SARASOTA, Fla. - Anyone complaining about college kids storming the court after a big win should be punched in the throat. No exceptions.
They’re not overturning cars near the visitor’s bench. They’re jumping up and down after their team’s upset victory. If that upsets you, give me your address so I can stand on your lawn.
The Orioles may finally announce the signing of infielder Everth Cabrera today to a one-year, $2.4 million contract. And manager Buck Showalter may finally be able to speak openly about the newest addition to his camp roster.
Unless Cabrera is walking to Sarasota, he should have no trouble arriving at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. He already took his physical. Let’s get this competition started.
The Orioles didn’t schedule any bullpen sessions yesterday, but the mounds will be occupied this afternoon.
Reliever Tommy Hunter was satisfied with his first session a couple of days ago.
“I felt great,” he said. “Short, quick, efficient. The ball came out a little bit. Good first day.”
Hunter high-fived Ubaldo Jimenez after the veteran’s session.
“He’ll be all right,” Hunter said. “He’s a professional and he’s been around for a while, so he’ll figure it out. He’s a pretty good ballplayer.”
Jimenez is involved in another competition in camp - six starters for five spots. The bullpen also looks crowded.
“There’s a lot of players in camp,” Hunter said. “It’s the first week. Happens every year. There are a few spots and a lot of guys. It’s a good problem to have, I’d assume, from an organizational standpoint. Sitting in here, you’ve kind of got to look in the mirror and say, ‘What the (heck) am I going to be doing on this team?’ You know?
“It’s a great problem for them. Look around. It’s going to be a tough camp. You really don’t want it any other way. If you’re not pushing yourself at this point, you’re falling behind. There’s a lot of guys in here to push you. It’s healthy, it’s good competition. I’d say it gives you a little bit of an upper edge over somebody that doesn’t really have competition in camp.
“That’s what they brought in and that’s what we were talking about during that minicamp. There’s a standard put in this place and guys are reaching high. Go look in that weight room. It’s pretty wild in there right now. I have to wait for guys to get out just to get in. We’re excited. It’s going to be a fun year. It always is, right? It’s going to be interesting. See what happens.”
Steve Pearce didn’t arrive in camp with a different mindset after setting career-highs across the board and solidifying his placement on the 25-man roster.
“No,” he said. “Still ready to work and preparing for the season. Nothing has changed on that part.”
Pearce said it took a while for the accomplishments last season to “sink in” for him.
“For me, last year was so fun for what we accomplished as a team, not just my individual stats,” he said. “How we surprised people like nobody said we’d do. When I look back on it, that was probably the best for me.”
Showalter has mentioned how Pearce graduated last year from bench player to someone who proved he could become a regular presence in the lineup.
“Just a chance to show what I could do last year and getting the opportunity and seizing it,” Pearce said. “It’s been a long road for me on that part, but I’m just glad that I got the chance.”
Pearce is aware of the subtractions from the clubhouse, including outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz, but he scans the room and still sees a contender.
“We’ve got a great team,” he said. “We have great adds this year and we can compete. You look around the locker room and there’s a lot of talent here. All our pitching has returned, so we still have a really good team.
“It definitely stinks to lose those guys - lose Markakis, what he brought to the clubhouse, and Cruz, what he brought to the field. But we’ve got to move on.”
And ignore the experts picking them to finish last in the division.
“We like it,” Pearce said. “I like when we get to go out there and surprise people. That’s what gets me showing up to the park.”
Third baseman Manny Machado, playing with new knees after two surgeries, said it was exciting to see the clubhouse filled with teammates on the date that position players were due to report to camp.
“It’s family to us,” he said. “We’re all excited to be here. I’m excited for myself to go out there and be part of a team again.”
Machado reported early and already saw most of his teammates who also were eager to get started
“It’s been a week already that a bunch of guys have been here,” he said. “That’s a good sign for us. It’s just exciting to see everybody in here with one goal - to go out there, play, hopefully make this team and continue moving forward.”
Showalter explained the Orioles’ decision in November to re-sign pitcher Oliver Drake and give him a major league deal, putting him on the 40-man roster for the second time in his career.
Drake, chosen in the 43rd round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of the Naval Academy, went 2-4 with a 3.08 ERA and an Eastern League-leading 31 saves in 50 appearances with Double-A Bowie. He walked 17 and struck out 71 in 52 2/3 innings.
Drake’s 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings were the best single-season mark in his seven-year minor league career. He also held hitters to a .214/.278/.297 slash line in 210 plate appearances.
Showalter said the Orioles’ decision to hand Drake, 28, a major league deal wasn’t driven by concerns that another team might sign him or claim him in the Rule 5 draft.
“We get to the point where you don’t care what everybody else might think,” he said. “If you like him and you want to keep him and you think he can impact you, you put him on the roster and take it all out of play.
“It was pretty simple. Our people in Double-A and everybody who had him said he’s back, physically good, and was as good a relief pitcher as there was in that league. I like the opportunity. I throw out the age part of it. He was a late sign from the Academy and we want to be real sure we don’t miss on somebody from the Academy.”
Mike Wright could be the first man up this season if the Orioles need a starter, depending on who breaks camp with the team.
Wright seemed to be headed for a lost season at Triple-A Norfolk before posting a 0.95 ERA over his last seven starts. He gave up one earned runs in 29 2/3 innings over his final four appearances.
“Last year was definitely a learning year for me,” said Wright, 25, a third-round pick in 2011 out of East Carolina. “I had all those starts where I didn’t win a game. Most of them were my fault. But I did absolutely learn from it.
“I was trying to do a little bit too much and trying to become someone I wasn’t, and at the end of the year I sat down with my pitching coach, Mike Griffin, and (catcher) Brian Ward and kind of went back to the basics of what I had done my whole career up until then. And went back to having fun and just relaxing and pitching.
“I felt like it was such a simple answer and I struggled all year to find it, and finally when it came to me and clicked, it was just an eye-opening experience. It was just a great feeling to finally finish the season strong.”
Wright went 11-3 with a 3.26 ERA in 26 starts at Bowie, but the International League brought a whole new set of challenges, leaving him with a 5-11 record and 4.62 ERA in 26 games.
“There are a lot of guys in Double-A who are still trying to figure out who they are as a hitter or what they want to accomplish at the plate, and at the Triple-A level, top to bottom pretty much everybody knows exactly what they need to do and exactly how to execute,” Wright said. “You have your power hitters and then you have your average hitters and they don’t try to be anyone else and so they really have a clue what they’re trying to do at the plate.”
Wright admits that confidence became an issue.
“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “Last year was definitely a struggle, probably one of the first times I actually doubted whether or not I could pitch, but it was because I was starting to become somebody that... For whatever reason, I decided to change and I know I’m not the first person to ever try to do that, but I was very happy that I decided to just go back to having fun and relaxing, and my confidence came back.”
His finish could have been more glorious if not for Durham’s Mikie Mahtook breaking up two no-hit bids. Wright came within a strike in one game and two outs in another.
“He tore us up all year,” Wright said. “He’s a fantastic hitter and as many times as I can go back and think about what I could have done different, when I was pitching I executed the pitch I wanted to execute. The first time was a high fastball and he just got the barrel on it, and the next time was a fastball about six inches to a foot in. Both of them were balls and he got wood on both of them.
“Me and him play together on a summer ball team in college on the Cape, so we were teammates and we knew each other before, and I also saw him at a camp earlier. He said, ‘I don’t know how it happened. You dominated me all day.’ That’s just how the ball falls. That’s baseball.”
Wright figures to stay in Norfolk’s rotation, but he could transition into a late-inning relief role. His fastball can reach the mid-to-upper 90s in short spurts and it’s got a heavy sink.
“I think that would definitely be an adjustment for sure,” he said, “but an adjustment that I’m willing to take the challenge on and try.”