to Triple-A Norfolk’s starting shortstop. “He’s got 40-something plate appearances, he’s where he needs to be. Also wanted to send him out on a good note, didn’t want to make him top that one [yesterday].”

While Schoop will start off at shortstop, he isn’t locked into one position and will continue to be an option at second base and third base for the organization going forward.

“I said if there was one position you thought you were best at and would like to play every day ..he wouldn’t give it up,” Showalter said.  “Basically he said, as long as I get a chance to swing the bat you can put me wherever you want to. I said left field? He said yeah. I said catch? He said, no.

I think he’s capable of playing all three. We are going to start him out at the most difficult one from what I understand, and go from there…last year he had the same basic weight but it was a different body composition. This year it’s the same weight, but he’s got some things going on that really give him a chance. He’s a big, strong young man. He’s had a whirlwind year, so to speak, so far.

Orioles option four, including Britton

The Orioles whittled the fifth-starter competition by one, optioning left-handed pitcher Zach Britton to Triple-A Norfolk as part of four cuts prior to Saturday afternoon’s game.

“I think you understand that you have some fierce competition and guys have thrown better than me, plain and simple,” said Britton, who posted a 6.10 ERA in five official spring games and allowed three earned runs over two innings against Team Spain on March 6.

“Jake [Arrieta] has been throwing the ball well. And it’s a competition. He’s definitely proven that he probably deserves it. Him and [Brian Matusz] have thrown the ball real well, you can’t take anything away from those guys. I think I have stuff I need to work on. Mentally, I don’t think I was feeling like I was ready to be with the team and I’m sure they saw that.

I need to get some things straightened out at Minor League camp. And it’s a lot easier to do that rather than being in that competition and really trying to get people out. In Minor League camp I can do some things a little bit differently and not worry about those results.”

Britton, 25, started last year on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury and went 5-3 with a 5.07 ERA in 12 games (11 starts) after being activated and optioned to Triple-A Norfolk. And while he arrived at camp this spring healthy and in much better shape –as part of a group that worked out in California with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson– there are still things mechanically that need to be fixed.

“There were things that I did last year with my arm slot that was probably making my sinker inconsistent,” he said. “Being my best pitch, you don’t want that to be inconsistent. Getting confident with that pitch again and attacking hitters with that pitch is something they want me getting back to.

“There was no timetable set [to return to the Majors]. They were like, ‘Hey, you’ve done well when you’re healthy. There’s definitely things we think you can improve on to be more consistent as a pitcher’. They didn’t say this, but I’m getting to that age where you have to start putting some consistency together. With where the options are with me right now, it’s definitely, ‘Hey figure it out, let’s get consistent so I can stick in the big leagues from now on and not go through the up-and-down process anymore.”

Britton, 16-14 with a 4.74 career big-league ERA, said he hopes to get things straightened out over the first month of the season and be an option to rejoin the Orioles as needed after that. His departure from Major League camp leaves Arrieta and Matusz as the main candidates for the fifth starter job, with Steve Johnson, Jair Jurrjens and Rule 5 Draft pick T.J. McFarland –who is expected to get his first Grapefruit League start next week– all still in the mix.

“For me, I had that bad outing last time and that hurt my chances,” Britton said. “But guys that have thrown well and do get sent down, I think that affects them. It’s tough. You want to pitch well and make the team, and when that doesn’t happen, I think it hurts those guys a little more. But I feel like there’s stuff I need to work on and get better at.”

Matusz, McFarland and Johnson could also be bullpen options if they don’t make the rotation although having three lefties –Matusz, McFarland and TroyPatton—is hard to imagine and would require either a trade or the Orioles losing McFarland in the Rule-5 rules.

Infielders Jonathan Schoop and Yamaico Navarro were also optioned to Triple-A and left-handed pitcher Daniel McCutchen was reassigned to Minor League camp to round out Saturday’s cuts.

Schoop, the organization’s top position player prospect, hit his first spring homer in Friday’s game against the Rays and the 21-year-old missed a good chunk of camp to play for Team Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.

The Orioles now have 40 players at Major League spring training, including 11 non-roster invitees.

Spring Training 3/23 news and notes (updated)

*The Orioles have flipped Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman for tomorrow, with Matusz pitching in the Grapefruit League game in Bradenton and Tillman throwing to the Orioles’ Minor League hitters at Twin Lakes Park. If Tillman has a setback, and there’s no reason to think he would, pitching there would allow the team to backdate his time on the disabled list. Again, there hasn’t been anything alarming and Tillman has said the abdominal soreness is behind him,  but it’s another reason to make the switch just in case.

*Daniel McCutchen has been reassigned to Minor League camp and there will probably be a few more cuts sometime today.

*The plan is for Kevin Gausman and T.J. McFarland to each get another spring start. With the Orioles playing a lot of divisional opponents the final week, they’ve got a lot of guys going at the Minor League complex to get their work in.

*Tsuyoshi Wada (Tommy John) threw a side session yesterday and there’s no plans for him to progress to a simulated game. Some of his bullpens are better than others and he’s building up arm strength right now.

*Nick Markakis will hit off some soft toss today, his second day of full baseball activities, and the plan is for him to hit off the coaches in batting practice on Sunday and Monday.

*Reliever Pedro Strop will throw a “touch-and-go” side session today, which is essentially a light bullpen to see how he feels. The team will figure out Strop’s schedule –in returning from the World Baseball Classic– based off of that.

*Jason Hammel threw six innings, 86 pitches, in a Minor League game on Friday and Tommy Hunter threw 51 pitches after him. The pair faced the usual challenges of trying to get some work in against the always-anxious younger hitters, with the game being played against Class-A.

“You can’t really get deep enough in the counts with them to work on some of the things you want to work on – i.e. like striking people out,” Hammel said. “If you want to work on a slider back foot or a curveball in the dirt or something like that, you can’t get there because they swing at the first three pitches, no matter what. But you just get your work in, just treat it like that. There were some good at-bats where I was able to do some things that I wanted. And if we had short innings, you just stay out there and work on some other stuff. Whatever level you’re at, there’s still a batter in the box and you’ve still got to throw strikes.”

*Mark Hendrickson was back in the Orioles clubhouse this morning after leaving Wednesday morning for the birth of his third daughter, Sophia. Hendrickson missed the actual delivery, but was able to stay in contact with social media and got a picture from his wife with their new baby before his plane took off from Tampa. He has stayed on a pretty regular throwing schedule, playing catch at home in York, Pa. on Thursday.

*Jair Jurrjens threw five scoreless innings yesterday and manager Buck Showalter said it’s the best he’s seen him so far. Jurrjens said he feels like his mechanics are back to where they were before his knee injury and he’s felt more in sync his last two outings.

PHILLIES LINEUP

Ben Revere CF
Jimmy Rollins SS
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
Michael Young 3B
Domonic Brown RF
John Mayberry LF
Steve Lerud C
Aaron Cook RHP
ORIOLES LINEUP
Nate McLouth LF
Brian Roberts 2B
Chris Davis 1B
Adam Jones CF
Matt Wieters C
J.J. Hardy SS
Nolan Reimold RF
Manny Machado 3B
Steve Pearce DH

Wei-Yin CHen LHP

Orioles statement on Sept. 5

The Orioles, White Sox and Major League Baseball couldn’t reach a mutual agreement with the Baltimore Ravens that would allow the September 5 night game to be played at 4 p.m.  –and allow the football game to be played that night– and the O’s released a team statement on the matter below.

“The Orioles have great respect for the Super Bowl Champion Ravens and thank Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association, and the White Sox for doing everything possible to work with us to explore all options to reschedule the September 5 game.  We also appreciate the work of the NFL and the Ravens over the past several weeks as we attempted to accommodate the Ravens’ interest in a game the same evening. Given the limited options available to reschedule the game at that late date in the season, the parties jointly determined that even an earlier start time would still create such enormous logistical difficulties that it would greatly diminish the fan experience for both events which all parties realized would not be in the interest of their fans or the City.”

The Ravens will open the season on the road and, according to the Baltimore Sun, are expected to issue a team statement as well on Friday.

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