Gonzalez patiently awaits his Orioles debut

New closer eager to move past spring-training struggles

April 06, 2010|By Dan Connolly and Jeff Zrebiec

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — - Three of the Orioles' four veteran acquisitions this offseason - starting pitcher Kevin Millwood, third baseman Miguel Tejada and first baseman Garrett Atkins - will surely play tonight on Opening Day at Tropicana Field.

The fourth - new closer Michael Gonzalez - will have his debut dictated by how the games unfold. His first regular-season performance, however, couldn't come soon enough for both Gonzalez and the Orioles.

"Opening Day is the day you can get it done. It's when it starts," Gonzalez said. "As soon as those lights turn on, that's what I am looking forward to."

Gonzalez, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Orioles in the offseason, battled lower-back stiffness and an uneven performance this spring, allowing seven hits, four runs and four walks in seven Grapefruit League games. His fastball velocity was, at times, clocked in the mid-80s. He usually consistently throws in the low 90s.

Gonzalez, however, is thoroughly unconcerned, saying he was honing a changeup to add to his slider and fastball, and is positive he'll be effective when the bell rings.

"I know what my fastball and slider do. I know when they are 100 percent. I know they are dominating pitches, and I know they get strikeouts," Gonzalez said. "I was able to throw [the changeup] this spring, and I felt very good about it and I felt very confident to go out and throw it. ... Now when the lights turn on [tonight], you are obviously going to see there are no problems with my velocity or anything like that."

Orioles manager Dave Trembley is taking Gonzalez at his word.

"It would be nice to have a 10-1 lead and not have to use him, but if it's a save situation, he's going to pitch, and I'm confident that he's going to give us 100 percent of what he has," Trembley said. "He's told me that, and I believe that. ... I think you'll see him turn it up."

First things first for Reimold
Trembley explained his decision to have outfielder Nolan Reimold take ground balls at first base Saturday, saying the team is just "kicking the tires" and Reimold's surgically repaired Achilles prevented them from doing it earlier.

"People asked, 'Why did he wait until the end of camp?' Because he wasn't 100 percent healthy before the end of camp," Trembley said. "If he was 100 percent healthy at the beginning of camp, we might have done it some time earlier than that. It gives us another option down the road. I don't think you'll see Nolan Reimold playing first base the first week of the season. I think it's way down the road if, in fact, that he does that.

"There's a lot that needs to be covered before you'd feel comfortable putting him out there. You have to be fair to him as well as to the other guys playing on the field at the same time. You just can't put somebody out there who has never done it before in a big league game."

Trembley also said that the decision to have Reimold take ground balls at first, a position he hasn't played since high school, "says something about the progress that [Felix] Pie has made.

"You feel a little more comfortable with the way Pie has been playing. It would be nice to figure out a way maybe to get them all in. But it is way, way too early to start thinking about Nolan Reimold seeing his name with [1B] behind it."

Trembley said Ty Wigginton is Garrett Atkins' primary backup at first, and Luke Scott is the third option.

Samuel says Miggi is ready
Juan Samuel, the man who spent the most time working with Miguel Tejada in his transition from shortstop to third base this spring, thinks his pupil is going to do just fine in his first major league start at third base tonight.

"We were still doing some extra work up until a couple of days ago," said Samuel, the Orioles' third base and infield coach. "The last thing we were working on was some balls coming in and fielding the bunt, barehanding some balls. I expect things to get better once we get to better fields. He's been good. As long as he makes the routine plays, I think things will be fine."

Tejada made a team-high five errors this spring, but team officials expected he would struggle early, and they are pleased with how much work he put in.

"He did even more than what I wanted him to do," Samuel said. "There were some days when I was trying to get him off days and he said, 'No, let's go do something.' I think he even overdid it a little bit. Now, we get to see the results of the work that we put in."

Brooks and Boog make pitch
The Orioles' pre-game festivities for Friday's home opener at Camden Yards include ceremonial first pitches to be thrown by former Orioles greats Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell.

This year marks the Orioles' 40th anniversary of the club's 1970 world championship. Robinson was the World Series Most Valuable Player that year, and Powell was American League MVP.

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