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Markakis faces Os

LAKE BUENA VISTA—Nick Markakis stood in front of his locker and talked about Baltimore and plans to build another home in nearby Monkton, MD—which he and his family will continue to call home— and it was almost as if nothing had changed.

A closer look would reveal the uniform hanging up behind the bearded Markakis, No. 22, decked out in Atlanta Braves colors. The number switch has tougher to adapt to than the Braves relaxed facial hair policy, though Markakis said prior to Thursday’s Orioles-Braves Spring Training game that he’s taking the changes in stride.

That wasn’t always the case.

“I’m OK with what I said and everything,” Markakis said, referencing the USA Today article earlier this spring in which he said “don’t believe a word they say” regarding Baltimore’s public stance of how negotiations with his camp dissolved this winter.

“It’s just one of those things [a reporter] caught me in a bad spot at the wrong time,” said Markakis. “The thing that frustrated me was, if you’re going to ask a question, put the question in the paper that you’re going to ask, not just the answer. I cleared it up. Everything’s good now and it’s behind me. Sometimes, your emotions get the best of you and I think it showed a little bit there. But it’s done with. I talked to the guys over there [with the Orioles] and it’s behind me now.”

Markakis, who had offseason neck surgery, made his Grapefruit League debut on March 23 and said he’s 95 percent sure he’ll be ready for the Braves’ Opening Day.

“You always miss him, the human being as much as the player, and that’s saying a lot because he’s a good player,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Markakis, who had played his entire career with Baltimore until he signed a four-year, $44-million deal with Atlanta this winter. “He got a great contract in a great place that really fits for him, and so I’m happy for him and his family.”

Markakis, who still keeps in contact with some former teammates, said he doesn’t have any second thoughts about the decision to sign with Atlanta or any animosity over what happened with the team that drafted him.

“It’s business. Sometimes you’ve got to learn the hard way and I did,” he said. “I have no animosity toward anybody. It was frustrating at the time. You poke a balloon long enough with a needle, it’s going to pop, right? I just felt like I kept getting poked and you hear one thing and the other thing and nobody knows the true story, so there’s no point in even talking about it.”

Verrett claimed by Rangers

Rule 5 Draft pick Logan Verrett has been claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers.  The right-hander Verrett fared well in Spring Training, posting a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings. He walked just two and struck out 12.

Verrett was impressive, though it was going to be hard for the Os to keep both of their Rule 5 guys. They also have Jason Garcia, who they selected from Boston, still available in camp.

Verrett, 24, was selected from the Mets and it will be a homecoming of sorts for the Baylor graduate and Texas native. He took to his Twitter account to thank the O’s and also tweeted out, “Headed back to Texas, couldn’t be happier! .”

Orioles at Braves

The Orioles will play the first of two games in three days in Orlando tonight at 6 pm ET. Wei-Yin Chen is getting the start.

I wrote earlier today about the Orioles’ emphasis on recovery -particularly for the pitchers– throughout the organization nd you can read that here.

The isn’t a whole lot of news today, but former Oriole Nick Markakis (now with Atlanta) is expected to meet with the media before the game.

Finally, the team’s annual green cap auction (from St. Patrick’s Day) raised more than $7,900 to benefit Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. The donation will be presented in a pre-game ceremony Friday prior to the Orioles game versus the Braves at 6:05 p.m.

ORIOLES LINEUP

Nolan Reimold LF
Everth Cabrera CF
Steve Pearce RF
Chris Davis 1B
Delmon Young DH
Manny Machado 3B
Jonathan Schoop 2B
Caleb Joseph C
Ryan Flaherty SS

Wei-Yin Chen LHP

Os toned down approach helps keep guys healthy

SARASOTA, Fla. — About two years ago, Chris Tillman bought in. The right-hander, who is slated to make his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Orioles on Monday against the Rays, stopped throwing the day before and the day after a start. No long toss, no catch, nothing with his throwing arm.

“I did the math and talking to [fellow starters Wei-Yin] Chen and [Kevin] Gausman and [Miguel Gonzalez] Gonzo about it, I’m not throwing two days around my start,” Tillman said. “Say I make 30 starts. That’s 60 days of not throwing, that’s two months of the season that I’m not throwing. And over your career, that’s a big difference, that’s a lot of recovery. So I think it makes all the sense in the world to do your work on the mound and try to save your bullets.”

That’s precisely the goal in the Orioles’ recovery program, the beginnings of which date back 15 years under head athletic trainer Richie Bancells. The program has really taken off recently as it’s been accepted and implemented throughout the organization.

“The thing that boggles my mind is guys think they have to do something every day with their arm,” said Bancells, who is in his 31st year as a trainer with Baltimore. “That’s when the education process starts. It really has not been a hard sell [to pitchers new to the organization]. They see what our guys here do and they see that it’s been successful. A lot of times, guys won’t even wait to see me watch what they do. They’ll just say, ‘Tell me about your program, l want to do your program.'”

The Orioles, who haven’t had a pitcher on the 25-man roster undergo Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery since manager Buck Showalter took the helm in late 2010, aren’t on to anything new. But perhaps what sets them apart from other organizations is that they are unrelenting in keeping their guys out of harm’s way. The biggest complaint Showalter heard while serving as an ESPN analyst was about the way bullpen guys were managed. To that end, every pitch an O’s reliever throws — be it in warmups or in the game — is tracked by the team, their workouts and exercises adjusted by the trainers based off of that.

“Are you going to back off a guy when you could really use him that night? We may not put our best foot forward Monday, so that we can win Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,” Showalter said. “We may go with a guy that the situation may not call for, but we look at the big picture here. The conviction to who we are and how we have to do it. We can’t afford to have certain guys go down [due to overuse injuries]. If it happens with a line drive or a twist of the ankle, so be it.

“We just can’t afford to play like that. Say anything you want to about our last three years, it’s because our pitching has gotten better. Gotten healthier. I’m watching all these velocities go up this spring and usually you have that dead arm period here.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Orioles vs. Pirates

Greetings from Ed Smith Stadium, where the O’s have a rare night game.

*The Orioles are expected to start Wei-Yin Chen for Game 2 and Miguel Gonzalez for Game 3, though nothing official has been announced yet. Manager Buck Showalter said with next Thursday’s off day, they could pitch Opening Day starter Chris Tillman instead of a Game 5 starter, though that has yet to be determined.

Gonzalez will make his final spring outing in a Minor League game on Friday with Ubaldo Jimenez pitching his first home game on Friday.

*David Lough will play in a Triple-A game on Friday and is expected to rejoin the team in Baltimore. He will be eligible to come off the disabled list on April 11.

ORIOLES LINEUP

Nolan Reimold LF
Steve Pearce RF
Adam Jones CF
Chris Davis 1B
Delmon Young DH
Manny Machado 3B
Jonathan Schoop 2B
Ryan Lavarnway C
Everth Cabrera SS

Chris Tillman RHP

Hendrickson retires

SARASOTA, Fla.— Veteran pitcher Mark Hendrickson has announced he’s retired from baseball as a player as the 40-year-old —a non-roster invitee with Baltimore this spring— explores other options including remaining with the Orioles in another role.

“It’d be something I’d be interested in this year, yeah,” said Hendrickson, who arranged a conference call with the Orioles media to break the news in a fair manner.  “To me the big question, what does it really look like and I think that’s something that’s a little bit of an unknown. Coaching, front office, advisor role, lot of different things.”

Hendrickson played 10 years in Major League Baseball, the last three of which were with the O’s, from 2009-‘11. He reinvented himself as a sidearm pitcher in 2013 and was signed by the O’s, advancing as high as Triple-A Norfolk. He spent last season pitching for the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League where he posted a 1.54 ERA over 52 2/3 innings.

He went 58-74 with a career 5.03 ERA in 328 games (166 starts) and was released by the O’s this spring on March 16. Hendrickson— who also played professional basketball— didn’t rule out a third sport, noting  that golf was always an option, too.

“[Retiring] is something my wife and I have been talking about during this period of time, especially when we got back from Florida,” Hendrickson said. “I just knew that this is probably the best time to do it prior to the season starting. I know there are a lot of things going on this week with roster decisions and stuff like that.

Os add pair of players

The Orioles acquired a pair of players on Tuesday, getting catcher Audry Perez from the Rockies and signing Jhonathan Ramos out of the independent leagues.

Perez hit .292 with six home runs and 22 RBI in 62 games with Triple-A Memphis in 2014 and will be with the O’s Triple-A team.

Tillman named Opening Day

Brittany Ghiroli/MLB.com

SARASOTA, Fla.— As expected, Orioles manager Buck Showalter named Chris Tillman his Opening Day starter on Tuesday afternoon.

It will mark the second consecutive Opening Day assignment for Tillman, who will face the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday. Tillman, 26, went 13-6 with 3.34 ERA in a career high 34 starts.

Tillman pitched 207 1/3 innings in 2014, his second consecutive 200-inning season. The 26-year-old Tillman is 45-31 with a 4.00 ERA in 118 big league starts. Against Tampa Bay he is a career  4-6 with a 4.08 ERA in 14 starts. He’s 1-2 with a 3.41 in five starts at Tropicana Field.

He is expected to be followed by Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez.

Hardy on his DL

SARASOTA, Fla.— Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, who will miss the start of the season with a left shoulder strain, said the priority now is to reduce the swelling in the area to help him get back to baseball activities.

“They found exactly what they thought it was,” Hardy said of Monday’s MRI with injected dye. “I didn’t know it was going to take 10 days or whatever they’re saying to get all the swelling out and get the strength back. So that’s a little disappointing, but I guess it could have been a lot worse. I feel better today than I did yesterday. At this rate, who knows how long it’s going to be.”

Hardy, who was injured diving for a ground ball on Friday, would return April 11 at the earliest. Without him, the O’s options at shortstop are Ryan Flaherty and Everth Cabrera who were competing for a roster spot up until this injury. Hardy’s DL stay, coupled with David Lough and Matt Wieters, will test Baltimore’s depth immediately.

“I think one of the strengths of the team is that guys can step in and fill in, whoever that may be on any given night,” said Flaherty. “We’ve just got to hold the fort down until he’s ready to come back and play.”

Cabrera —who has also spent time in the outfield—got the start at shortstop on Tuesday and feels like he’s gotten enough work over there this spring.

“Yeah, I’ve been working out with Bobby Dickerson. [There’s] a couple things he showed me,” Cabrera said. “I feel like I am getting better. You are always going to be better from [camp].”

Hardy still hopes to be with the team for Monday’s Opening Day at Tampa Bay  though he hasn’t sat down to discuss things with manager Buck Showalter. His shoulder has continued to improve since Saturday, which is certainly a good sign, and Hardy agreed he was a little surprised with the shutdown.

“I mean, a little bit. I don’t know how they can make these timetables,” Hardy said. “I feel better. That’s kind of what I’m going off of, so if I’m feeling better, then who knows how long it will be?”

Orioles vs Rays

*David Lough said his back issue has been resolved and now it’s strictly about getting his left hamstring injury resolved as the outfielder —slated to start the season on the disabled list— works his way back.

“It’s disappointing, it’s hard to go into [manager Buck Showalter’s] office and tell him that I’m injured because I’m not injured too often and when I am it’s frustrating,” said Lough, who had some hamstring tightness a few weeks back. :Especially with how well I know my body.  It’s just a minor bump in the road, I’ll look past this when Im done and get some at-bats at [the Minor League facility at] Twin Lakes and get ready to go.”

Lough went 5-for-27 (.185) this spring before he was shut down last week with back spasms that stemmed from picking up balls in the batting cage. He also said his SI joint locked up.

“We think those two were related in the [hamstring] injury,” Lough said. “At that point my hamstring wasn’t 100 percent. Now my back is completely fine, it’s just taking care of my hamstring and getting healthy.”

Lough, who will be eligible to return April 11, isn’t sure of his schedule moving forward or when he could start playing in Minor League games.

“It’s day-by-day, how my hamstring feels,” he said. “Once I can start running and getting out there playing like I used to. One of the big parts of my game is my speed, so when my hamstring is not at 100 percent it’s tough to do that.”

ORIOLES LINEUP

Everth Cabrera SS
Steve Pearce LF
Adam Jones CF
Delmon Young RF
Jimmy Paredes DH
Chris Davis 1B
Manny Machado 3B
Jonathan Schoop 2B
Caleb Joseph C

Kevin Gausman RHP

RAYS LINEUP

David DeJesus RF
John Jaso LF
Asdrubal Cabrera SS
Evan Longoria 3B
James Loney 1B
Desmond Jennings CF
Logan Forsythe 2B
Corey Brown DH
Bobby Wilson C

Everett Teaford LHP

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