By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun
5:42 PM PST, March 6, 2012
FORT MYERS, Fla. —
Three critical cogs of the Orioles' pitching staff spent Tuesday morning on the back fields of the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
While the Orioles' travel squad was on its way to Fort Myers to play the Boston Red Sox for an afternoon game at JetBlue Park, right-hander Tommy Hunter, left-hander Zach Britton and right-hander Jim Johnson — all rehabilitating injuries this spring — participated in a simulated game in Sarasota.
For the trio, this was their first time pitching in game scenarios. Hitters Jon Hester, Jai Miller, Nick Markakis and special assistant Brady Anderson served as hitters but rarely swung.
Hunter, battling lower-back stiffness, threw 37 pitches — mostly fastballs — over two innings after taking four days off. As planned, he will throw three innings in Sunday's "B" game.
"Everything felt really good. The back is not an issue," Hunter said. "After taking those four days off, I felt a lot better. I felt pretty strong with it. This next bullpen [session] is going to be pretty fun. I'll start mixing all my pitches in and see where they are."
Britton, on a throwing progression the entire spring for left-shoulder inflammation, threw 15 pitches in one inning. He tested all his pitches, and it was just the second time he tried throwing off-speed pitches.
"I was actually pretty surprised," Britton said. "It was good. I feel a lot more fresh, too, because I've kind of been on a slow progression, so getting on a mound, it felt really lively. I know I'm going to have a few more days off before I get into a game, so I think it'll be good. I'm real happy with it."
He will throw at least one more bullpen session between now and Sunday's "B" game, in which he's slated to throw two innings.
"I still need to sharpen them [his pitches] before I get into an actual game," Britton said. "In the bullpen, the adrenaline was pumping. But out there, it was nice and easy."
Johnson, who has been held back because of lower-back discomfort, also threw one inning (17 pitches) and was working on his mechanics in the outing.
"It feels good," he said. "It feels a lot better today mechanically. I felt like I was repeating my delivery pretty good. There's still a lot left in the tank as far as velocity, but it was definitely a good step. When I get to where I'm comfortable with my delivery and I can repeat it, that's the big focus right now. Then the velocity will start coming more."
Johnson said he tried to throw a few curveballs, which was different with batters in the box.
"It's a different look," said Johnson, who said he will pitch in another simulated game before possibly pitching in a live game Sunday. "It went good."
Markakis, who is recovering from offseason abdominal surgery, swung at one of Johnson's pitches for a line drive up the middle, then walked out of the batter's box, turned to manager Buck Showalter and said, "I'm ready."
"Go on and head up to Baltimore and I'll see you there," Showalter joked.
Anderson hit a liner down the first base line off Hunter, then ripped another ball into right-center field.
"I'm more worried about starting to get my location and not giving up hits to Brady Anderson," Hunter said afterward.
It was Chris Tillman's first spring outing in Tuesday's 5-4 loss to the Red Sox, but the Orioles right-hander was disappointed in his three-run third inning that gave Boston a 4-0 lead.
The Red Sox took advantage of a one-out throwing error by Ryan Flaherty that put runners at first and third. Tillman then gave up three run-scoring hits: a double to Adrian Gonzalez, a single to Ryan Lavarnway and a double to Cody Ross.
After his outing, Tillman took the blame.
"Errors happen," he said. "It's my job to do damage control. It's on me there. You got to make better pitches down in the zone. Physically, I felt really good. Obviously, the pitches weren't there. It just a matter of pulling back on the fastball a little bit — I was good in and out, but I was a little bit up in the zone."
Showalter was pleased with Tillman's recovery in the fourth, when he retired the Red Sox in order.
"Tilly is capable of better than that first inning, but he came back out there and made some adjustments and got some thing done," Showalter said. "At the major league level, we can't constantly be going through those adjustments. Sometime, you can't work your way back from that."
Lockermates trading grips
Newly acquired veteran relievers Matt Lindstrom and Luis Ayala have already begun comparing notes.
Lindstrom said Ayala, who pitched with the New York Yankees last year, has shown him a new slider grip he learned from Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. He was testing is in his first Grapefruit League outing Monday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"I think the big man himself showed Ayala," said Lindstrom, whose fastball was clocked in the mid-90s and slider at 87 on Monday. "It just allows me to get a little more speed on it. It looks like a fastball instead of a big looping slurve, curveball that I used to throw.
Lindstrom said the pitch is different from Rivera's trademark cutter.
"It's not really a cut fastball," he said. "It's a slider. That's just the way he showed me how to throw it. Not Mariano himself, but Ayala."
Other injury news
Left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada (left elbow inflammation) will throw long toss from 125 feet, then throw 25 pitches from a full mound Wednesday morning.
Right-hander Willie Eyre (groin) will throw a second full-mound bullpen session Wednesday, then is slated to participate in Sunday's "B" game.
"The biggest thing is getting the confidence that it's not hurting," Eyre said.
Around the horn
An online report saying Dennys Reyes still plans to pitch for the Orioles was news to the organization, which released the left-hander for failure to report to camp. Reyes told Puro Beisbol that he has a torn tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand and said he asked the team whether he could rehabilitate the injury in Mexico. … The Orioles signed 19-year-old Taiwanese left-hander Yi-Hsiang Lin, as reported first by Baseball America. … Ryan Wagner, the Orioles' new public-address announcer, will serve as PA announcer for Wednesday's home game against the Minnesota Twins. Wagner, a resident of the "MLB Fan Cave" last season, was selected for the Orioles' PA position from 670 applicants. … Orioles fan Carly Shulman, 15, a Hodgkin's lymphoma patient, will visit spring training Wednesday as part of the Casey Cares Foundation. She will attend the game against Minnesota, participate in batting practice and receive a tour of the Orioles' facility from left-hander Brian Matusz. ... MASN will air all but three of the Orioles' regular-season games in 2012, the network announced. Ninety-five games will be telecast on MASN and MASN HD and 64 will be aired on MASN2 and MASN2 HD, while the remaining three games will be shown on national networks. Gary Thorne and Jim Hunter will again share play-by-play duties for MASN. They will be joined by analysts Jim Palmer and Mike Bordick. MASN will simulcast 20 Orioles games on WJZ-TV (Ch. 13), including Opening Day and select weekend games.
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