SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles are off today, which means something is going on someplace else.
The Ed Smith Stadium complex is closed, but the real action will take place over at Twin Lake Park, where Wei-Yin Chen is scheduled to pitch five innings in a Single-A game. I’ll try to control my breathing.
Chen is tucked away at the minor league complex again so he can build up his innings and pitch count in a controlled environment, one that doesn’t include a division rival that’s taking notes.
This will be my second visit to Twin Lakes Park this spring. I stopped by during another off-day and checked on, among others, infielder-turned-pitcher Mychal Givens, who had thrown his first bullpen session since making the conversion.
Givens, 22, hadn’t thrown off a mound since the state championship game during his senior year at Plant High School in Tampa.
“Felt pretty good,” he said. “It’s not like I didn’t do it before. It’s natural to me, so it felt great. I just have to get back into it and start hitting my spots and get comfortable again.”
The Orioles finally made the decision to convert Givens after he batted .243/.330/.306 in 100 games last summer at Single-A Delmarva.
“They’ve been keeping it in mind since I actually started playing, about pitching,” said Givens, selected in the second round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. “That’s been in my back pocket, so it wasn’t like it was a surprise thing. They’ve been talking to me about it here every year. But right now, they think I can be a pitcher in the organization, so it’s all good.
“In high school, I just did it off my athletic ability and I had great coaching, but now I’ve got a lot of minor league and major league experience and they can help me tweak some stuff. I had good stuff in high school, but now I feel that I’ve got great coaches behind me and will make myself a lot better and make me feel more comfortable to get hitters out.”
Rick Peterson, the Orioles’ director of pitching development, is working to straighten Givens’ torso on his delivery so that his fastball isn’t flat.
“I think it’s going to give him a better angle in the strike zone,” Peterson said. “Also, it’s a health issue, especially because the harder you throw, the more difficult it is and the more challenging it is to make sure you’re technique is efficient.”
I suggested to Givens that he could have an advantage with his past experience as a hitter. He may be able to figure out what the opposing batter is looking for in certain situations. Put himself in their place.
“I think I’ve got an upside to that because I’ve been hitting my whole life and got to hit in the minor leagues and got to be around a lot of Double-A guys and got to go to Australia against a lot of big leaguers over there, and I got to face them and understand what they’re thinking, too,” he said. “Now I’m thinking on both sides, as a hitter and a pitcher, and hopefully I can use that and get hitters out.
“The biggest obstacle is getting back in pitcher’s shape instead of coming in and being ready as an infielder. It’s an obstacle to get your legs strong and get your stamina and go deep in games.”
Givens doesn’t know whether he’s preparing to join a rotation or be a reliever.
“They told me to come in early and check me out throwing bullpens,” he said. “They haven’t decided yet, as a starter, as a a reliever, but either way, I feel confident that I can help, whether it’s coming out of the bullpen or as a starter. It’s going to be a good experience. And it’s not like I haven’t done it before. It’s not a big thing. I’ve done it before and they have confidence in me that I can go out there and do it again.”
Givens dismissed the idea that this transformation is a new beginning for him. Sounded good.
“You always look at it as taking it one step at a time,” he said. “As an infielder, I just went through a lot of injuries and it didn’t help me. My first year, messing up my thumb and just trying to overcome that, that was a hard thing. I had great coaches, but it just wasn’t working out. Right now, I’m trying to focus on pitching and getting better, and hopefully make it to the big leagues as soon as possible.”