SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles granted Chad Moeller's request for an outright release Thursday, allowing the veteran catcher to become a free agent.
Moeller was beaten out for the backup catcher job by Craig Tatum earlier this week. The Orioles had hoped that Moeller, a popular figure in the clubhouse, would go down to Triple-A, and catch some of the organization's top pitching prospects.
However, Moeller informed Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail that he wasn't interested in doing that, and instead wanted to explore other opportunities. MacPhail wasn't obligated to grant the release, but did so out of respect to Moeller. It's possible Moeller could end up on an American League rival armed with inside information about the Orioles' pitchers and hitters.
"I was reluctant to do it, but out of deference to him I granted him his release," MacPhail said. "It's not something that I want to do very often or really plan to do again in the future, but under these circumstances, I thought it was best to cede to his wishes."
Moeller, who was believed to be the leading candidate to back up Matt Wieters, a role he filled for part of last season, admitted that he was shocked and disappointed after learning that Tatum had won the job. He assumed the Orioles wanted a veteran catcher to mentor Wieters and the organization's young arms.
Tatum, who was acquired via waivers from the Cincinnati Reds in November, has only 26 games of big league experience, 70 fewer than Wieters. However, the Orioles opted to keep him because they felt that he was the superior defensive catcher.
"For me, I wasn't going to feel comfortable in Triple-A there," Moeller said. "It has nothing to do with the organization. It was just me personally. I know I'll have to go to Triple-A somewhere else probably. I just wasn't going to feel comfortable.
"It was a very tough decision. I have a lot of friends there. I love the staff. It was just something that I knew I needed something different just based on the decision they made. They went with Craig and he's done well and I hope he does well. But once they went that way, I needed to go someplace else."
Moeller said that he's currently discussing several opportunities and he's hoping to be with a new organization soon. One possibility could be the New York Yankees, a team that Moeller played for in 2008. Yankees backup catcher Francisco Cervelli is questionable for Opening Day with a hamstring strain.
Millwood gets work in
Kevin Millwood allowed two runs on three hits and a walk in four innings against the Tampa Bay Rays' Triple-A team Thursday in his final tune-up for Opening Day. With Wieters catching him, Millwood allowed only one hit in three scoreless innings, but Joe Dillon connected off him for a two-run homer in the fourth. Overall, he threw 64 pitches.
"I was fine with it," Millwood said. "It's hard to get any excitement or adrenaline going this time of spring. Everybody is ready to get out of here, but all in all, I'm pretty happy with it. I don't think there will be a pitch count [next time]. I'll be ready to go as long as they want me to go."
Back in orange and black
Signed to a minor league deal earlier this week, veteran Joey Gathright knows how difficult it will be to crack the Orioles' outfield picture at any point this season. But the 28-year-old is just happy to be in a big league camp after his release from the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday. Gathright was hitting .167 (7-for-42) this spring when the Blue Jays let him go.
"One bad spring training shouldn't bring a release, but things happen," Gathright said. "I just didn't think that was going to happen so I was kind of shocked. It's understandable because I didn't have a good spring at all. I can understand maybe going to Triple-A, but not getting released. But that was their decision."
Gathright said he signed with the Orioles because he has a comfort level with the organization after he played 80 games for Triple-A Norfolk in 2009.
Around the horn
Reliever Kam Mickolio threw off the mound for the first time since injuring his groin. He'll throw another sideline session Saturday, but he remains a longshot to make the Opening Day roster. ... Reliever Koji Uehara's MRI on his strained left hamstring came back negative. No significant issues were discovered, but he is still expected to start the season on the DL. ... In his first start since being optioned to the minors, Chris Tillman went six innings, allowing three runs and five hits. He threw 101 pitches against the Rays' Double-A team. ... Reliever Cla Meredith was supposed to follow Millwood in the Triple-A game, but he was scratched due to a stomach ailment. ... Center fielder Adam Jones, who was a late scratch Wednesday because he was sick, said he felt much better Thursday.