Berken comes out of the shadows

4 scoreless innings Friday improve his chances for making the roster

March 28, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec and Peter Schmuck

SARASOTA, Fla. — - Jason Berken made 24 starts last season, but he has been pretty much the forgotten man this spring as Chris Tillman and David Hernandez have been the primary competitors for the fifth starter's spot. That might have changed Friday.

Berken threw four scoreless innings in the Orioles' loss to the Minnesota Twins, lowering his spring ERA to 2.84 in six appearances and thrusting him into a better position to make the Opening Day roster. Berken remains a long shot to start the season in the Orioles' rotation, though it's not out of the question that he'll win a job in the bullpen.

Mark Hendrickson will serve as one of the long relievers, but Orioles manager Dave Trembley could opt to take two, especially because his club plays 16 straight days to start the season. If Koji Uehara begins the season on the disabled list, that would open another spot.

"Berken's gotten everybody's attention," Trembley said. "You have to pull for him. He's short in a lot of areas, and I don't mean in stature. His stuff probably isn't as good as a lot of the other guys' but he has a plan, he sticks to it, he competes. There is something to be said for pitching with heart and guts, and I think he did that so he earned a lot of respect. Whether or not it translates into him making the team or not, we'll see."

Berken was 6-12 with a 6.54 ERA last season and often looked overmatched facing major league hitters. But he has improved his slider, and it has been a swing-and-miss pitch for him this spring. He's also learned to relax more on the mound.

"Last year when I got called up, I went away from my strengths a little bit," Berken said. "I just feel like my mind is more at ease now. I know what to expect and what I have to do to be successful. I think the game sped up so fast for me last year that it was a blur at times. This spring, I feel like I'm under control and the game has slowed down."

Millwood tunes up for opener
Kevin Millwood threw eight shutout innings against the Tampa Bay Rays' Triple-A players on one of the back fields at the Ed Smith Stadium complex and declared himself ready for the season, at least in terms of endurance. He threw 102 pitches but said he will scale that down to 50 or 60 in his final tuneup before the season opener.

"Everything felt good," he said. "It was like a normal day on the mound. I felt like I located my fastball well, threw some good changeups, and I thought my slider was good."

Asked after the big league spring training game whether he was ready to unveil his rotation Monday, which he predicted he would be able to do a day earlier, Trembley said: "I don't think there is any doubt who is going to be the No. 1 guy. I guess he threw eight scoreless innings in the back. Monday, I'll be able to tell you who that guy is."

Not so fast
Because of Chad Moeller's experience and familiarity with the Orioles' young pitchers, it was widely assumed that he was the clear front-runner over Craig Tatum to win the backup catcher spot. Trembley, however, said that's not the case.

"I would say that's an ongoing evaluation," Trembley said. "Each guy brings particular plusses, and what it's going to come down to is what you're looking for. You have to weigh what Chad and Tatum do best and decide what you feel is the most important asset that they have.

"Moeller's is his experience. He's been in the American League East. He knows the hitters. He's a mentor. Tatum is a guy who has a very good arm. He can throw people out. He can shut the running game down. Whatever you got from either one of them offensively would be a bonus."

Trembley said that both Tatum, a 27-year-old whom the Orioles claimed off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds in November, and Moeller, 35, will get extensive opportunities to play before camp ends this week, and "you'll see that competition go down to the end."

Around the horn
A day after playing his first game of the spring, Brian Roberts (herniated disk) said he was feeling fine. He'll be in the Orioles' lineup today. … Orioles closer Mike Gonzalez threw two scoreless innings against the Rays' Double-A team. … Cla Meredith, Will Ohman and Alberto Castillo also turned in scoreless innings in the major league spring training game.

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