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Counting down to Wieters return, Orioles add Clevenger to mix

Posted on 26 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the same day Matt Wieters began a rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie, the Orioles recalled Pigtown native Steve Clevenger from Triple-A Norfolk and designated catcher Ryan Lavarnway for assignment.

Looking for more offense as well as some versatility off the bench, the Orioles elected to bring up Clevenger, who has played first base, second base, and third base in addition to catching in his minor-league career and was hitting an impressive .352 with an .864 on-base plus slugging percentage in 91 at-bats for the Tides. Meanwhile, the 27-year-old Lavarnway was just 3-for-28 in sporadic playing time behind starter Caleb Joseph this season.

In Sunday’s loss to Miami, Lavarnway went 0-for-4 and left seven runners on base in his final three plate appearances.

The Orioles have challenged Clevenger to improve his defense, and manager Buck Showalter said the 29-year-old has done that, throwing out 32 percent of runners attempting to steal in the International League this season. Clevenger appeared in 35 games for the Orioles last season before being demoted in favor of Joseph and Nick Hundley when Wieters was lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery.

“I went down there on a mission,” Clevenger said. “Coming into spring training this year, I wanted to focus more on my catching and I tried to do that. I went down [to Norfolk] and played very well and just tried to concentrate on my catching and helping the pitchers do what they can do best and not worry about anything else. I was playing solid defense down there.”

The initial plan for Wieters is to have him catch every other day at Bowie — he could serve as the designated hitter on the non-catching days — with the goal of activating him when he becomes eligible on June 4. His return would likely push Clevenger back to Norfolk, but Showalter didn’t rule out the possibility of the club keeping three catchers since Clevenger does provide a left-handed bat off the bench with the ability to play other infield positions in a pinch.

The Orioles would like to keep Lavarnway in the organization, but they will gauge interest from other clubs before trying to pass him through waivers and outright him to Norfolk. The former Boston Red Sox product may decline a minor-league assignment and become a free agent, however.

Showalter acknowledged that Clevenger is probably better equipped to handle infrequent playing time, but the Norfolk coaching staff provided favorable reports about his defensive progress this season.

“I try to be blunt to a fault about what they need to do while they’re there,” Showalter said. “I talked about continuing to be engaged with the pitcher and catching and throwing. I said, ‘You’re going to be out of options next year, you’re going to control all this. Try to present yourself for us and everybody else in the game as good as possible. Go down there and lead the league in hitting.'”

Clevenger didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify, but his average ranked second in the International League batting race at the time of his promotion.

Hardy returns to lineup

A day after being removed in the eighth inning of the series opener against Houston due to back stiffness, shortstop J.J. Hardy returned to the Orioles lineup Tuesday night.

The 32-year-old said he was feeling better and likely benefited from sleeping in his own bed after hypothesizing that a soft hotel mattress in Miami caused the problem over the weekend. Hardy spent the entire offseason focusing on strengthening his core in hopes of avoiding the nagging back spasms that limited him to just 141 games and nine home runs in 2014.

“It is definitely experience,” said Hardy about past problems giving him a good indicator. “When I first went through back issues, I didn’t know what to do, and now I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it. I think Buck definitely made the right decision, but I still wanted to stay in there [Monday].”

Bundy’s shoulder OK

After being scratched from Tuesday’s start at Bowie, pitching prospect Dylan Bundy’s shoulder examination went well with Showalter saying there were no structural concerns.

However, the 22-year-old told reporters in Bowie he planned to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam on his right shoulder on Wednesday just to be on the safe side. He was prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine for a mild case of shoulder tendinitis.

The 2011 first-round pick is 0-3 with a 3.68 ERA in eight starts (22 innings) for the Baysox this season.

Flaherty returning

Infielder Ryan Flaherty was leading off and playing second base for Norfolk on Tuesday as he continues his minor-league rehab assignment.

Serving two different stints on the 15-day disabled list for a lingering groin injury, Flaherty could rejoin the Orioles as early as Wednesday, according to Showalter. His return would leave the organization with an interesting roster decision as veteran Everth Cabrera is out of options and hitting just .205 this season.

Odds & ends

Rookie Mike Wright will start one game of Thursday’s doubleheader with the other starter being either Tyler Wilson or T.J. McFarland. Both had abbreviated outings for Norfolk this week with the possiblility of Thursday in mind.

No Orioles players were leading their positions in the first All-Star Game voting update released Tuesday, but Jones ranked fourth among American League outfielders. Manny Machado ranked fourth among AL third baseman while Joseph was fifth among AL catchers.

Former Orioles first baseman Calvin Pickering has been hired as the hitting coach for short-season Single-A Aberdeen.

Baltimore ranks first in the majors in outfield assists with 12. Delmon Young is tied for third in the American League with five while Adam Jones has three.

 

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Orioles working out Wieters in Miami this weekend

Posted on 21 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A day after celebrating his 29th birthday, Matt Wieters is scheduled to join the Orioles in Miami for a three-game series against the Marlins.

It figures to be the final test for the three-time All-Star catcher before he’s scheduled to begin a minor-league rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie on Tuesday. And it’s an opportunity for Wieters to finally escape the heat of Sarasota, where he’s spent much of the last 11 months rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

“I think Matt wants to get around [bench coach and catching instructor John Russell] and get around his teammates and get back in that environment,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I think it’s a good progression for him, and I think it’s what Matt wants to do, too. Nobody knows what’s going on with his elbow and everything else more than him.

“I think he needs to get out of the ‘Gulf Roast’ league, too. He’s been a diligent rehab guy, almost to a fault. I think he needs to get out of there physically, mentally, and emotionally. I think it’s a good time for him. Believe me, we’ll do a lot of work in Miami.”

Despite catching in a number of extended spring training games, Wieters has yet to play on consecutive days, leading many to speculate that he will share starting duties with Caleb Joseph upon being activated from the 60-day disabled list next month. Wieters is eligible to return as early as June 4, and that’s the date on which he’s expected to be activated barring any setbacks, according to Showalter.

It was more than two months ago that Wieters caught six innings in a Grapefruit League game on March 17, exactly nine months after undergoing ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery. He was shut down the following day with elbow tendinitis, but Showalter says he didn’t view that as a setback as much as he did a sign for the fifth overall pick of the 2007 draft to slow down.

“It was the test to see where he was. I don’t know, who knows?” said Showalter when asked if he wonders where Wieters might be now had they not pushed the elbow so soon. “If anything, it helped us make better decisions to know that he was on more of the 11 [or] 12-month plan than the nine-month [one] that he was hoping. I think he showed a lot of maturity with it. Matt really knows what has to happen for him to be able to contribute here, and I think he kind of used that as a gauge a little bit.

“I look at it as a positive in the long run. I thought it was just part of the progression. In hindsight, it was actually positive that he was able to make a good decision there and not push it along where he would have really had a setback that would have required some other things.”

Of course, the clock is ticking for Wieters as he’s scheduled to become a free agent after the 2015 season. The Orioles hope to benefit from his return to the lineup, but he needs to prove that he will be the same player despite undergoing a procedure not typical for catchers.

Showalter is confident that Wieters is in excellent shape when it comes to the other aspects of catching that go beyond throwing and estimates that he’s received somewhere between 200 and 300 at-bats since the start of spring training. The jump in competition level will be an initial obstacle, but the Orioles are eager to have the veteran catcher back in whatever capacity he’s ready to handle.

As they have throughout the process, the Orioles will lean on how Wieters says he feels as the biggest gauge when he’s ready to return.

“The one thing he’s in is he’s in really good catching shape,” Showalter said. “He’s been challenged there leg-wise and everything. He’s probably got more at-bats than anybody. It’s just where he is with the elbow.”

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Cruz on return to Camden Yards: “You have to move on”

Posted on 19 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A year ago at this time, former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz was just a couple weeks away from making his return visit to Arlington where he’d spent the previous eight seasons with the Texas Rangers.

His return to Baltimore may not be accompanied by as many memories, but the current Seattle Mariners outfielder hit 40 home runs last year to help the Orioles win the American League East title for the first time since 1997. The 34-year-old has picked up in Seattle where he left off last year, leading the major leagues with 15 homers in 157 plate appearances after signing a four-year, $57 million contract with the Mariners in early December.

What kind of reaction was he expecting from Orioles fans?

“Love, hopefully, until I do something to piss them off,” said Cruz, flashing a big smile while talking to reporters in the visitor dugout at Camden Yards. “But hopefully love.”

Cruz holds no ill will toward the Orioles, who were unwilling to offer the veteran free agent a fourth year for a player who will turn 38 midway through the 2018 season. Though still possessing plenty of power in ranking sixth in the majors with 44 homers, the Orioles have missed Cruz’s bat in the heart of the order as they have used a collection of corner outfielders with very little success through the first 35 games of the season.

Meanwhile, the Mariners haven’t taken advantage of Cruz’s .340 average, 15 homers, and 30 RBIs thus far, stumbling to a 17-20 record with few others producing in their lineup and their pitching not performing at its 2014 level.

Asked if he thinks he and Nick Markakis would be making a difference for the 16-19 Orioles, Cruz kept his former team’s struggles in perspective, recalling that last year’s club didn’t take off until the summer months.

“Last year around this time, we kind of struggled as a team and we found a way to get it done,” Cruz said. “It’s early, and they still have a pretty good team this year. [Matt] Wieters is probably the only piece they need right now besides [not having] Nick and myself. They still have a pretty good team.”

In his first game against the Rangers last year, Cruz hit a three-run homer to help the Orioles to an 8-3 win over Texas on June 3. Baltimore can only hope that the slugger cools off this week after punishing pitchers through the first six weeks of 2015.

Attending Manny Machado’s charity bowling event since both teams had Monday off, Cruz had an early start getting reacquainted with former teammates, but he planned to use his experience returning to Texas last year to help deal with any emotions he might feel being back in Charm City.

“It was weird like it’s going to be [here],” Cruz said. “Maybe the first at-bat is going to be different, but after that, it’s part of another game. You have to move on.”

NOTES: Starting pitcher Bud Norris (bronchitis) will make a rehab start for Triple-A Norfolk on Friday and is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on May 26. Manager Buck Showalter said the plan is for Norris to return to the Orioles rotation if “all things are equal when he’s ready to come back.” … Wieters (right elbow) will join the Orioles in Miami for their weekend series against the Marlins and is expected to finally begin his minor-league rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie next Tuesday. The three-time All-Star catcher is eligible to be activated from the 60-day DL as early as June 4. … Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman (right shoulder) threw 25 times from 60 feet on Tuesday and will throw from 90 feet on Thursday. He is currently scheduled to throw living batting practice in Miami on Saturday. … Infielder Everth Cabrera (left foot) is continuing his rehab assignment with Norfolk and is eligible to be activated from the 15-day DL on Friday. He is out of minor-league options.

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Showalter expecting Wieters to rejoin Orioles on June 4

Posted on 12 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the same day Matt Wieters caught nine innings for the first time in extended spring training, Buck Showalter gave his clearest projection yet of when the Orioles catcher might be ready to return.

The three-time All-Star selection was moved to the 60-day disabled list Sunday while continuing to work his way back to full strength from Tommy John surgery. The move made Wieters eligible to be activated on June 4, which is the date his manager is expecting to finally have him back in the Orioles lineup.

“He should join us then if everything goes well and we don’t have any other setbacks,” Showalter said prior to the second contest of a three-game series with Toronto. “It may be an every-other-day scenario here. I was only going to catch him four out of seven [games] anyway, but we may do an every-other-day thing with him. We’ll see how it goes. Today was a good step for him.”

Wieters is scheduled to catch nine innings on Thursday and Saturday as he inches closer to beginning a minor-league rehab assignment. It was expected that Wieters — who turns 29 later this month — would need to catch on consecutive days before reporting to a minor-league affiliate, but Showalter’s revelation on Tuesday possibly paints a different picture for the catcher’s immediate future.

With current starter Caleb Joseph currently hitting .295 with three home runs, 10 RBIs, and an .866 on-base plus slugging percentage in 92 plate appearances, the Orioles have been able to practice more patience since Wieters suffered a setback in mid-March. The possibility of Wieters and Joseph sharing starting duties wouldn’t appear to be a bad scenario for the club, especially with the former scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season.

“Let me get to [June 4] first,” Showalter said. “Having Matt every other day is better than not having him at all. I think that will progress from there.”

Gausman’s MRI returns clean

The results of a magnetic resonance imaging exam showed no concerns beyond the mild right shoulder tendinitis that landed right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman on the 15-day DL last week.

Showalter once again confirmed that the plan is for Gausman to enter the starting rotation at Triple-A Norfolk, but the Orioles will take it slow to make sure what remains of the inflammation in his right shoulder fully dissipates. Gausman hopes to possibly be throwing again by the weekend before eventually reporting to the Tides.

“We were contemplating [sending him to Norfolk] anyway because I don’t want Kevin to end up at [only] 50, 60 innings on the year,” Showalter said. “He figures into the potential of being in the rotation down the road [and] next year. When he went out and did that last year, he came back actually better in our bullpen. I want to keep the ball in his hand, so I think it’s going to be good.”

With Bud Norris struggling early in the season, Gausman could factor into the Baltimore rotation sooner rather than later once he is stretched out again as a starter. He has posted a 4.50 ERA in 12 innings pitching in relief this season.

While accepting a bullpen role with no complaints despite pitching to a 3.57 ERA in 20 regular-season starts last season, Gausman makes no secret about the role he’d like to fill in the long run.

“Obviously, I’ve been a starter for most of my career,” Gausman said. “That’s what I’m comfortable doing, so just to kind of get into a routine, that’s what I’m excited about.”

Flaherty back on DL, Navarro recalled

After leaving Monday’s game with a re-aggravated right groin, infielder Ryan Flaherty was placed back on the 15-day DL less than a week after being reinstated.

The Orioles recalled infielder Rey Navarro after he was optioned for the returning Flaherty on Friday. He and Steve Pearce will likely share duties at second base, but the latter was in the starting lineup on Tuesday.

Showalter is hopeful that Flaherty will not be sidelined for long, but the Orioles could not afford to carry him on the 25-man roster with a shortage of infield options behind him.

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Orioles surprises from first month of 2015 season

Posted on 06 May 2015 by Luke Jones

One month into the 2015 season, the Orioles have hovered around the .500 mark while remaining firmly in the American League East hunt.

Below is a look at the biggest surprises of the first month of action:

1. Ubaldo Jimenez becoming the Orioles’ best starting pitcher

Much of the starting rotation and bullpen struggled over the opening month of the season, but the maligned Jimenez was the club’s best starter, posting a 2-1 record with a 1.59 ERA in his four starts. After simplifying his mechanics late last season, Jimenez steadily improved during spring training and saw that continue into the regular season where he’s walked only eight batters in 22 2/3 innings, a significant improvement from the 5.5 walks per nine innings he issued last season. It was an unusual month for the 31-year-old as he was inexplicably ejected from a start at Fenway Park and pitched in the first empty-stadium game in major league history, but the results have been a pleasant surprise for manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles.

2. Jimmy Paredes emerging as a key member of the lineup

It was one thing to see Paredes hit well last September when the Orioles enjoyed a comfortable lead in the AL East and to follow that up with a strong spring, but who would have guessed the 26-year-old would become the everyday designated hitter and occupy the No. 2 spot in the order? Paredes’ .994 OPS is second on the club behind the scalding-hot Adam Jones, and he has collected nine extra-base hits in 56 plate appearances. Showalter has credited Paredes’ aggressive but professional approach — he’s walked only once this season — at the plate and will continue to pencil his name into the lineup until Paredes proves he shouldn’t. His defensive limitations hinder lineup flexibility, but the Orioles aren’t complaining about the offense Paredes has provided, especially with key contributors sidelined.

3. Matt Wieters still not being close to returning — and that being OK

The three-time All-Star selection caught six innings in an extended spring training game Tuesday, but he still isn’t catching on consecutive days, leading you to believe his return will be much closer to June than anyone would have expected a couple months ago. The good news is Caleb Joseph hasn’t made the Orioles miss Wieters too much as he’s hitting .286 with two home runs, seven RBIs, and an .836 on-base plus slugging percentage. Despite a slow start trying to control the running game, Joseph has stopped 33 percent of stolen-base attempts after gunning down 40 percent in 2014. I wrote before the season that it would be problematic if Wieters returned as a shell of himself defensively, but it’s clear the Orioles have slowed the pace of the veteran catcher’s rehab and Joseph’s strong play has made it easier to endure.

4. Steve Pearce starting games at second base

The 32-year-old has yet to approach his 2014 level of production, but Showalter using Pearce at second base illustrates how badly the injury bug has bitten the middle infield with J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, and Ryan Flaherty all on the 15-day disabled list. Fortunately, Hardy and Flaherty appear primed to return as early as this weekend, which will bring normalcy to the shortstop and second base positions. With Pearce and Jimmy Paredes seeing time at second base, Everth Cabrera may find himself in the minor leagues after posting a .464 OPS as the everyday shortstop in Hardy’s absence. Considering they’ve gotten below-replacement-level offense at shortstop and have used a carousel of options at second base, the Orioles should probably feel pretty good about their 12-12 record over the first month.

5. The Orioles playing an empty-stadium game and a “home” series at Tropicana Field

The unrest in Baltimore certainly disrupted the Orioles’ schedule, but Showalter, Jones, and the rest of the club handled the distractions with appropriate perspective while reflecting on the bigger issues facing the city. Playing a game in an empty Oriole Park at Camden Yards and then traveling to Tropicana Field for a “home” series against the Tampa Bay Rays was less than ideal for all parties, but the Orioles went 3-1 over that stretch. It’s the latest example of how prepared and focused Showalter has kept his players over the last few years, a major reason why the Orioles are aiming for their fourth straight winning season and third playoff appearance in four campaigns. You only hope a packed Camden Yards welcomes the Orioles back to town on May 11.

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Hardy, Flaherty to begin rehab assignments Monday

Posted on 03 May 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles are moving closer to a healthier infield as manager Buck Showalter revealed J.J. Hardy and Ryan Flaherty are set to begin a rehab assignment Monday.

The pair will report to Double-A Bowie and could be ready to rejoin the Orioles this weekend in New York. Hardy has been sidelined with a left shoulder strain since late March while Flaherty (groin strain) is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list as early as Friday.

Showalter said the Orioles will play it by ear with Hardy, who hasn’t received any live-game action since the Grapefruit League schedule, but his return will help solidify an infield that’s turned to the likes of Everth Cabrera, Rey Navarro, and even Steve Pearce at the middle infield positions. Flaherty ran the bases at Tropicana Field prior to Sunday’s finale without any reported concerns.

How the Orioles will handle their 25-man roster when Hardy and Flaherty are activated remains to be seen. Navarro possesses minor-league options and is a logical choice to be sent out, but the other move would be more complicated. David Lough and Jimmy Paredes are both out of options, but the latter has emerged as the everyday designated hitter over the last two weeks.

The Orioles could give up on Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia, but going with an 11-man pitching staff would only be a short-term fix.

Would Showalter continue the Pearce experiment at second base and choose to option Cabrera or Flaherty to Triple-A Norfolk? The veteran super utility player has survived thus far at his new position, but he has only been tested there for a couple games.

It should be interesting.

In other injury-related news, Matt Wieters continues to catch in extended spring training games every other day in Sarasota, but there is still no timetable for him to begin a rehab assignment with a minor-league affiliate. The three-time All-Star selection told reporters in St. Petersburg that recovery from soreness between games is still an issue.

Wieters is two weeks away from the 11-month mark from undergoing Tommy John surgery on June 17, 2014.

Left-handed relief pitcher Wesley Wright (left trapezius strain) is scheduled to pitch in his first extended spring game on May 19, according to Showalter.

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Five questions pondering Joseph, Garcia, others

Posted on 17 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Orioles or Ravens (or a mix of both).

Five questions

1. Does Caleb Joseph make it easy to wait for Matt Wieters to take his time to return?
No, I don’t expect the former to continue hitting .375, but it’s difficult to argue how good his defense has been as Orioles pitching posted a 3.00 ERA with him behind the plate in 2014, he threw out 40 percent of runners trying to steal, and his pitch framing rates better than Wieters’ did in either of his his last two full seasons. The question isn’t whether Joseph is better than or as good as the pre-injury Wieters — he’s clearly not — but it remains to be seen if the post-surgery Wieters will be the same defensively and whether he’ll provide enough offense to justify being the undisputed starter if he’s a shell of his old self behind the plate.

2. Does Buck Showalter need to figure out exactly what he has with Jason Garcia sooner rather than later?
I know the Orioles love the Rule 5 pick’s arm and he has nice potential at age 22, but they can’t afford to carry him if it means they essentially have a 24-man roster. If his arm is special enough to warrant keeping him, he should be able to get some meaningful outs along the way. The early-season struggles of Tommy Hunter and and the rest of the bullpen have magnified the situation, of course, but Showalter needs to be able to use Garcia in some legitimate situations, especially if he’s not going to give the Orioles length in the same way that T.J. McFarland did as a Rule 5 pick in 2013.

3. Should third base coaches take more chances around baseball?
I thought about this at different times this winter after Kansas City elected not to send Alex Gordon home as the potential tying run in Game 7 of the World Series, and the question returns with Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson drawing the ire of fans with some questionable sends at the start of the season. Historically, a runner standing on third base with two outs will score only 27 percent of the time, but data shows only five percent of runners being sent home from second base on a single with two outs are thrown out at the plate. Yes, that success rate looks great, but how many potential runs are ultimately being stranded at third base to avoid the chance of a runner being thrown out in favor of the potentially lower-percentage chance of the next batter driving him in. Of course, there are many variables involved such as the speed of the runner, the location of the ball, and the arm strength of the fielder, but it’s still interesting to ponder how many potential runs are lost due to the fear of failure and the criticism that a third base coach can face.

4. Is the exuberant friendship between Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop a joy to watch?
I first watched these two play together when they were at Single-A Frederick in 2011, and it’s scary to think how young both still are with so much untapped potential. Of course, scenes like this don’t hurt, either:

5. Do we still not appreciate Jim Palmer enough? The Hall of Fame pitcher celebrated the 50th anniversary of his major league debut Friday and he continues to remain a fixture on Orioles telecasts five decades later. As someone who only remembers Palmer the broadcaster, I marvel at his numbers, which included a period of nine times in 10 years from 1969-1978 in which he posted an ERA below 3.00 and at least 4.1 wins above replacement. His 211 complete games, 53 shutouts, and four seasons of 300 or more innings are numbers we don’t even see in video games today.

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Jones, Orioles don No. 42 jerseys for Jackie Robinson Day

Posted on 15 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Taking part in his eighth Jackie Robinson Day at the major league level, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones still cherishes the opportunity to wear the iconic No. 42 jersey.

On Wednesday, Major League Baseball celebrated the 68th anniversary of the former Brooklyn Dodgers infielder breaking the color barrier. Just like the Orioles and the opposing New York Yankees, all uniformed personnel around the majors wore Robinson’s jersey number.

“It’s awesome. It’s bringing unity to the game,” Jones said. “This game has extreme reach due to some bravery by Jackie back in those heydays of the [1940s]. As you see in our society, racism is still there, obviously, in bigger scales than the sport of baseball. Baseball is something that unites anyone. It doesn’t matter what you are: black, white, or indifferent. It unites us as you can see how our game is very international and our clubhouse is international. This is one thing that brings us together, and that’s sports.”

Jones spent the morning as part of the panel evaluating a “self-expression” contest with the Westport Homes Boys & Girls Club. Members were challenged to express their thoughts creatively through a speech, poem, art, or skit about Robinson’s values for success, which included “citizenship, commitment, courage, determination, excellence, integrity, justice, persistence, and teamwork.”

The anniversary of Robinson’s first game in the majors always sparks discussion about the waning popularity of baseball among African-American youth, but Jones doesn’t view himself as an ambassador to simply grow the sport’s popularity. He credited the ongoing efforts of groups such as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, but he’s more concerned with young people just finding positive ways to spend their time.

Jones has spent time and resources over the last several years to assist the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore with him and the Orioles donating more than $100,000 toward the improvement of the Brooklyn O’Malley Boys & Girls Club Technology and Learning Center and the remodeling of the teen center at the Boys & Girls Club, Westport/Winans Homes Center.

“I’ve even told my nephews, ‘You don’t necessarily have to play baseball,'” said Jones, citing how so many different sports are available for youth to play today. “I’m not trying to get all African Americans to play baseball. I’m trying to get them to do something productive with themselves. Playing a sport is something that bonds you and creates so many lifetime bonds with people that you never would have had if you don’t play sports.”

The day brings special meaning for manager Buck Showalter as he remembers stories from his former minor league pitching coach Russ Meyer, who played with Robinson from 1953-1955. The late Meyer recalled to Showalter the great courage and dignity Robinson possessed both on and off the field.

The celebration is also a reminder of baseball’s ugly history in which African Americans waited for decades to prove they belonged in the majors.

“It makes me proud that we are having this special day,” Showalter said. “It doesn’t make me particularly proud when you think about how long it took.”

Hardy takes batting practice for first time

Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy reached the final hurdle before going on a minor-league rehab assignment after taking batting practice for the first time since injuring his left shoulder on April 27.

Hardy took 18 swings in live batting practice on Wednesday and is expected to hit again at Camden Yards on Thursday before potentially going on a rehab assignment to Double-A Bowie. But that all depends on how the left shoulder responds as he has still experienced a “little catch” at the very end of his follow-through.

The 32-year-old infielder says it’s been tricky differentiating soreness related to the shoulder strain from normal soreness that comes from not swinging a bat for an extended period of time.

Hoping to be playing with Bowie as early as Friday, Hardy doesn’t anticipating needing many at-bats in order to get ready to rejoin the Orioles since he was healthy for most of spring training.

Pearce, Davis scuffling

After a red-hot start to the season that included two home runs in his first two games, Steve Pearce was out of Wednesday’s lineup while mired in a 2-for-26 slump that includes eight strikeouts over that time.

Pearce has already played both corner outfield spots and first base as well as serve as the designated hitter in the Orioles lineup this season, but he started a game on the bench for the first time since last year.

The right-handed hitter isn’t the only one struggling at the plate as first baseman Chris Davis has only one hit in his last 14 at-bats and has struck out nine times over that stretch. He was dropped to sixth in the order against Yankees lefty CC Sabathia on Tuesday, but he batted fifth on Wednesday night.

Injury updates

Catcher Matt Wieters (right elbow) threw from 120 feet, caught three bullpen sessions as well as the starting pitcher, and had five at-bats in a simulated game in Sarasota on Wednesday.

Utility player Jimmy Paredes (lower back) played right field in an extended spring game in Sarasota and will now travel back to Baltimore. He is expected to meet with Showalter and take batting practice at Camden Yards on Thursday and could report to Bowie later that evening or by Friday to begin a rehab assignment.

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Orioles remain in holding pattern with Wieters

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles catcher Matt Wieters continues to increase his activity level in Sarasota, but it remains unclear when he’ll be ready to go on a minor-league rehab assignment.

Nearly 10 months removed from Tommy John surgery and almost a month after being shut down with right elbow tendinitis in the middle of the Grapefruit League schedule, Wieters still hasn’t caught, but he had five at-bats serving as the designated hitter in an extended spring training game on Tuesday. The 28-year-old also threw from 150 feet and hasn’t experienced any further setbacks since he began throwing again.

“You can tell he’s feeling pretty good,” manager Buck Showalter said prior to Tuesday’s game against the New York Yankees. “He had some of that normal soreness (from throwing) that wasn’t there today.”

Showalter said he wouldn’t be surprised if Wieters were to begin a rehab assignment by the end of the month, but it’s clear the organization and the three-time All-Star selection are thinking over the long-term scope of a 162-game season after the original hope of him being ready for Opening Day did not come to fruition.

The Orioles hope Wieters could still be back in early May, but it’s too soon to tell until he gets behind the plate to start catching again in live-game situations. The disappointment of the mid-March setback aside, the 28-year-old is still on a faster track than many pitchers who come back from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery.

“I know what Matt thought when I left spring training. He gave me an idea date-wise,” Showalter said. “I’m not going to give that up, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was potentially earlier than that. But he and J.J. [Hardy] both, we want to get it right the first time.”

Hardy is still experiencing a “little catch” in his left shoulder when he extends the follow-through of his swing, something the Orioles want to remedy before he goes on a rehab assignment. The shortstop could be ready to go later this week along with utility player Jimmy Paredes (lower back strain), who played seven innings in an extended spring game on Tuesday.

The Orioles are hoping both could report to Double-A Bowie as early as Thursday or Friday if all goes well between now and then.

Lefty reliever Wesley Wright is expected to report to Sarasota on Wednesday and will be shut down completely for a week after a magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed left shoulder inflammation. The Orioles are projecting him to miss four to six weeks after he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left trapezius strain on Saturday.

Below are Tuesday night’s lineups:

NEW YORK
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
3B Chase Headley
RF Carlos Beltran
1B Mark Teixeira
C Brian McCann
DH Garrett Jones
LF Chris Young
2B Stephen Drew
SS Didi Gregorius

SP CC Sabathia (0-1, 6.35 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

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

SP Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 1.59 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

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Orioles place left-handed reliever Wright on DL

Posted on 11 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Faced with a crowded bullpen to begin the 2015 season, the Orioles will now have that problem alleviated in a way they didn’t anticipate.

Left-handed pitcher Wesley Wright has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left trapezius strain. The reliever disclosed the injury after pitching 1 1/3 innings in Friday’s 12-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

“After we see the [doctor], we’ll know what the next step will be,” said Wright, who revealed Friday that he’s been dealing with the issue for a few days. “I’m hoping that it’s something that can get taken care of kind of quickly and hopefully I can be back on the field soon. It wasn’t worse, so I’ll take that aspect of it. I knew the way I felt yesterday, it was going to take something dramatic for me to feel a lot better this morning. When I woke up, I felt basically the same.”

In two appearances, Wright has allowed one earned run and two hits in 1 2/3 innings with his new club.

It remains unclear how long Wright will be sidelined, but the Orioles recalled pitcher Eddie Gamboa from Triple-A Norfolk to take his place in the bullpen just in time for Saturday’s game. Outfielder David Lough (hamstring) is expected to be activated from the DL in the coming days, but the Orioles intend to send him on a brief minor-league rehab assignment with Single-A Frederick beginning Sunday.

Unlike other options on the 40-man roster who had pitched in the last day or two, Gamboa is fresh and can provide the Orioles with length in the bullpen for however long he remains in Baltimore. The 30-year-old knuckleballer is scheduled to start for the Tides on Monday, but that will depend on whether manager Buck Showalter will need to use him over the next couple days.

In 2014, Gamboa went a combined 5-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 108 2/3 innings split between Norfolk and Double-A Bowie. He has never appeared in the majors in his seven-year professional career.

Left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland could have been recalled as he was the scheduled starter for Norfolk on Saturday, but the Orioles prefer giving him some regular work in Triple A to begin the season. Right-hander Mike Wright remains on the club’s radar, but he started for Norfolk on Friday and touched 99 miles per hour at one point, according to Showalter.

In other injury-related news, catcher Matt Wieters (elbow tendinitis) took batting practice from both sides of the plate in Sarasota on Saturday. He is expected to throw from 120 feet and catch batting practice on Sunday.

“That was all encouraging to hear,” Showalter said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow, but that’s kind of moving [forward] a little bit.”

Shortstop J.J. Hardy continues to progress but is feeling slight discomfort in his left shoulder at the very end of his follow through when swinging. Showalter doesn’t want him to be thinking about that when he’s hitting, which means the Orioles won’t rush him to go on a rehab assignment until he’s fully ready.

“I want to get it right the first time. I don’t want him to feel like he has to rush,” Showalter said. “It’s like Matt — I want to get it right the first time and not have to look back and worry about it. But I like where he is with it right now.”

Infielder Jimmy Paredes (lower back) is expected to play in an extended spring training game on Monday. If that goes well, he could go on a minor-league rehab assignment in Frederick next week.

Pitching prospect Hunter Harvey (broken fibula) completed two sets of 25 throws from 60 feet on Saturday. He hasn’t pitched since he was struck in the ankle with a comebacker in minor-league spring training late last month.

Below are Saturday night’s lineups:

TORONTO
SS Jose Reyes
CF Dalton Pompey
RF Jose Bautista
DH Edwin Encarnacion
3B Josh Donaldson
C Russell Martin
1B Justin Smoak
LF Kevin Pillar
2B Devon Travis

SP Aaron Sanchez (2014 stats: 2-2, 1.09 ERA)

BALTIMORE
LF Alejandro De Aza
RF Steve Pearce
1B Chris Davis
CF Adam Jones
DH Travis Snider
3B Manny Machado
2B Jonathan Schoop
SS Everth Cabrera
C Caleb Joseph

SP Ubaldo Jimenez (2014 stats: 6-9, 4.81 ERA)

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