SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles sent Brian Matusz, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman, Steve Johnson, Eddie Gamboa, Oliver Drake and Dane De La Rosa to the minor league complex at Twin Lakes Park today to throw live batting practice.
Manager Buck Showalter said the six catchers in camp each will be behind the plate for two innings in Sunday’s 1 p.m. instrasquad game on the Ed Smith Stadium field.
I wrote earlier today that Chris Davis worked out in right field. In addition, Jonathan Schoop and Jimmy Paredes took ground balls at shortstop.
Davis provided a reminder of his athleticism with his smooth transition to the outfield.
“That’s one of the reasons I put him out there,” Showalter said. “He also did a nice job for us at third base. This is the versatility and maneuverability it gives us. This is kind of what we have to be able to do, but we’re only going to do it if they can present themselves well defensively, and he can. I think he’s as good a right fielder as he is a first baseman, and we know that he has plenty of arm.
“Steve Pearce played a good outfield for us last year. Both of those guys at first, right and left I feel comfortable playing them. Probably Stevie a little more in left, but I have no doubt that Chris could pick that up if he had to.”
Dariel Alvarez will stay in the outfield, where he continues to show off a plus-throwing arm that attracts the attention of coaches and his teammates.
The Orioles signed Alvarez to a $800,000 bonus in July 2013, six months after he defected from the Cuban National Team. He batted a combined .306/.330/.472 with 37 doubles, three triples, 15 home runs and 87 RBIs in 135 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.
Union president Tony Clark said earlier today there have been “ongoing discussions” about playing exhibition games in Cuba, according to the Associated Press. Clark added that there were conversations about Cuba hosting games this spring, but there wasn’t enough time to finalize the details.
The Orioles have discussed going back to Cuba, where they played an exhibition game in 1999. Alvarez, 26, hopes to be on the roster if they can work it out next spring.
“It’s such a dream come true,” he said today through an interpreter, Orioles batting practice pitcher and bullpen catcher Rudy Arias, who’s also a native of Cuba.
“I’d love to go back to Cuba and show my family, especially coming with the Baltimore Orioles as a baseball player.”
This is Alvarez’s first major league camp and he isn’t overwhelmed by the experience. He’s faced much tougher challenges just getting to the U.S. and starting a new life.
“I’m real happy. All the coaches are helping me a lot and pushing me to get better,” he said.
“In my mindset, I’m coming here to make the team. I’m working as hard as I can to impress the coaches.”
Playing baseball in the U.S. and moving up to the Triple-A level has been a learning experience for Alvarez, who appeared in 10 games at Single-A Frederick and nine at Bowie in 2013.
“Baseball is baseball, but in Cuba it’s a little bit different,” he said. “Over here there’s more perfection to it - defense, throwing to the right base, running the bases well. Those are little things I’ve learned that I didn’t know over there. Over there it’s all playing.”
The transition off the field may present the greatest challenge. Showalter pointed out that Alvarez needs to improve his command of the English language. Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia, who signed with the Orioles in July 2012, has volunteered to serve as an interpreter.
“I’m here because of my family,” Alvarez said. “There’s a big difference from Cuba. I’ve got all my family there and I’m trying to make the best of it here being a baseball player.
“I understand English, but my thing is speaking it, but I’m learning to pick up a lot of words. I’m learning with my wife. She’s teaching me at night. We’re reading books and stuff.”
Alvarez’s locker is next to Urrutia’s, and that wasn’t done by accident.
“It doesn’t hurt at all,” Showalter said.”What’s funny is, Henry’s English is far ahead of Dariel’s and he’s actually interpreted for me sometimes. Every word I say has to be interpreted. I hope that improves. It’s going to have to improve. It’s going to help him.”
Said Alvarez: “Henry’s been here a year before me and I’ve picked up a lot of things that I’ve got to look for as far as baseball is concerned and how you live outside of baseball with your family and how to behave.”
No one needs to teach Alvarez how to throw a baseball. The whistling sound it makes as it slices through the air could cause factories to break for lunch.
“It’s something natural that came to me,” he said. “I was born with this arm and I’ve always used it in Cuba. I don’t care if it’s an empty or full stadium, I’m going to show off my arm because that’s the way I’ve played since I was a little boy.”
Showalter said Alvarez is the one player in camp “we haven’t had much reps or anything with.”
“I don’t think we’re going to base what he’s going to be the rest of his career just on spring training,” Showalter said. “He really came on last year. There are a couple publications that don’t even mention him as a prospect for us, which tells you about those prognostications. We chuckle about some of them.”
Alvarez and his teammates wore the orange LUNGevity t-shirts today in memory of former Orioles public relations director Monica Pence Barlow.
Barlow’s mother, Ramona, sent the Orioles a note that now hangs outside the prep room. It reads:
“Thank each of you for your support and acknowledgement of our daughter. Monica loved her job, the team and life! Buck is not only manager of the year, but he is a great caring person. Listen to him. Just like Monica, love your job, the team, and life. More importantly, love and value your relationships, especially your family. That is Monica’s true legacy. We will be expecting a great year ahead. “
Showalter is making sure that every player sees it.
“It’s not just today that you think of her,” Showalter said.
Closer Zach Britton said it’s hard to believe that Barlow passed away a year ago.
“It’s crazy how time flies with everything that we have going on, but I think that it’s a good reminder that we continue to do this,” Britton said, still wearing his t-shirt while sitting at his locker after the workout. “You see in situation where guys will do it for a year and you feel like you forget, and I think it’s a good reminder for everyone to never forget about Monica and what she did for everybody here. And especially a lot of the new guys asking questions about Monica, and we’re able to tell some stories. Hopefully, that will bring even more awareness to LUNGevity and maybe even raise more funds for that.”
Showalter talked about Monica first while addressing the team this morning.
“We had a nutrition meeting today, and before that started he mentioned to everybody what today was,” Britton said. “I don’t think too many of us needed a reminder, but for the new guys he mentioned that we were going to wear these shirts today. It was a quick overview or whatever about who Monica was, just for everyone who didn’t know her.
“I think he kept it short just because he didn’t want to get into too much emotion, because everyone knows it’s a tough thing to talk about. Every day there’s always a reminder of Monica. Every time we come to the field especially, everything that we’ve got going on.”
As for today’s workout, Showalter said it’s evident that players are ready for the games to start.
“We usually have one day toward the end before we play games - maybe it was the weather - but it just seemed like an unbalanced day, an uneven day,” he said. “There were some things we were good at and some things we weren’t. You kind of get to the point where, ‘OK, we’ve done all this stuff so many times.’
“We only have one team fundamental left to do. There was one today. We did first and third today. You have to do them in a progression so the arms come at the end. That’s why I do cutoffs and relays last.”
And finally, Showalter feigned panic when reminded again that the prognosticators continue to pick the Orioles near or at the bottom of the division. FanGraphs predicted that the Orioles will win 79 games and finish last.
“What do they know that I don’t know?” he quipped. “Actually, I kind of like it. It kind of fits us. I appreciate them helping us. They’re basing a lot of that on acquisitions and payroll.
“Do they go back and look at their lists to see how wrong they were? I don’t care whether they pick us first, second or last.”