Zach Britton may not throw a regular bullpen for a little while and that’s fine with him. The 26-year-old, at a pivotal point in his career, has been working on throwing to a plate with a pair of strings and a moveable target to help sharpen the command of his sinker ball.
The device, installed by new pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti, is similar to what director of pitching development Rick Peterson had at the Minor League complex last year. There’s a string at the bottom of the strike zone and a separate one at the top of the zone. The only difference from Peterson’s device is the moveable target.
“Dom will go over there and move it to inside to right [handed hitters] and say, ‘Hey let’s throw your sinker. Figure out where you go to start that for it to end up in that box. And vice versa, away to a righty,” said Britton, who still throws a regular 30-35 pitch bullpen session. “That’s the focus right now for them with me is getting that sinker to a point where the command is there. It’s not about throwing the offspeed yet. I think we all agree on when my fastball is there all the rest of the stuff is there.”
Out of Minor League options, meaning he would have to clear waivers if he doesn’t make the club out of camp, Britton is competing for the fifth rotation spot and getting him back to early 2011 form —when he pitched to a 2.84 ERA in his first five big league starts— would be a huge boon for the Orioles. The lefty has an impressive sinker ball when he can command it, generating a favorable ground ball ratio and a lot of weak contact.
Britton, who worked out in California this offseason again with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson, has thrown three bullpens already this spring. All have been with the strings.
“I think it was Zach’s idea as much as theirs,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I know [Kevin] Gausman has thrown over there, probably had everybody over there just I didn’t know about it. They spent a lot of time putting that up. It was a lot of work on Dom and Dave’s part. I walked over there one day, they were on their knees putting it in. Dom’s perfected that.”
Britton hopes to perfect his command, an issue that has caused a considerable amount of inconsistency since his first month in the Majors. Bouncing between Triple-A and the majors, Britton pitched to a 4.95 ERA in eight games (seven starts) in the big leagues last season, and went 5-3 with a 5.07 ERA in 12 games (11 starts) in 2012. He threw Saturday’s bullpen session with Chiti overseeing and Steve Clevenger behind the plate and said he’ll continue to use the optional device until he’s satisfied with his command.
“It’s all going to end up falling on Zach. Every pitch, being out of options effects them differently,” Showalter said. “I think Zach knows there’s a good chance he’s going to be pitching for somebody in the big leagues this year. We hope it’s us.”
*The Orioles have claimed Jimmy Parades off waivers from the Marlins, who designated him for assignment last year. Parades has some versatility, playing in the infield and outfield, and he puts the club’s 40-man roster at capacity.
*Miguel Gonzalez left today’s workout halfway through with back spasms. It’s being described as more of a precautionary thing and Gonzalez wasn’t scheduled to throw his bullpen session today anyways
*The club is still missing Alfredo Aceves and Johnny Monell, with Monell’s flight cancelled again today.
*Suk-Min Yoon was here at the Orioles complex and is awaiting final word on his physical. He was joined by agent, Tad Hun Yo, who is part of the Boras Corporation. Yoon did not want to speak publicly about the O’s until it’s official –especially given his Tweet in an Oriole hat that went viral– although there’s a press conference tentatively scheduled for Monday.
The hope is that Yoon can avoid having to go back to South Korea and just work out in Orioles camp, but there’s no decision on that just yet.
*Jonathan Schoop has added some weight and really focused on becoming stronger this winter. Schoop, who had a long year that started with the World Baseball Classic and ended with the Arizona Fall League, hit a car in batting practice yesterday and manager Buck Showalter said you could hear the thump. Schoop, the organization’s top infield prospect, is competing for the second base spot this spring.
*Kelvin De La Cruz did not throw his scheduled bullpen session, going off of flat ground instead due to a sore left hamstring. He strained the area earlier this year. De La Cruz hopes to go off a regular mound in the next couple days.
*Those who did throw bullpen session today included Tommy Hunter, Bud Norris, Darren O’Day, Evan Meek, Troy Patton, Ryan Webb, Brad Brach, Wei-Yin Chen, Tim Alderson, Brock Huntzinger and TJ McFarland.
*Zach Briton also threw today, but did so in another area to make use of the drills set up to foster good command. Britton was the only one who went off that mound today, which is set up with strings as targets at the plate.
*Dylan Bundy took today off after going back-to-back days of up to 120 feet off flat ground. Assuming he feels OK, he will move back to 180 next week.
*Catch up with Orioles pitching prospect Mike Wright, subject of today’s “Two Minutes with” segment here.
*The debut of the “Question of the Day” took on the O’s lack of offseason plans and you can read that here.
We continue the new, daily spring series with one of the Orioles up-and-comers. Mike Wright is a name that should be more familiar to fans after a stellar 2013 Minor League season continued to earn him high standing in the organization. This is Wright’s second big league camp and the 24-year-old generated a lot of interest by other clubs this winter. The big righty (listed at 6-6, 215 pounds) is ranked as the Orioles’ eighth-best prospect going into 2014 and Baseball America listed him as the “best slider” among the O’s young pitchers.
Wright spent most of the year in Double-A Bowie, going 11-3 with a 3.26 ERA in 26 starts, and made one start for Triple-A Norfolk, going 6 2/3 shutout innings. Here’s a quick look at Wright off the field…
Favorite food: Macaroni and cheese. The [Kraft] box where you mix all the cheese up.
Favorite movie: Any of the Harry Potters. Any of them. [Wright also read all the books.]
Hidden talent: I can make a cricket sound in a whistle. [Demonstrates]. I can do a back flip, too.
If I wasn’t a baseball player, I’d be… PE/Math teacher. I was a math education minor [at East Carolina University].
Favorite offseason place: I don’t travel a whole lot, but my first offseason I went to Disney World. So, Disney World.
Prized possession: My dog. She’s an Olde English [bulldog]. Annabelle. She’s 100 pounds.
Thanks to all who wrote in (email@example.com) or tweeted me questions yesterday. As a reminder, I’ll be taking one to answer per day in Spring Training so if you don’t see yours it doesn’t mean I forgot about it. I’ll try to get to everyone, either on the blog or responding personally if I run out of time. Questions may be edited for spelling/grammar, accuracy and brevity and should be tagged with #QOTD on Twitter or in your email body. I’ll include first names only.
Why does the front office insist on paying lip service to the fans? I’m not nearly as upset about the team’s failure to add a big name starter as I am about all the talk of adding a big name starter. If the team had said in November “We likely won’t add anyone. We don’t want to spend more money and we trust in our system and the players we have”, I’d have been a bit disappointed, but I’d have been okay with it. –Chris
I don’t think anyone, the front office included, saw the winter going like it did. Did executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette stick his foot his mouth by saying at the Winter Meetings that the team would leave with a player? Absolutely. They came close with Grant Balfour, but we all know how that turned out.
There was never a feeling that the Orioles would add a “big name” starter, (like Masahiro Tanaka or Matt Garza) and if that was the sense among fans it was probably more optimistic than what was actually reported. There was, however, the expectation that they would make some moves to get better and in that regard they’ve done nothing but foster lip service. I agree with you there.
Duquette has said numerous times, including at the Winter Meetings, that their best players are going to come through the farm system so any expectation of them soaring over previous payrolls to add pricey free agents is way off. Keep in mind some of their smaller moves, the trade for outfielder David Lough and the signing of reliever Ryan Webb for example, could end up being savvy additions. But I understand that they’re overshadowed by the silence in addressing two key spots: closer and starting pitcher. (And in noting adding any bats).
Can they still add a starter? Absolutely. I asked Orioles manager Buck Showalter yesterday about the possibility of new roster additions this spring –something Duquette has mentioned several times– and, after going on about liking the current guys in camp, he said “just because something is delayed doesn’t mean it’s not denied.”
There are still guys available who could help the Orioles, such as starters Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. There’s also the chance the club adds more bullpen depth and potential closer candidates in waiting for guys coming off injury, such as Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan.
I understand fans’ frustration and think calling the offseason anything but a disappointment would be insulting everyone’s intelligence. But with money to spend, Duquette has said they will be around $100 million and right now they are in the low 80s, I don’t think the Orioles are done adding just yet. Nor should they be.
The Orioles pitchers and catchers had their first workout today, taking the field earlier than the anticipated noon start time and basking in the Florida sunshine as another season officially begins. (Click on any image above for some of the daily images).
“My biggest challenge is I’ve got to slow myself down,” manager Buck Showalter said of the first day of workouts. “Keep in mind the tempo and the process of everything. You know where you want to end up, but you got to go through the steps to get there. It’s exciting. I think everybody that’s been in the game for a long time you got that moment…where all of a sudden you get the sense of anticipation that you can’t wait to get out there in that environment. Because it’s something you are comfortable in. I had a little trouble sleeping last night for the right reasons.”
Here’s the daily roundup…
*The no-shows today were all weather-related in pitchers Alfredo Aceves, Tim Alderson and Jonny Monnell. Alderson and Monell are expected to be here for the workout tomorrow, while Aceves’ ETA is Sunday.
*Suk Min-Yoon has a nameplate on one of the lockers here in Sarsota, and Showalter got a chance to meet him as well. Yoon was here for his physical and the plan right now is for him to go back to South Korea to get his visa, although the organization is trying to figure out a more efficient plan. The timetable for Yoon to join Orioles’ camp, assuming he passes the physical, is anywhere from 5-14 days.
As for whether Yoon would be a starter or a reliever, Showalter said it’s not a conversation he’s had with EVP Dan Duquette just yet so he didn’t want to handicap it one way or another.
*Dylan Bundy threw from 120 feet again with trainer Chris Correnti, and he could move back to 180 next week. Bundy could be an option for the Orioles as early as June, a timetable he’s mentioned already but Showalter clarified on Friday.
“In other words, they are saying this is when he’d be an option again for us,” Showalter said of the June deadline. “It’s not when he’s pitching in Frederick on rehab. That’s the way I understand it. I’ve found through the years, it means to me that he’s probably going to be pitching competitively in May. By the time this is over we are going to have to pull the reins back on him.
He’s doing well. My biggest hope, not my biggest but one of them, is not having setbacks with him. I haven’t seen anything to think that would happen. He looks good.”
*The position players continue to trickle in early, with Julio Borbon and Quintin Berry here today.
“It’s kind of fun watching Borbon and Berry show up, they think they are early. Well, five days they are but there’s a lot of guys already here. I think it’s part of getting an idea of the culture these guys have [in Oriole camp],” Showalter said. “It was a beautiful day, I can’t tell you how many times i’d look out there and say, “Gosh we get paid for this?”
*About half of the pitchers threw bullpen sessions today including Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Edgmer Escalona, Steve Johnson, Miguel Gonzalez, Liam Hendriks, Mike Belfiore, Josh Stinson, Mike Wright, Kevin Gausman, Chris Jones, Eduardo Rodriguez, Fabio Castillo and Eddie Gamboa.
Gambo, converted to a knuckleballer, was caught by Michael Ohlman and that’s probably not a coincidence. There’s a hierarchy in baseball and Ohlman is one of the youngest catchers in camp.
“I’d have to ask John Russell,” Showalter said of the choice to put the rookie Ohlman with Gamboa. “I know who wasn’t going to be back there the first day.”
“You know it’s a good knuckleball when you are having trouble catching.”
*The Orioles still want to add a veteran starter, Duquette reiterated that yesterday, but Showalter said it’s not something he’s concerning himself with. If he’s asked for his opinion on guys he gives it, but he said he doesn’t get into contract length and money since it’s not in his job description.
“I’ve turned the page on that,” Showalter said of the offseason mindset. “If somebody different [than] is on our roster shows up…just because things are delayed sometimes, they are not denied. I like what we got. Until something changes I’m going to grind that.”
*The news of the passing of longtime player, scout and manager Jim Fergosi was felt at Orioles camp.
“When I was contemplating going upstairs he would have been one of the guys I would have considered [hiring],” Showalter said. “A really good manager. Good baseball man, solid as they come. It’s a loss. Dom [Chiti] is not doing too well with it, he was real close to Dom.”
*Chiti, who is the team’s new bullpen coach, has gotten solid reviews early along with new pitching Dave Wallace. With more than 30 pitchers invited to big league camp the pair have their work cut out for them.
“I don’t want to use the words ‘fresh eyes’ so much but just the wisdom of the process,” Showalter said of what Wallace and Chiti bring. “There’s a process. They are not going to blurt something out after a guy throws a side one day. You can see their experience, they aren’t going to coach every second. they know that sometimes the best coaching you do is the coaching you don’t do sometimes. It’s about the environment. I’ve said many times this has got the chance to be the best coaching staff I’ve ever had.
They are not in a race to show everybody how smart they are. they come in with a lot of cache, but they realize how much weight their words carry and they choose them very carefully.
Pitchers seem to be responding and excited about it. Especially when you’ve had some troubles in certain areas, they come in with a fresh set of eyes to look at it. And they came in with a lot of respect for guys like Chris Tillman and Tommy [Hunter] and Darren [O'Day]. That’s not going to get throw out. They know what people have done. They’ve done their homework.
It’s the debut of the “Two Minutes with…” daily spring series and who better to start things off than the always-interesting reliever Darren O’Day?
Here’s a quick, fun look at the right-handed pitcher away from the baseball field…
Favorite food: Whatever my wife is cooking. That’s brownie points for Valentine’s Day.
Favorite movie: Good Will Hunting
Hidden talent: Trivia. I am [really good]. I was on the Brain Bowl team in middle school. You should know that. Scholar bowl, brain bowl. High school, too.
If I wasn’t a baseball player I’d be…. A surgeon. Until my senior year of college [I wanted to be a veterinarian] and then I changed. I was actually going to go at the med school at the time, but I don’t know. Who knows?
Favorite offseason place: We went to Munich this offseason that was pretty impressive. Munich and Switzerland, just two cities interlocking. Last year we did London and Paris.
Prized possession: My dogs. No, that’s not a prized possession…I’m a pretty big tech guy so maybe my phone.
Several minutes later, O’Day comes back…
Put down my Solowheel as my prized possession. That has to be it.
When I walked into Ed Smith Stadium’s main office today in some ways it felt like I never left. Reporters spend a lot of time at their team’s Spring Training home and I’m pretty lucky that the Orioles facility is top-of-the-line and the media room is located right next to the clubhouse. Today, and nearly every day from now until the end of March, I’ll be in Sarasota, Fla. on the back fields watching mound sessions and fielding practice while keeping track of games at Ed Smith Stadium with a slew of substitutions and high uniform numbers.
So, what can you expect coverage-wise? I thought it’d be helpful for those new to the blog and/or various forms of social media to break down how I plan on providing in-depth and up-to-the-minute updates of all things Orioles until the team heads north.
This blog will be updated several times, including lineups when the games start going, and I will wrap up every day with a post that recaps news and touches on the tidbits that don’t have a home on Orioles.com. You can check out here. I’ll have a few photographs to accompany that daily wrap-up blog, but if you are a picture person there will be a steady stream of them posted on my Instragram account (brittghiroli).
For breaking news, Twitter is your best bet and you can follow me @britt_ghiroli. The main website, Orioles.com, will have longer stories and news that warrants a full headline. I’ll also have player profiles and, just like last year, there will be video interviews from the team available daily.
I will be introducing two new daily features, one of which I need your help with. I get a lot of questions on Twitter and by email and a lot of them are really insightful so I’ve decided to do a “Question of the Day” blog this spring. To submit yours you can either email me with “Question of the Day” in the subject or hashtag your query on Twitter with #QOTD. That will kick off tomorrow.
Also tomorrow, I’ll start doing a daily “Two Minutes with…” blog that will hopefully allow you to get to know a player in camp a little better. The questions will be fun, about food and pop culture, and it’ll continue all spring.
Greetings from Sarasota, where the Oriole camp officially kicked off with pitchers and catchers reporting to the Ed Smith Stadium facility.
Here are the days notes…
*In case you missed it, the Orioles agreed to a three-year, 5.75 million deal with Suk-Min Yoon. The contract is pending a physical and Yoon isn’t expected to be here in Sarasota for about a week. You can read more about that here.
*There’s a huge continent of guys already here early, the most manager Buck Showalter said he’s seen in 30-plus years of Spring Trainings.
“We were going over it, and who have we not seen?,” Showalter said. “I put a little mark next to it, and that’s where it kind of hit me. There’s not many.”
Among the position players in attendance on Thursday were Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, David Lough, Ryan Flaherty, Henry Urrutia and a noticeably bigger Nick Markakis. Showalter said the only potential arrival issue right now is right-handed pitcher Fabio Castilla, who is having weather-related trouble (due to the storm) flying out of the Dominican Republic. It’s not the weather in the DR, but just getting the planes out there with all the groundings going on elsewhere.
Top infield prospect Jonathan Schoop, who had visa issues and was unable to attend FanFest, was also working out at Ed Smith Stadium on Thursday and he’s expected to help the big league club at some point this season. Schoop, seen as the second baseman of the future, will likely start the year at Triple-A with Flaherty the leading in-house candidate for that spot.
Showalter said Flaherty will not get any early reps at third base, instead they will take a look at Rule 5 Draft pick Michael Almanzar while Manny Machado rehabs back from knee surgery. The expectation right now is Machado will be ready for Opening Day, but if it starts to look otherwise they can adjust as needed.
*Dylan Bundy threw from 120 feet today and will do again on Friday. He’s doing 25 throws from 60 feet, 90 feet and then 120 at about 75 percent. Bundy, rehabbing back from Tommy John surgery, will increase the distance next week and hopes to throw off a mound by the end of March.
*Wei-Yin Chen is slightly behind other springs, but said he’s confident he won’t be delayed at all. The Orioles have already made out their pitching schedule for the first week of games, but pitching coach Dave Wallace is going to wait and see how Chen feels before penciling him in for an early start.
*Tommy Hunter is here and he got asked about –you guessed it– the assumption that he will now take over the closer spot. Here’s are the highlights…
[Do you go in thinking closer spot to be won?]
“I would hope so. Nobody’s really the closer so I hope he puts somebody in that role at some point in the season. You never really know. Maybe we’ll just not play the ninth inning any more, or put a position player in there. Somebody’s going to have to do it. We’ll see what happens.”
Did you prepare differently over winter?
“No, I actually felt pretty good last year. I had a pretty good fastball last year, and I’m pretty much going to do that same thing. I’m not going to change anything. I’m not going to be somebody I’m not.”
[Is the biggest thing with being a closer handling failure?]
“I failed a lot last year. Having to deal with failure, every player in baseball deals with that. Not just a pitcher, a closer…an eighth-inning guy failed…seventh-inning guy failed. EVerybody strikes out. It’s a failing man’s sport. So, for somebody to say you have to learn to deal with failure. We all have to learn to deal with failure. How he’s saying it. Being a closer, it’s a little different just having to bounce back so quick. It’s a mindset and hopefully somebody catches on quick.”
Hunter, like most of the Orioles was still hanging on to his facial hair, which he told reporters would be knocked off later in the day.
“I think I look pretty sexy with it,” he said. “I think it brings a mantra of intimidation to the stage. Really just manly. I just feel like a man. I feel less of a man without it.”
On the pending new man to the Orioles roster, Yoon, Hunter was asked if it’s more fun to play with international players.
“You get to learn a few new bad words in a different language. That’s the best part,” he said. “We taught [Wei-Yin] Chen some very good English, if you know what I mean. Just as we did Casey, the massage guy. It’s fun. Usually, the foreign guys are pretty funny in general. I think all baseball guys have a good sense of humor. Having a different culture and their kind of sense of humor coming back into it, it usually plays fun in the clubhouse. We’ll see what happens.”
*The Orioles had some interest in pitcher Chad Gaudin, who failed his physical with the Phillies, but shied away from the medicals.
*Guys who will be stretched out to start that can potentially be bullpen options are Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, T.J. McFarland, Alfredo Aceves, Kevin Gausman and Steve Johnson. Josh Stinson is seen more as a reliever-only.
*The Orioles will have at least one intrasquad game, on Feb 27. They could have one on the 25 or 26, but it hasn’t been decided yet. I don’t know yet if they are open to the public.
While the players have been trickling in for weeks, Thursday officially marked the day for all Orioles pitchers and catchers to report to Ed Smith Stadium.
While Baltimore was hit with a huge snowstorm, the team’s spring facility in Sarasota, Fla. experienced mild temperature as numerous players worked out in advance of Friday’s first official pitchers and catchers practice.
Fans are invited to watch the team’s workouts on the back fields at the complex each day until March 1, when home games begin. There is no charge to attend, and free parking is available in the East Lot off 12th Street and Tuttle Avenue.
Orioles pitchers and catchers will take the field at approximately noon on Friday, February 14. The club will work out from approximately 9:15 a.m. – noon each day thereafter, leading up to the first home game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday, March 1. The first full team workout will be held on Wednesday, February 19.
Tickets for the Orioles’ spring training home games are available now at http://www.orioles.com/spring and at the Ed Smith Stadium Box Office each day from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
The Orioles have agreed to 3 year, 5.75 million contract with South Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon pending a physical according to a Major League source.
The news comes a day after Yoon tweeted a picture of himself in an Orioles cap and is the first big move by Baltimore this winter.
The Orioles offseason has been inactive and caused a ton of bad publicity, particularly with a pair of physicals –in Grant Balfour and Tyler Colvin– voiding previous agreements and the organization will make sure everything is squared up with Yoon is reached before it becomes public.
Baltimore has yet to add a veteran starter that they badly needed and while Yoon would help with depth he’s certainly not the kind of big league grizzled innings-eater that fits the bill. Pitching in relief due to an injury last season, Yoon could be a starter or reliever for the O’s and went 3-6 with a 4.00 ERA and seven saves last season. His best pro season in South Korea was in 2011, when he went 17-5 with a 2.45 ERA.
MLB network’s Jon Heyman was the first to report the Yoon signing.