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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:

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)

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:

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)

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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Still no clear timetable for Wieters’ return

Posted on 08 April 2015 by Luke Jones

On his final day with the Orioles before returning to Sarasota for extended spring training, catcher Matt Wieters didn’t offer any indication Wednesday that his return to live-game action was imminent.

Currently on the 15-day disabled list due to right elbow tendinitis, the three-time All-Star selection told reporters in St. Petersburg that he began a throwing progression last week and is currently throwing every other day. Wieters was shut down less than 24 hours after making his catching debut in the Grapefruit League on March 17, exactly nine months after he underwent Tommy John surgery.

It remains unclear when Wieters will be ready to return, but he confirmed May 1 as a possibility when asked. The 28-year-old was 0-for-23 this spring while serving primarily as a designated hitter.

“We’re not really putting any kind of date out there, because it’s a matter of how it goes and how it feels,” Wieters told reporters before the series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays. “I think it can turn the corner in the course of a couple of days or it can take longer. It’s a matter of letting it kind of all play out and whenever I feel like I can contribute to the team and help the team, then I’ll come back.”

Wieters is eligible to come off the DL as early as April 11, but his return wouldn’t appear to be close considering he’s not even throwing on consecutive days. After he was shut down three weeks ago, it’s become clear that the elbow tendinitis was a bigger concern than the organization initially indicated.

With the 2007 first-round pick sidelined, the Orioles are going with the combination of Caleb Joseph and former Boston Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway to begin the 2015 season.

In other injury-related news, J.J. Hardy (left shoulder strain) is scheduled to take swings at Camden Yards on Thursday. The Orioles hope the shortstop can go on a minor-league rehab assignment early next week.

Outfielder David Lough (left hamstring strain) had four at-bats in an intrasquad game in Sarasota on Wednesday and is expected to play in a game on Thursday. Baltimore hopes he will be ready to go on a rehab assignment next week as well.

Hardy and Lough are both eligible to be activated from the DL as early as April 11.

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Five things that can’t happen for 2015 Orioles

Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s funny how we annually try to pinpoint absolutes in assessing what must go right or what can’t go wrong for the Orioles to have a successful season.

There are very few absolutes on which you can count over the course of a 162-game schedule. Look no further than last year to realize just how true that can be.

You might have predicted last spring that nearly everything needed to go right for the Orioles to win their first American League East title in 17 years. Instead, they endured the absence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters for most of the year, another season-ending knee injury to Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, and an abysmal campaign from 2013 home run king Chris Davis that ended with a 25-man suspension for Adderall use.

If given a preview of only those subplots last spring, you would have been more inclined to predict a 96-loss campaign as opposed to 96 victories and winning the division by a dozen games.

You just never know and that’s what makes it fun, as manager Buck Showalter would say.

With that reality in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2015 after we looked at what factors must go right on Thursday. In an effort to avoid being redundant in the wake of the first piece, I avoided the polar opposites of the factors already discussed.

1. The worm turns on the health of the pitching

In addition to recapturing the success from last season, Orioles pitching would desperately like to extend its run of good fortune in the health department as only four pitchers — Tommy Hunter, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez –visited the 15-day disabled list in 2014. Of those four, only Jimenez spent more than 18 days on the DL and there was plenty of external debate over the severity of his ankle injury as he was in the midst of a disappointing season.

Injuries are a part of the game and it’d be difficult for the Orioles to expect that same level of health, but you can only hope the baseball gods don’t decide to exact revenge in 2015. Baltimore was one of only 10 teams in the majors last year to have four pitchers make 25 or more starts while only two clubs — Kansas City and Washington — had five pitchers make 25 or more.

The odds are not in the Orioles’ favor to repeat last year’s injury-light run as any given club has a 65 percent likelihood of having two starters ailing at the same time at some point in a season, according to FanGraphs. That reality makes it clear why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was so hesitant to part with any of the club’s top six starters this winter.

While many focused on the misfortune of the injuries suffered by Wieters and Machado last season, the rotation and the bullpen were as healthy as you could have hoped for on the way to 96 wins.

2. Corner outfield spots become a wasteland

It’s been impossible to escape the lamenting over the departure of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis this offseason as the Orioles weren’t willing to invest the combined $101 million that the pair received elsewhere in free agency. The veterans accounted for a total of 207 starts at the corner outfield spots that others will need to assume in 2015.

No two individuals will be expected to fill their roles exclusively as some combination of Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Travis Snider, David Lough, and possibly Nolan Reimold will receive early opportunities. Even if you thought Cruz and Markakis were overpaid, the Orioles still need to account for the 116 extra-base hits the two produced last year.

Of course, the club can reasonably expect better offensive returns from the likes of Davis, Machado, Wieters, and J.J. Hardy at their respective positions, but there’s a lot of unknown that Showalter will be facing in trying to pull the right strings with a cast of unproven or flawed characters flanking center fielder Adam Jones.

The Orioles don’t necessarily need the overwhelming success of platoons resembling the best days of John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke, but poor production from the corner outfield spots is a recipe for a lineup likely struggling to score runs.

3. Matt Wieters is a shell of his old self defensively

There was a reason why I didn’t include Wieters having a bounce-back year as one of the things that must happen for the Orioles. The truth is they proved they could win without him last season.

Make no mistake, the Orioles would benefit from a better offensive catcher than Caleb Joseph, but a more uncomfortable proposition might be a Wieters behind the plate who is a shell of what he used to be defensively. If Wieters is fully cleared, Showalter will immediately reinstall him as the starter, but that doesn’t guarantee his defense will warrant him being the overwhelming regular, potentially creating an awkward situation.

Last season, Joseph produced 1.5 defensive wins above replacement — a better mark than Wieters in either of his last two full seasons — and the Orioles allowed the eighth-lowest total of stolen bases in the majors. For a club that prides itself in controlling the opponent’s running game, Wieters’ defense is more important than his offense.

Yes, it’s important to have Wieters back, but him returning as a defensive liability while also remembering that his on-base plus slugging percentage steadily declined from 2011 through 2013 would be worrisome. With a small number of catchers having undergone Tommy John surgery at the major league level over the years, it’s impossible to truly know what to expect.

4. Injuries continue to zap J.J. Hardy of his power

A back injury that lingered for much of the 2014 season limited the three-time Gold Glove shortstop to just nine home runs and a .372 slugging percentage, which is what made the news of a shoulder injury last week disheartening for the 32-year-old.

Hardy isn’t expected to miss much time, but the Orioles are counting on him to be part of the equation to fill the power void left behind by Cruz. Before Hardy signed a three-year, $40 million contract last fall, the organization had to be expecting a return to power numbers similar to what he posted in his first three years in Baltimore.

Back and shoulder issues for a shortstop on the wrong side of 30 are worrisome, especially when you’re counting on Hardy to hit a few more out of the ballpark this season. His defense is his best asset, but the Orioles need more than that while paying him an average of just over $13 million per season over the next three years.

5. The underwhelming offseason and the reality of 11 pending free agents create a tight clubhouse

Several players made no secret about their disappointment in this past offseason in watching the departures of Markakis, Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller while seeing minimal additions for the 2015 season. Duquette has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt, but it’s human nature for veterans to be disappointed to see a longtime Oriole like Markakis depart.

On top of this, the club has 11 players currently slated to become free agents next offseason including position players such as Davis, Wieters, Pearce, De Aza, and Young and starting pitchers Norris and Wei-Yin Chen. That’s why many are viewing 2015 as the Orioles’ last chance to seriously contend for at least a couple years.

Showalter is as good as any manager in baseball in cultivating a loose clubhouse and strong player leadership remains despite Markakis’ departure, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to wonder if players might be too tight this season, especially if the club were to get off to a slow start.

And the memory of a disappointing four-game sweep in last year’s American League Championship Series could creep back into players’ psyche in the process.

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2015 Orioles preview: Matt Wieters

Posted on 01 April 2015 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than a week away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton
March 13 – Chris Davis
March 14 – Wei-Yin Chen
March 15 – Jonathan Schoop
March 16 – Travis Snider
March 17 – Kevin Gausman
March 18 – Alejandro De Aza
March 19 – Tommy Hunter
March 20 – Manny Machado
March 21 – Brad Brach
March 22 – Steve Pearce
March 23 – Darren O’Day
March 24 – Caleb Joseph
March 25 – Wesley Wright
March 26 – Delmon Young
March 27 – Miguel Gonzalez
March 28 – Ryan Flaherty
March 29 – Ubaldo Jimenez
March 30 – Everth Cabrera
March 31 – Bud Norris

C Matt Wieters

Opening Day age: 28

Contract status: Becomes a free agent after the 2015 season

Minor-league options remaining: None

2014 stats: .308/.339/.500, 5 HR, 18 RBI, 13 R, 0 SB, 112 PA

Why to be impressed: Before developing elbow tendinitis that will force him to begin the season on the 15-day disabled list, Wieters’ rehab from Tommy John surgery was going perfectly in trying to work his way back to pre-injury form. Though he’s always provided good offense for the catcher position, his .839 on-base plus slugging percentage — in a small sample size — last year suggested his shorter swing from the left side had the potential to be a breakthrough.

Why to be concerned: The organization has been very quiet about Wieters since he was shut down after catching only one game in the Grapefruit League on March 17. Even if the tendinitis will only cost him a couple weeks in the regular season, there’s just no way of knowing what kind of defensive player Wieters will be after throwing out an impressive 33 percent of runners trying to steal in his career before the surgery.

2015 outlook: Whenever Wieters is able to return, you’d expect him to receive much more rest than he did in the past when he’d catch 80 percent of the 162-game schedule. With such a long layoff, it’s tough to expect much more than the .704 OPS he produced in 2013. If he can be close to the same defensively, the Orioles will be happy, but anyone projecting what to expect from him in 2015 and beyond is purely guessing right now, making his upcoming free agency all the more intriguing.

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Wieters remaining in Florida once season begins

Posted on 26 March 2015 by Luke Jones

It became clear last week that Matt Wieters wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day, but we learned Thursday that the Orioles catcher will remain in Florida once the regular season begins.

Speaking to reporters prior to Thursday’s spring game against the Detroit Tigers, manager Buck Showalter revealed that Wieters will return to Sarasota for extended spring training following Baltimore’s season-opening series against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg. Wieters was shut down with elbow tendinitis a day after playing his first Grapefruit League game behind the plate on March 17.

Wieters continues to build strength in his right elbow after undergoing Tommy John surgery last June 17 and will be placed on the 15-day disabled list before the season begins. The Orioles had hoped that the 28-year-old would be ready for the opener, but they knew it would take perfect circumstances in order to happen.

Showalter said Wieters will play in extended spring games when he’s ready before eventually going on a rehab assignment with the combination of Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, which would allow the catcher to be based out of the Orioles clubhouse in Baltimore each day. It remains unclear when that will happen or when he is targeting a season debut.

Though different injuries and timetables, Wieters’ situation is reminiscent of how the Orioles handled third baseman Manny Machado coming back from his first knee surgery last spring when they pointed to Opening Day as a possibility for his return before backing off over the last couple weeks of spring training. Machado eventually made his 2014 season debut on May 1.

Wieters is expected to resume throwing on Saturday and could play in a minor-league spring game next week, according to Showalter.

The three-time All-Star catcher was hitless in 23 Grapefruit League at-bats while primarily serving as a designated hitter earlier this month.

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Showalter confirms Wieters expected to begin season on DL

Posted on 21 March 2015 by Luke Jones

What appeared probable earlier this week was made all but official by Orioles manager Buck Showalter on Saturday.

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters is expected to begin the season on the 15-day disabled list after being shut down earlier this week due to elbow tendinitis. The 28-year-old made his Grapefruit League debut behind the plate on Tuesday, which marked exactly nine months after he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Wieters experienced soreness and was shut down the following morning. An X-ray on Thursday revealed no concerns and prompted no further testing on the elbow.

He would be eligible to return as early as April 11, which would fall during the Orioles’ home-opening series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Showalter confirmed that Wieters beginning the season as the club’s designated hitter was not an option since it wouldn’t help in the recovery process.

The Orioles aren’t viewing Wieters’ tendinitis as a concerning setback since it’s very common during the recovery process from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery. Pitchers often take 12 to 14 months to fully recover from the procedure, and Wieters will still be under the 10-month mark on Opening Day.

Showalter told reporters in Sarasota that he doesn’t want the veteran catcher to feel as though he’s facing a deadline as it’s more important for him to be full healthy for as much of the season as possible rather than rushing back for the opener at less than 100 percent. It’s a similar stance to the one the Baltimore manager took with Manny Machado last spring before the third baseman eventually made his season debut on May 1, 2014.

With most attention being paid to his defense and throwing ability, Wieters is 0-for-23 with four strikeouts and one walk in seven Grapefruit League games this spring. He served as a DH in all but one of those contests.

Caleb Joseph is expected to be the starting catcher with Steve Clevenger, Ryan Lavarnway, and J.P Arencibia serving as the candidates to back him up to begin the season.

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Wieters shut down with elbow tendinitis

Posted on 18 March 2015 by Luke Jones

A day after making his Grapefruit League debut behind the plate, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has been shut down due to elbow tendinitis.

The three-time All-Star selection will be shut down from catching duties for a week after manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Florida Wednesday that Wieters experienced soreness the morning after his spring debut. No runners attempted to steal against him in Tuesday’s game, but Wieters made a wide throw to first base on a roller in front of the plate in the 10-9 loss.

Tuesday was the nine-month anniversary of his Tommy John surgery.

It’s not unusual to experience tendinitis when building up strength in a surgically-repaired elbow, but this development certainly doesn’t help Wieters’ chances of being ready to catch in the season opener on April 6. Showalter told reporters that Opening Day is not yet off the table, but it would be difficult envisioning the veteran catcher having enough time to strengthen the elbow adequately considering he didn’t respond favorably to only one game behind the plate.

“With all the time we have left, we thought it would be prudent to just try to get ahead of it,” Showalter told media in Florida. “He’s been doing a lot of things on the half field and throwing program. He’s been doing things that he didn’t do when he was healthy. There’s been a lot there. His legs feel great, though. I don’t think it puts anything in jeopardy, but we’ll see.”

Wieters could return to action as a designated hitter as early as Sunday.

Though the possibility of Wieters opening the season as the club’s DH has been discussed throughout the winter, Showalter again told reporters it’s unlikely that the Orioles would keep him on the 25-man roster if he’s not ready to catch. The club would likely choose two catchers among Caleb Joseph, Steve Clevenger, J.P Arencibia, and Ryan Lavarnway if Wieters begins the regular season on the 15-day disabled list.

Serving strictly as a DH before Tuesday, Wieters is hitless in 23 spring at-bats.

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More comfortable Gausman primed for breakout season

Posted on 03 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Two years ago, the thought of starting the exhibition home opener might have created butterflies for Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman.

But after starting Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium last September and pitching to a 1.13 ERA out of the bullpen in the 2014 postseason, you’ll forgive the 24-year-old if he’s unmoved by what’s expected to be a one-inning stint at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota on Wednesday. Now, familiarity is on Gausman’s side as he’s in the midst of his third spring training with the Orioles.

“I don’t know if I feel like I have less to prove, but I just feel more comfortable being around the guys,” Gausman said. “It’s just kind of knowing everybody. When you have that type of relationship where you can just go up and talk to anybody, obviously you feel more comfortable.”

Of course, Gausman hasn’t surprised anyone to this point as he was immediately labeled one of baseball’s best prospects upon being selected fourth overall out of Louisiana State in the 2012 amateur draft. After spending most of his major league time in the bullpen in his rookie season two years ago, Gausman blossomed into a dependable member of a rotation in 2014 that finished fifth in the American League with a 3.61 starter ERA.

In 20 starts, Gausman went 7-7 with a 3.57 ERA, but his 3.41 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark that measures only the factors a pitcher fully controls — strikeouts, walks, home runs, and hit batsmen — was the best among the Orioles’ six regular starters. His success last season at the age of 23 as well as a high-90s fastball and devastating split-changeup are reasons why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was repeatedly predicting a breakout 2015 campaign for Gausman this winter.

Counting the postseason and his minor-league work, Gausman pitched 166 2/3 innings last year and is aiming to approach the 200-inning mark this season. The overwhelming sentiment shared by teammates and coaches alike is that it’s only a matter of Gausman gaining experience and being himself to realize his full potential that many believe is becoming a top-of-the-rotation starter one day.

“He’s got a great head on his shoulders and he’s got the arm,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “It’s just a matter of trusting the process and letting it all play out. I think we get in trouble when we try and force things and then some anxiety sets in. As long as you keep letting the process play out and trust what you’re doing, he’s going to have a good chance to succeed.”

Gausman acknowledges not yet being a finished product as he’d like to improve a slider that’s been little more than a “show-me” pitch in his first two major league seasons. Often picking the brains of teammates about how they throw their own versions of the pitch, Gausman is sticking with the same grip he used last season and feels he’s had some success with it when working in relief the last two years.

Primarily relying on throwing his power fastball down in the zone while mixing in a wicked split-change, Gausman threw his slider just 7.2 percent of the time last season. Some also believe the right-hander needs to mix in more high fastballs to induce more swinging strikes — his 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings rate in 2014 was rather ordinary for a pitcher with his impressive stuff — but Gausman allowed only seven home runs in 113 1/3 innings, an improvement from the eight he allowed in 47 2/3 innings in 2013.

The continued development of a third pitch — either the slider or a circle changeup he mixed in 3.7 percent of the time last season — would go a long way in not only cementing Gausman’s place in the Baltimore rotation but establishing him as one of the better pitchers in the AL.

“One thing that nobody realizes is I don’t throw [the slider] very much, so I don’t get those reps as much as I should,” Gausman said. “That’s one thing I wanted to focus on this [spring] is throwing it a little bit more and kind of get that feedback from hitters. This is when you get your work in and your bullpens. You get to work on stuff that normally during the season you’re not going to work on. Just refining those things and making sure that I’m as ready as can be for Opening Day and beyond that.”

Gausman hopes he’s landed in the major leagues for good — his performance in 2014 supports that argument — but a crowded starting rotation that includes Ubaldo Jimenez and the three years that remain of his $50 million contract could complicate matters. No stranger to the Baltimore-to-Norfolk express over the last two years, Gausman and fellow starter Miguel Gonzalez both have a minor-league option remaining, which means either could land in Triple A depending on how manager Buck Showalter elects to handle his pitching staff.

Either pitcher could also land in the bullpen to begin the season while the Orioles try to maximize their return on Jimenez, who lost his rotation spot in the second half of 2014 despite making $11.25 million in his first season in Baltimore.

Even if Gausman heads north as a member of the staff in April, he knows there’s a good chance he’ll find himself optioned to Norfolk at some point during the season. It’s just the way Showalter and the Orioles operate in trying to keep their bullpen healthy for a 162-game marathon even though the young pitcher credits being able to get into a regular routine of pitching every fifth day as a major reason for his success in the second half last season.

“It’s just a part of it. Talking with other guys – [Chris] Tillman, [Brian] Matusz, guys like that – they’ve all gone through it,” Gausman said. “I don’t take it personally at all. At first, I kind of used to, but then I realized it’s a business and it’s all about winning and protecting those guys out of the bullpen. If we have everybody throw in one game and go into extras and we need to option somebody to bring up a healthy arm, it’s probably going to be me. That’s just something I’ve come to realize. The more you kind of just deal with it yourself, you don’t have to deal with it when it comes up.”

As many pundits have pointed to the offseason departures of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and top reliever Andrew Miller as reasons why the Orioles won’t succeed in defending their AL East title, Gausman and others have taken exception to the way the pitching staff has been overlooked after finishing third in the AL in team ERA last season.

The Orioles remind doubters that they already had one of the best bullpens in the league and were in first place before they acquired Miller at the end of July.

But Gausman blossoming into a top starting pitcher this season would go a long way in improving Baltimore’s chances of advancing to the playoffs for the third time in four years.

“People forget how good we were before Miller got here,” Gausman said. “Our bullpen was one of the best in baseball before we even had him. We’re very confident in that. Us starting pitchers, we had a great season last year.

“I think we kind of finally put ourselves on the map — maybe put a little bit of a target on our back now. But that’s just something you deal with when you have success.”

Based on the success he’s already had in his young career, Gausman will be perfectly fine with that target.

You can listen to my entire chat with Gausman from Sarasota HERE.

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