Winning three of their last four games doesn’t make the Orioles wish they could skip today’s off-day. It’s not even close.
They’re embracing it the way Sidney Ponson treats “National Doughnut Day.”
The Orioles hadn’t found an open date on their schedule since May 18, giving them 22 games over the past 21 days, including the makeup doubleheader on May 28 against the White Sox.
A reminder that left-hander Brian Matusz is serving an eight-game suspension, not an eight-day suspension. He’s got five games remaining on it.
Matusz is making good use of his free time. He flew down to Sarasota for extended spring training and struck out six batters in two innings on Saturday.
Vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson is in Sarasota to check on Matusz and players who are rehabbing injuries.
“Brian was sharp,” Anderson said yesterday. “He was throwing 92 mph. It was good.”
Matusz is disappointed, to put it mildly, that Major League Baseball upheld his suspension while reducing Will Smith’s to six games. Matusz was hoping that all eight games would be removed following his hearing last week in Houston.
“You have a choice when something like that happens,” Anderson said. “Brian, unlike the others here, isn’t hurt. With his pitching schedule in the big leagues, he hasn’t thrown a lot. We haven’t seen a lot of left-handed bats. We’ve seen a lot of right-handed lineups. Brian hasn’t thrown a ton in the big leagues, so he has an opportunity to come down here and work and have multi-inning outings. Work on things that he can bring back to the big leagues.
“He can say, ‘I got suspended, I got screwed,’ or he can say, ‘This is my fate and how can I get better?’ And I think that’s the mindset we want to instill.”
Matusz is 1-2 with a 3.44 ERA and 1.527 WHIP in 17 appearances, with 17 hits allowed, 11 walks, 14 strikeouts and two hit batters in 18 1/3 innings. He’s experienced a few significant gaps between appearances, going from April 25 to May 5 and May 10 to May 19 without pitching.
“He needs to work, he needs to pitch,” Anderson said. “And he’s going to pitch well.”
Manager Buck Showalter wanted Anderson in Sarasota to check on second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who’s playing in extended spring games while recovering from a Grade 1 partial posterior cruciate ligament tear and a medial collateral ligament sprain in his right knee. Anderson intended to meet up with the team in Cleveland, but the decision was made to stay at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
“Jonathan’s really important, but all of our guys are important, all 25 are important,” Anderson said. “Schoop is one of our eight starters, so you make priorities with certain players. He’s such a huge part of our team, as all of our starters are.
“We’ve got a really good medical staff, a really good training staff and a really good strength staff. I guess we need to make a collaborative effort with these guys to make sure they’re getting everything they need, the individual attention, and if they’re not progressing as quickly as they should, give them more. If they’re progressing too quickly, back them off a bit. You have sensible discussions about certain players and their injuries and you can get a lot better outcome.”
The Orioles remain encouraged by Schoop’s progress.
“Schoop is pain-free,” Anderson said. “He’s moving better every day since I’ve been down here to make sure he gets his at-bats without having to sit around the field for three or four hours, so he can do his individual work. He had 10 at-bats four days ago and was 0-for-4, then four for his next six. A home run, a line drive double, two line drive singles. He had to score from second base on one of them. And Friday he got eight more plate appearances and went 3-for-5 with three walks, so he’s getting his at-bats, which is really important, and he’s getting them in a short period of time, so he’s not standing around.”
“He does his strength work, sprint work, agility work. He comes out and does baseball work and plays games in the morning, and then we bring him back out at 5 o’clock when it’s a little cooler and train him some more. He’s doing real well, but it’s an injury you’ve got to be really careful with. He probably initially damaged it getting taken out at second base (at Fenway Park), but the final injury was a non-contact injury. He’s a guy with a big future and he’s really young and the organization is doing everything it can to take care of him.”
Schoop is getting ample work at the plate, but he still isn’t playing second base in games.
“His defensive work that’s done is more controlled, and you get more work done in a controlled environment,” Anderson said. “He takes 25-50 ground balls, he takes BP, he does a lot of running. We push him so can control it where the stakes aren’t really high.
“You don’t have the luxury of easing into the big leagues. The day you go there you’ve got to be ready, and especially because of his injury. If it’s a strained hamstring or quad, sure, you can limp around. We’ve all done it. You have to do it. But this is just an injury where it requires extra care.”
The Orioles know that a complete tear and surgery would cost Schoop the rest of this season and a large chunk of 2016. They’re not taking any chances with him.
“He was slowed down, not sped up,” Anderson said. “He was scheduled to be playing in games last Saturday and we backed off that. We increased his training and things that we can control and backed off actual games. But he’s getting more at-bats than he would have.
“He’s working hard and he’s happy with his progress. He seems to be commenting on everything. He feels better.”
Schoop has appeared in only nine games, going 7-for-27 with a double, three home runs, seven RBIs, a walk and six strikeouts. Anderson expressed confidence that Schoop will return before the All-Star break that begins July 13.
“I hate predicting,” Anderson said. “If it’s a hamstring, you can get pretty accurate time predictions, but with Schoop it’s a little different. You have to judge what the doctors say, what the trainers say, what you see with your own eyes and what the athlete says.
“I can tell you this, I certainly think he’s going to be back before five weeks from now. We’re hoping for better than that. There’s no doubt about that. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’ll be back in less than five weeks.”
What do the Orioles need to see from Schoop before returning him to the active roster?
“Complete 100 percent confidence in his sprinting, hitting first base from home to first, cutting from first to second on a double, rounding the bases, taking ground balls where he can go in one direction full speed, stop and redirect without being tentative,” Anderson said.
“You don’t want to reinjure him and if he can’t do those things, he can’t perform at the major league level at second base. He’s a Gold Glove-caliber defender and if you don’t have your agility skills, your strength skills, he’s no longer that and you’re not getting that player anymore.
“We want to take care of all of our players. When you watch him hit right now, you’re like, ‘Get him back in the lineup.’ Watch him run in a straight line and he’s pretty good. Just not quite there yet. And with the injury he had, you don’t think he would be expected to be.”
Reliever Wesley Wright, on the disabled list with a strained left trapezius, touched 89 mph with his fastball on Saturday.
“He’s getting better, as well,” Anderson said, adding that Wright is nearing an injury rehab assignment.
“I think he’s getting close. I talked to Wesley about the things he felt while pitching. As far as the rehab assignment and when he goes out, that will be decided. I haven’t gotten specifics with that from Dan (Duquette) or Buck, when it’s going to happen, but he should be pretty close.”
Anderson also said Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia, on the DL with tendinitis in his right shoulder, is making good progress.
“He says he feels a lot better,” Anderson said. “He’s pretty pain-free now.”
Note: The First-Year Player Draft begins tonight at 7 p.m. with the first round through the Competitive Balance Round B. The Orioles have four of the first 102 picks - 25, 36, 68 and 102.
Check back here later, and also be sure to read Steve Melewski’s blog on MASNsports.com. He’s been busy as usual checking with team officials and outside sources to get a better read on the draft.