When the Orioles opted to keep Craig Tatum as their backup catcher and release Chad Moeller before the end of spring training, the decision wasn't well received in the clubhouse, where Moeller was a well-respected veteran and mentor to young starter Matt Wieters.
Four months later, the Orioles face another roster decision with Sunday's expected return of Wieters from the disabled list, and Tatum's roster spot is again in question.
Tatum bruised his right hand when he was hit by a foul tip off the bat of Jason Repko in the seventh inning of the Orioles' 7-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins Saturday night and that certainly won't help his cause. X-rays taken came back negative, but Tatum said that he expects to be out for a couple of days, which could further jeopardize his roster spot.
"I don't know, man. Whatever they feel like they need to do," said Tatum, who was wearing a splint and carrying a bag of ice as he prepared to leave the stadium Saturday night. "Just like I've been saying earlier, I'll deal with it when it comes, but what can you do?"
Tatum, who has been serving as the starter with Wieters out, was already in danger of being sent down to Triple-A Norfolk not because he hasn't performed, but because he has a minor league option available. Such a move would be an unpopular one in the clubhouse as Tatum has won over his teammates with his work ethic, preparation and the way he's handled the staff in Wieters' absence.
He's also been reasonably productive offensively with a .271 average in 32 games. He's started nine of 11 games with Wieters on the disabled list.
"He has done a great job for us," interim manager Juan Samuel said. "I'm not saying he's going to be the guy ÃÂ but he has done a tremendous job handling the pitching and he has definitely come up with some key hits for us. Chad was a good, good backup catcher and the guys felt comfortable with Chad and when you take that away they feel like now they have to get used to somebody else, but they have made the adjustment and Tatum has proved to the guys that he could do that and he earned those guys respect in that regard."
Utility man Jake Fox is also a candidate to be jettisoned, but he's he out of options and the Orioles value his versatility, which will come in handy with the expected trade of Ty Wigginton before the July 31 deadline. The Orioles could also opt to trim a reliever off the roster and go with a four-man bench, though Samuel said they are hesitant to do it because of the inconsistency of the starters.
"This is going to be a tough one," Samuel said. "Whatever guy is going to go, I'm sure both guys have been thinking about it. Those guys have been doing a good job for us."
Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail is involved in ongoing trade talks, though nothing that will potentially open up a roster spot is expected to happen before Sunday.
Tatum said on Thursday that he has tried not to think about a possible demotion "because I don't think that's the case."
"I feel like I've worked well with the pitchers and I've got a good rapport with them and I've been playing well but if it happens, it happens," he said. "I guess it could happen but I don't see why it would. I've been up here the whole year backing up Matt and I don't see why it would change."
Guthrie throwing heat
There are very few questions that Jeremy Guthrie will tiptoe around more than those about his velocity, but the right-hander does acknowledge that in his last two starts, he has been throwing harder on a more consistent basis than he has been all year.
In holding the Minnesota Twins to two runs over seven strong innings on Friday night, Guthrie's velocity was consistently clocked in the mid 90s on the stadium radar gun and he even hit 97 miles per hour on a couple of occasions. This comes on the heels of his first start after the All-Star break when Guthrie was clocked a couple of times at 98 miles an hour against the Toronto Blue Jays.
"It was the hardest I've seen him throw since I faced him in the minors," said Minnesota Twins first baseman Michael Cuddyer, who remembered facing Guthrie in 2003 for Triple-A Rochester.
According to the website http://www.fangraphs.com, Guthrie's fastball this season has average 92.3 miles per hour. That's almost exactly what it averaged last season. In 2007 and 2008, Guthrie's first two seasons with the Orioles, his fastball averaged 93.4 and 93.2 miles per hour respectively.
Guthrie dealt with some mechanical issues last year that may have kept his velocity down at times, but he has been known to hit the high 90s before. The pitch that he threw to Alex Rodriguez last year that the New York Yankees' slugger knocked out of the ballpark in his first at-bat since returning from the disabled list was clocked at 98 miles an hour.
However, in his last two starts, Guthrie's increased fastball velocity has been a constant, not that the pitcher wants to fixate on it too much.