SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — The dark clouds, swirling winds and threat of severe thunderstorms seemed like an appropriate backdrop Sunday for the Baltimore Orioles’ first workout for pitchers and catchers.
The forecast for their 2012 season is bleak, and there’s no clarity to their plans for the starting rotation.
It’s going to be a wide-open competition, especially after the Orioles traded Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies earlier this month.
“We have a lot of guys we haven’t seen firsthand a lot, so that’s going to be intriguing,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s just a matter of shaking it out. I’m looking forward to it. We have potential there and a lot of optional people if they can’t
do it. A lot of different ways to go. And there’s depth there. The big thing now is getting everybody healthy and ready to go.”
Starter Zach Britton and reliever Jim Johnson will be brought along slowly for health reasons. Britton is receiving treatment for inflammation in his left shoulder, but he’s thrown twice on flat ground since Thursday without experiencing any discomfort. Johnson is dealing with lower-back stiffness, but he threw on flat ground Sunday and will progress to a half-mound.
“I had a little problem in the offseason and went and saw a doctor and we’ve been working on it,” Johnson said. “Everything’s fine. I’ll just be a week behind schedule. It’s taken care of.”
Both pitchers are expected to be ready for opening day, though Britton isn’t assured of breaking camp with the team.
Two starting candidates, Taiwanese left-hander Wei-Yin Chen and Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, are getting acclimated to new surroundings in their first exposure to U.S. baseball. Showalter is prepared to make the necessary adjustments after managing Chan Ho Park and Koji Uehara.
“Part of managing those guys is understanding what they’ve done in the past, what they’ve been exposed to and understanding the changes they’re about to go through and trying to be sympathetic to a point, but also preparing them for seven day a week, 162-game season,” Showalter said.
Chen is being followed by a growing contingent of Taiwanese media, his every move closely scrutinized. Japanese media shot video of Wada tying his shoes at his locker Sunday morning.
Chen, who pitched four seasons in Japan before coming to the Orioles, could be the opening day starter or optioned to Triple-A Norfolk. None of the starters arrived in Sarasota with guarantees of seeing Camden Yards in April.
“I feel really good here,” Chen said through an interpreter. “It’s a beautiful ballpark and I’m really excited to be here. The
weather in Florida is beautiful. Not like in Japan because it’s so cold over there right now. I feel very comfortable to be here.
“I did a lot of early preparation in Arizona because I know American baseball is totally different than Japan. I will be ready before the season starts and I hope I can get in the rotation. I hope I can be here at least 10 years or longer. When I was in high school, a lot of my classmates and teammates went to the states to play baseball, so that’s always been my dream to play in the MLB.”
Pitcher Jason Hammel, acquired from the Rockies in the Guthrie trade, is accustomed to fighting for a roster spot. The competition in Orioles camp doesn’t faze him.
“That’s the way I approach every spring, whether I’ve got a seven-year deal or a one-year deal. It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of earning your places. Nothing should be given to you, so obviously I’m going in with the mindset of winning a job. It hasn’t been given to me.”
The same goes for 23-year-old Chris Tillman, who keeps shuttling between Baltimore and Norfolk.
“I think competition is what fuels everything,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun camp. I know I’m excited. I think that
goes for most people.”
The Orioles have 30 pitchers in camp (left-hander Ryan Edell is a no-show who’s contemplating retirement), so All-Star catcher Matt Wieters will stay busy.
“I’m going to have to try to soak in as much about these guys as I can as fast as possible,” he said. “It’s a little bit
different than in years past because almost every single one of these guys has a chance to make the team. They’re all fighting for a spot in that bullpen or rotation.”
Second baseman Brian Roberts, who didn’t play after May 16 last season because of concussion-like symptoms, lives in Sarasota and reported to camp early. He hasn’t met with reporters, but Showalter said the veteran leadoff hitter had a good look on his face and seemed upbeat.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)