Hammel on the hump

SARASOTA, Fla. - Finally.

Jason Hammel will make his first Grapefruit League start of 2013 today when the Pittsburgh Pirates visit Ed Smith Stadium. Call off the search.

The last time we checked, he was throwing in the indoor batting cage Tuesday while high winds swirled around the complex, with "hitters" tracking pitches. It was like batting practice, except without any real batting.

Today, opposing hitters will be swinging for the fences.

Hammel's right knee is fine. It's not like he was shut down through the end of last season. He started in the playoffs. He's been telling reporters all winter, and again in spring training, that he's good physically. But the World Baseball Classic is complicating pitching schedules, and the Orioles are easing Hammel into spring competition.

It's time to loosen the shackles.

Mike Wright is the only other confirmed pitcher for today. The rest of the list will be available once the media reports to the complex.

Wei-Yin Chen makes his debut on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, and Miguel Gonzalez makes his debut on Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies in Sarasota.

Remember them?

"It's been a while, Gonzalez said. "I didn't go to winter ball this year, so it's a little different than it was last year.

"I try to do the same thing I've always done. Go to the hot tub, do what I've got to do. Shoulder program or whatnot, to prepare myself to perform. That's what I usually do. I don't do much, anything different."

Gonzalez still isn't assuming that he has a spot secured in the rotation. He's got minor league options. Nothing is guaranteed, though he would have to pitch his way out of a job.

"I think everyone has to do what they have to do to earn their spot," he said. "We can't really think about what's out there or what other guys are doing. Just got to do what you've got to do, and try to do your best."

Gonzalez will have to wait a few more days. It's Hammel's turn.

Finally.

Interesting note on Kevin Gausman, who allowed a run and struck out two batters yesterday in two innings in Fort Myers.

Gausman used to be timed between 1.5-1.7 seconds to home plate. Now he's around 1.2. He made the adjustment after signing his contract with the Orioles, knowing the importance of being quicker if he's going to have success in the majors.

The kid does more than just throw hard. He gets it.

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