Neshek brings new look to Orioles

SARASOTA, Fla. - I had laptop issues my first week here. Now I need a new phone.

I can’t wait to see what March brings.

My Blackberry is on its way out. I couldn’t text with half of the keys last night, it kept locking up on me and now the screen is so bright I can barely read it - probably from me smacking it as hard as I could out of frustration. Just a hunch.

The clubhouse is closed to the media this morning because the Orioles have some sort of meeting. They’ll take the field around 10 a.m. and spend at least 30 minutes stretching, jogging and playing catch. There also will be lots of standing around and talking.

I won’t be doing much texting.

Of all the pitchers who threw live batting practice yesterday, only Darren O’Day had to ditch the protective screen. His sidearm delivery makes it impossible to throw behind one.

Pat Neshek has it worse. He drops down even lower. His right leg also whips across his body. Limbs fly everywhere.

No one has designed a screen that can shield him.

Neshek, 31, didn’t always throw this way. A line drive smacked his right forearm during his senior year of high school, leaving a lump that’s still visible today. His arm slot had to be lowered from three-quarters for comfort reasons. He also moved to shortstop for a while before returning to the mound.

“I went to a specialist and I never got a definitive answer whether anything was broke, but it hurt all summer,” he said. “I tried to pitch and it was so painful, but when I went to short I’d throw sidearm. When it eventually stopped hurting and I got on the mound, it felt like I was three-quarters, but it was more sidearmed.”

The Twins drafted him twice - out of high school and Butler University. They saw both versions of Neshek and apparently liked him either way.

“It was hard the first year to get control,” he said. “The next year, I kind of got used to the ball coming out of my hand. The more I did it, the easier it was to throw strikes and easier to repeat. My coach at Butler, we tried to work on correcting my mechanics, and the ball was coming out like 92, somewhere in there. It was coming out with good velocity and was very deceptive. He was like, ‘Let’s run with this and see where it gets you.’ “

It got him pretty far in 2007. Neshek went 7-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 74 games with the Twins, but he underwent ligament-reconstructive surgery on his right elbow the following year, missed the 2009 season and spent most of 2010 on the disabled list and in the minors.

The Padres claimed Neshek off waivers last winter and designated him for assignment in August after 25 appearances. He signed a minor league contract with the Orioles on Jan. 30.

Hitters must have trouble picking up the ball and timing him.

“It’s really tough,” said shortstop J.J. Hardy, who tracked pitches from Neshek during the first live batting practice session, when hitters were instructed not to swing. “He kind of jumps at you. I don’t even know where the ball comes out now, even after I faced him for 12, 13 pitches. He can be really tough with his sinker. He throws a changeup from down there. He’s got a nice little slider. I’ve seen him with the Twins and I’ve seen a lot of hitters look stupid against him. He’s one of those guys who, if he’s throwing strikes, he can definitely get a lot of hitters out.”

It hasn’t happened with regularity since 2007. Neshek was healthy last year, but the Padres didn’t use him much before letting him go.

“The biggest thing was I just needed to pitch, to go out there and pitch back-to-back days. That’s what I’ve always done,” he said. “In 2010, I had a finger injury right in the middle of the season and I sat out a month and a half and kind of got behind there, and then last year I went to the Padres and they had such a good bullpen, it was hard to find innings.”

It isn’t hard to find Neshek during these workouts.

If you can find Ronny Paulino, please alert manager Buck Showalter, who’s been waiting impatiently for the catcher.

Paulino and pitcher Dennys Reyes are having visa issues and their lockers remain unoccupied. Paulino could report by the end of the week, but the Orioles aren’t as optimistic about Reyes.

At this point, they’d gladly settle for Paulino because of the concerns over their catching depth, but he’ll have some explaining to do. Showalter will be a tough audience.

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