A healthy Hobgood returns to the mound at camp but will begin 2013 in a bullpen role

SARASOTA, Fla. - After pitching just 37 innings total the last two seasons and coming off shoulder surgery last April 2, Orioles 2009 first-round draft pick Matt Hobgood is scheduled to begin this season pitching out of the bullpen.

"We want to see that velocity come back and I think we'll use him out of the bullpen," O's director of player development Brian Graham said Tuesday at Twin Lakes Park. "He's got to be a guy that pitches as often as we can get him in there and he's got to throw strikes and we hope to see the velocity we saw when we signed him.

"He was drafted in the position he was because of that velocity. I think as a bullpen guy, you'll see better velocity out of him and we'll see what happens. I think it's an important year for him to stay healthy and continue to get stronger and also pitch well."

Graham said there is a good chance that the 22-year-old Hobgood will head to Salisbury come opening day.

"We hope he breaks with a club and it would be Delmarva," Graham said. "Go there and pitch out of the bullpen. He's not necessarily limited, it is just a matter of what is best for him. I'm hoping he'll have some two-inning and 2 1/3-inning outings and be a 50- or 60-pitch guy."

So is Hobgood's future in the bullpen or is this move just temporary?

"At this point, it's to get him back on the mound and also to build his arm strength up and to see the velocity come back. He's got a better chance of maintaining velocity out of the bullpen than he does as a starter," Graham said.

As for Hobgood, he has taken another step in his comeback from surgery, by taking the mound twice now in minor league spring training games.

His velocity will need further time to fully return but it is expected to. For now, the right-hander is just excited that when he takes the mound he is not worrying about dealing with soreness anymore.

"Yes, yeah no more pain. It's a relief. Instead of being out there thinking about your arm, you're out there trying to get hitters out and make good pitches," he said.

Hobgood did just that Monday, pitching a scoreless inning against a Tampa Bay Single-A club as he pitched around a one-out triple.

He is fast closing in on the one-year anniversary date of his surgery performed last April 2 by Dr. Craig Morgan of Wilmington, Del.

"The arm feels great," Hobgood said. "The velocity is not there obviously, but Dr. Morgan has told me many times that the velocity is going to take some time. He told me a year and a half (from the surgery date). But as long as my arm feels good, that is pretty much all that matters to me. I'm going to give up some hits and be a little rough around the edges to start. But if my arm feels good and the ball is moving, that is pretty much all I can ask for in spring."

As for that mid-90s velocity he showed in high school, he remains confident it will be there again at some point after pitching between 88 and 90 mph in his two spring outings.

"It's just a matter of time. (Dr. Morgan) said a year and a half. April 2 is one year out of surgery," Hobgood said. "If I pitch at 88 to 90 the whole year, that's a possibility. I don't know where I'll be come July, August, September. But the number one goal for me is just for my arm to feel good."

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