Wieters Grapefruit League debut

Good morning from Ed Smith Stadium, where the big news is catcher Matt Wieters will be making his Grapefruit League debut behind the plate. Wieters is finally cleared to throw full-throttle to the bases nine months after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Jason Garcia said he will throw a bullpen today for the first time since tweaking his left hamstring during March 10’s game. He isn’t too concerned it will a lingering issue.

Happy St. Pattys Day and Happy 29th Birthday to Chris Davis.

ORIOLES LINEUP

Alejandro De Aza RF
J.J. Hardy SS
Chris Davis 1B
Adam Jones CF
Matt Wieters C
Manny Machado 3B
Travis Snider DH
David Lough LF
Ryan Flaherty 2B

Bud Norris RHP

TWIN LINEUP

Aaron Hicks CF
Eduardo Escobar SS
Brian Dozier 2B
Jason Vargas 1B
Trevor Plouffe 3B
Eddie Rosarios LF
Eduardo Nunez DH
Josmil Pinto C
Shane Robinson RF

Phil Hughes RHP

Chen’s outing

Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen allowed two runs over 3 1/3 innings, his longest Grapefruit League outing to date, on Sunday afternoon against the Pirates.

“My breaking ball and my changeup felt very good today,” Chen said through his interpreter. “They were better than the last outing.”

Chen allowed seven hits and didn’t issue a walk and felt he made strides with the new pitch in his spring arsenal.

“I think I have better command now even though I sometimes leave it up in the zone,” he said. “Still I think the command is better than the last outing, and even if I sometimes miss a location, the hitters are having some trouble with the timing of it, so I think it’s getting better.”

On the offensive side, Steve Pearce homered for the second consecutive game.

Os cut two and other notes

*The Orioles cut two from their spring roster on Sunday afternoon, optioning infielder Rey Navarro to Triple-A Norfolk and reassigning outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo to Minor League camp. Manager Buck Showalter will make some more cuts on Monday, including some pitchers and at least one more position player.

Navarro was signed to a Major League contract at the end of November and went 4-for-12 with a home run this spring.

“He’s got a little pop,” Showalter said. “He’s a quality defender. Everything that they said he was, he was. Good kid. He can really play second base. Switch-hitter. I’ll tell you, he’s got a little juice. He could hit 12, 13, 14 home runs.

“I talked to a lot of people, actually managers he had. I’m glad we got him.”

Tuiasosopo went 0-for-11.

**

In an effort to make sabermetrics more easily understood by players, manager Buck Showalter will have bullpen coach Dom Chiti speak with the team on the topic later this week.

“I think it’s all in the presentation…who does it. Dom’s spent three days in a row now after the game until seven or eight o’clock with Ned (Rice) and all those guys and Ben (Werthan), and he showed me a sheet he’s going to present to them, and it’s ‘Sabermetrics for Dummies.’,” Showalter said. “I want to take the cloak off of it. What you find out is, it ain’t that complicated…and find the .300 batting average with all of them. Where’s the .300 batting average, that’s what I want to know.”

Showalter said a lot of the time guys will mention numbers for certain advanced stats, like BABIP or WOBA and no one will know if that’s a good number for that stat or not.

“We put it [stats in] elite, good, average, below average and poor, so if this guy’s numbers fall in this range, it’s not good,” Showalter said. “And more importantly, Dom’s saying, ‘Here’s what it tells you that is good and here is what it doesn’t tell you. Here’s the flaw in that stat.”

Pregame notes from Bradenton

*Zach Britton and Kevin Gausman are among those who will pitch in the “B” game this morning. Matt Wieters is catching for the first time going back-to-back this spring. For more on Wieters, click here.

*Paul Janish made his unofficial spring debut in yesterday’s game against the Puerto Rican development team and he is serving at designated hitter in the B game. Janish is still targeting around March 20 to get into a Grapefruit League contest.

“Hopefully I’ll throw across the infield in the next few days, take some ground balls, that kind of stuff,” said Janish, who had bone chips removed from his right elbow last month. “And if I actually throw across the infield, realistically I’d like to play by the end of the week or the weekend. So, we will see what transpires.”

*Manny Machado is among the numerous regulars who made the short road trip to Bradenton. With the team being on the road three of the next four days, plenty of O’s opted to play in Bradenton over Clearwater on Monday. Machado, who stole his first base this spring in the first inning of Wednesday’s game, said he hopes to steal more bases this season.

“My legs feel great. Every day they feel better,” said Machado, who is coming off season-ending right knee surgery. “I just wanted to test it out and see if I was able to do that. I felt a little weird, but I guess it was just the first one of the year, the first one in a while, actually. I got picked off a lot last year, so that’s one of the main things I want to improve. I want to be a better, not basestealer, but baserunner. I’ve been trying to work on that with [Wayne] Kirby this spring and get better at it.”

Machado said he’s past the point where there’s any hesitation with running.

“It’s more of whether I’m doing it right, if I’m taking the right first step, looking in at the catcher,” he said. “I’m not really thinking about my knee anymore. It’s more about if I’m doing it right or not.”

Machado is batting .300 (6-for-20) this spring and said he feels like he’s right where he needs to be. Manager Buck Showalter has singled out Machado’s defense several times already in camp.

“It’s been fun,” Machado said of getting back to his Gold Glove self in the field. “We’ve been working at it. I still have a little ways to go, but I’m definitely feeling good. I’m seeing the ball well off the bat, and I’m just doing me. I’m just going out there trying to catch the ball and make the outs and get ready for the season.”

Wieters catches six innings in exhibition game

Matt Wieters will catch again today in the Orioles “B” game against the Pirates, his first time catching back-to-back since undergoing Tommy John surgery. Like Saturday, there isn’t expected to be any base stealing. Here is my story from yesterday on how Wieters looked…

SARASOTA, Fla. — Matt Wieters just wanted to see how it felt in a game scenario, so in between innings of Saturday’s exhibition contest — played on the back fields against the Puerto Rican development team — he threw a ball to second base. Bench coach John Russell reminded him to rein it in.

“He told me to knock it off,” Wieters said laughing. “It wasn’t going to be anything stressful, but I just wanted to get one down there.”

If all goes well over the next few days, Wieters — who caught six innings Saturday — won’t have to wait much longer. The All-Star, coming off Tommy John surgery in June, will also catch in a “B” game against the Pirates Minor Leaguers on Sunday morning. Assuming that goes well, he will take Monday off before making his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday. That day, the 17th, will be exactly nine months from his surgery, and the first time Wieters will be cleared to throw full-throttle to the bases.

“If you know Matt Wieters, I don’t think there’s any anxiety about anything,” Russell said. “Anybody coming off surgery, when you go back out there, you get the feeling that, ‘OK, it’s not going to hurt,’ and to block [those thoughts] out. And he’s done that already. In his throwing and everything else, he knows he’s going to be able to do it.

“So, with him, I don’t think there’s any real anxiety with it. It’s just getting back into it and getting back into the routine of it. I think that’s what he’s anxious for, to get the innings behind him and get ready to go. More than anything, it’s not anxiety, it’s just the anticipation of getting where he wants to be.”

Wieters did some easy throwing to the bases on Saturday morning and manager Buck Showalter said the team got the clock on him for the first time post-surgery. Showalter said the Orioles, knowing exactly where Wieters is at when he’s normal, were encouraged by the morning session.

“John thinks his arm is going to be stronger probably than it ever has been,” Showalter said. “[Wieters] had a year off, basically. He was talking about how well the ball is coming out of his hand. You can tell by Matt’s face. With nobody running, he’s there. If you came out here and watched him throw, you wouldn’t think he’d ever been hurt.”

Chris Tillman, who went three scoreless innings, Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day pitched to Wieters with numerous other Orioles pitchers attending the game to watch the All-Star’s return.

“It kinda looked like he hadn’t missed a beat,” said Russell, who managed the game with Showalter on the main field. “I told him afterward I only saw two balls that he kind of miscaught. He looked comfortable and he was catching some pretty good pitching, too. He moved well. He was relaxed, no anxiety, but that’s Matt. He looked really good. I was really, really pleased with him.”

There are still hurdles for Wieters, who hasn’t mapped out a schedule beyond his spring debut. And some of those are mental.

“I think anytime where anybody is on the bases, someone takes off, I don’t feel…I don’t think about it is the biggest thing,” he said. “And hopefully, that will come sooner rather than later.”

Pregame notes from Sarasota

Greetings from Ed Smith Stadium, where the Orioles will play two games today.

They’ve got their scheduled game against the Rays and there’s also an exhibition game against the Puerto Rico Development Team at 2 p.m. on the back fields. Matt Wieters will be behind the plate for the PR game, which won’t have any running. Wieters did some throwing earlier today and manager Buck Showalter said the team got the clock on him for the first time since Wieters underwent Tommy John Surgery in June and was encouraged with where he is.

“John [Russell] thinks his arm is going to be stronger probably than it ever has been. He had a year off, basically,” Showalter said.  “He was talking about how well the ball is coming out of his hand. You can tell by Matt’s face…With nobody running, he’s there. If you came out here and watched him throw, you wouldn’t think he’d ever been hurt.”

Chris Tillman and Tommy Hunter will pitch to Wieters, who will catch as long as he feels necessary in his debut behind the plate. Wieters will also catch in a B game against the Pirates Minor Leaguers on Sunday morning and he will take Monday off before making his Grapefruit League debut at home on Tuesday. Wieters will be cleared then to throw full-throttle down to the bases, which would obviously be a huge step in getting him ready for Opening Day.

The O’s will also make some cuts today and probably Sunday, with Showalter hoping to get to everyone on his list before Monday’s game in Clearwater.

The ways things are set up now, the Orioles are leaning toward having a position player take the roster spot of Chris Davis on Opening Day.  Davis will serve the final part of his suspension on Opening Day and the O’s will play three games against Tampa Bay before coming back to Baltimore for an off day.

“If we are not ready to go physically with the 12 pitchers we got, something is wrong,” Showalter said of the makeup of the season opening roster. “We should be fine, with the off day sitting there. So we’ve been looking at that, about how we are going to start the season.

I know you will and should handicap our five [starting] pitchers like 1-5 but we will probably actually have somebody in a slot that you may question just because the matchup is better.”

Jimenez, Showalter both see progress with Friday’s outing

SARASOTA, Fla.— For Ubaldo Jimenez, Friday’s start represented small progress.

Jimenez —who has been working hard all spring to build on a simplified delivery he incorporated the final two months of the season— said he has finally reached a point where he’s comfortable enough in his mechanics to not let those thoughts dominate every outing.

“I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t think you have to bring your hands over here, you have to stay tall. No, I just grabbed the ball and threw it,” said Jimenez, who allowed three runs over four innings in his third Grapefruit League start against Toronto. “It came naturally. That’s something that we are looking for and that’s what we have been working a lot in the bullpens and every time I play catch. As many times as I get on the mound I’m going to get more comfortable where I don’t have to worry about it.”

Jimenez gave up five hits and did not issue a walk, an encouraging sign for the often-erratic righty. But his start was far from perfect as he had two wild pitches and a hit batter that paved the way for a three-run second inning.

Still, manager Buck Showalter agreed that Friday’s game was a move in the right direction for Jimenez, who went 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA in 2014.

“Little by little. There are some things he’s doing that, I don’t want to say are drastic, but they’re different,” Showalter said. “It’s taken a little while, but I think every outing’s been a little bit better.”

“Hopefully it’s a sign that each other [start] is going to get a little better. He’s put in a lot of work in the offseason. He did a lot of things he hasn’t [done]. He’s been open to a lot of things. Top to bottom, he’s done a lot of things in the offseason that he hasn’t done before. Usually those guys – doing the things he’s trying to do –usually get a return for it. I couldn’t be happier with his effort and the want-to part of it.”

Jimenez, who threw 63 pitches (42 strikes), started around 90 mph and crept up to 92 on a few before his afternoon was over. He said he felt the best with his command in the fourth inning, which started with a leadoff single by Jose Bautista. Jimenez was able to return the next three straight to strand him at third.

“Tool-wise, I was able to put everything in the game, the things that I’ve been working on,” said Jimenez, who has allowed 10 runs (nine earned) over  7 1/3 spring innings. “My mechanics, I think it’s been the best [spring start] because I had really good command of the fastball.”

Command has been elusive for Jimenez since arriving in Baltimore. Signed to a four-year, $50-million deal last spring, Jimenez was removed from the O’s rotation down the stretch. With six guys competing for five spots, including right-hander Kevin Gausman, the Orioles will have some interesting decisions to make before camp ends.

“Thats why we started [Jimenez] right out of the chute to give him as much [innings pitched as possible],” Showalter said, reminding reporters that there are still three weeks remaining in Spring Training. “That being said, we are going to find out who the best five [starters] are.”

Pregame notes from Dunedin

Greetings from Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, where the Orioles will take on the Blue Jays. Manager Buck Showalter just met with the media and here are some of the highlights…

*Ryan Webb (knee) threw today and felt a lot better. He’s inching toward a bullpen session, which could happen next week, and help clear him to get back into games.

*Paul Janish is fully cleared and Showalter talked with him today about possibly DH’ing in the B game Sunday  and Puerto Rico game on Saturday on the back fields. He could also get into the field at some point.

Speaking of the PR game, Showalter plans to pitch Tommy Hunter and Chris Tillman in that. Zach Britton and Kevin Gausman will pitch in the B game on Sunday, with Britton possibly going multiple innings.

*Saturday’s pitching schedule against the Rays includes Brian Matusz –who is starting to help him work on his changeup– along with Darren O’Day, Wesley Wright, Tim Berry and Logan Verrett. Mike Wright and Steve Johnson are among those slated to go to Bradenton on Sunday.

*Bud Norris was not on the medical sheet today, and the Orioles aren’t aware of any kind of physical issue, Showalter said. Norris mentioned after Thursday’s start that he had a back flare-up.

“I really didn’t feel that great after my last one,” Norris said. “My back and stuff kind of flared up, but I felt good, really good now. I’m hoping the next [few] days progress well and [I] get another side [session] in and be ready to go on — I believe — Tuesday.”

Upcoming Os pitching schedule

Hunter Harvey and Dylan Bundy are among those who are making the trip to Jupiter, Fla. for Thursday’s game, which will be started by Bud Norris. Right-hander Brad Brach and lefty Mark Hendrickson are also listed to pitch.

Ubaldo Jimenez will start Friday’s game against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, with T.J. McFarland, Tyler Wilson, Steve Johnson and Eddie Gamboa also scheduled. Saturday’s game will be started by Brian Matusz at home against the Rays, with Wei-Yin Chen starting on Sunday.

Kevin Gausman will pitch in a “B” game on Sunday, which will be seven innings.

More pregame notes

Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman will start Saturday’s game against Puerto Rican development program team on the back fields at Ed Smith Stadium. Matt Wieters, as scheduled earlier, will catch the game and manager Buck Showalter said it’s not a ploy to have Tillman avoid the O’s scheduled spring opponent, the Rays.

“[Pitching coach Dave Wallace] Wally liked to be able to control the environment a little bit,” Showalter said of the game, which will start at 2 p.m.  “I’m kind of over that keeping him away from people. There’s no secrets here. Tillman has pitched how many games against [Tampa Bay]. Sometimes he might pick up something from them. Chances are he’s not going to see a lot of guys in that [regular]lineup anyway.”

Wieters is slated to catch 5-7 innings, though that’s subjected to change based off feel. He will also pitch on Sunday in the “B” game.

***

There are no plans yet for Steve Pearce to play third base though it remains an option and in the back of Showalter’s mind. It’s an unusual spring for Pearce, who isn’t fighting to make the club and hasn’t been a regular fixture on road games because he’s a veteran.

“He will get plenty of [playing time], we are still three weeks away,” Showalter said of the challenge of holding back Pearce, who has always had to fight for a spot, a little bit in camp. “You don’t want to take away from who he really is. I’ve had a lot of players like that, that’s what made them good was knowing they worked harder and were more prepared. But with Steve, if he wasn’t starting he’d probably take 100 swings in the cage over the course of the game to be ready for that one at-bat to help the team. And now if he’s doing that and playing five or six days a week that’s counterproductive. I think it helped him stay healthy last year. When a guy has more problems with his wrist when he’s on the bench and not playing every day as opposed to when he’s playing every day, you know how much work he’s doing. We hear a constant ding in there, balls going off the cage. We all know who it is.”

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