Lee's optimism continues to rise as he meets new teammates

Veteran first baseman believes Guerrero signing will bring O's lineup to new level

February 19, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — — New Orioles' first baseman Derrek Lee reported to Ed Smith Stadium for the first time and saw familiar faces everywhere he looked.

He played with Cesar Izturis, Felix Pie and Kevin Gregg in Chicago. He was part of All-Star festivities in 2007 with Vladimir Guerrero. He played against Robert Andino and Luke Scott in the National League.

"A good day," said Lee, summing up his indoctrination to the Orioles' clubhouse. "I played with a lot of these guys, and against almost all of them at some point. It's good to be here and see the guys and put on the black and orange."

When Lee, the two-time All-Star first baseman, passed his physical and finalized a one-year, incentive-laden $7.5 million deal with the Orioles in January, he told reporters via conference call that he thought his new club was going to be better than people thought.

Since then, the Orioles signed slugger Vladimir Guerrero, starter Justin Duchscherer and Gregg to solidify their bullpen. That has strengthened the perception that the Orioles are a team on the rise.

"That's the feeling you get from the outside," Lee said. "You started taking notice of them last year, even in the National League, you saw what Baltimore was doing to finish up the season. And that continued in the offseason. Obviously, they wanted to build on it. They brought in a lot of new guys … I think we're going to be a good team. We're going to score runs. Obviously, we have a lot of young pitching, but good arms, so I think we're going to be OK."

Lee appeared particularly excited about the Guerrero signing, breaking into a wide smile the second that his name was mentioned.

""I was fired up," he said. "This guy is one of the premiere hitters in the game, just a pure hitter. He falls out of bed hitting. So, you stick him in the middle of the lineup, he just makes guys around him better because he's one of those guys the other teams have to focus on. When he's hot, he can carry a team two or three weeks at a time"

Lee, 35, will probably hit either third or fifth in the Orioles' order depending on how manager Buck Showalter lines everybody up. Either way, he feels the potential is there to be a very good offensive team.

"We've got a good lineup," Lee said. "It's exciting. One through nine, we've got guys who can hit. We've got some speed in the lineup. I think we're going to be able to put some runs on the board. When you're scoring runs, it's fun. When you're not scoring runs, this game can be a little frustrating sometimes."

Lee had surgery in November to fix a torn ligament in his right thumb, an injury that he sustained on Opening Day 2010. He played with it all season and while he didn't use the injury as an excuse, it's believed to have contributed to his down offensive year. He hit .260 with 19 homers and 80 RBIs in 148 games, a season after batting .306 with 35 homers and 111 RBIs for the Chicago Cubs.

Saying he's ahead of schedule in his recovery time from the surgery, Lee expects that he'll be ready to take live batting practice in seven to 10 days, though Showalter said that the Orioles will err on the side of caution with the veteran.

"We knew coming in here that were going to kind of slow play," said Showalter. "We know where the finish line is [with] him. We have a pretty good idea how he's going to fit if he's healthy."

Together again

If at some point this spring Wynn Pelzer and Matt Wieters team up for a bullpen session, it will represent a significant role reversal. At a high school All-Star game in South Carolina several years ago, Pelzer and Wieters warmed up together though Pelzer was the catcher and Wieters was the pitcher.

Asked if he's gotten an opportunity to throw to Wieters this spring, Pelzer said, "No, he's too big time for me now."

Pelzer was obviously kidding. The 24-year-old pitcher, who the Orioles acquired from the San Diego Padres last July in the Miguel Tejada deal, is focused on making a positive impression on Orioles officials regardless of who is catching him.

Pelzer went 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA in 10 appearances (one start) for Double-A Bowie after the trade. He was rated recently as the Orioles' sixth-best prospect by Baseball America.

"I'm a lot more comfortable here," said Pelzer, who has been working on simplifying his delivery, making it less robotic. "I know a lot more names to match the faces. It's just a matter of getting better as the spring progresses. [This opportunity] could be really good for me, pitching in front of the big league staff. Hopefully, I'll leave a good impression and we'll see what happens in the future."

Around the horn

Sent home the previous day with flu-like symptoms, Brad Bergesen returned to the workouts and threw a bullpen session today. … Oriole pitchers will take the day off Sunday from bullpen session before starting to throw live batting practice Monday. … With Lee, Scott and Ryan Adams all reporting today, outfielder Nick Markakis and minor league shortstop Pedro Florimon Jr. are the only two players who haven't been at Ed Smith Stadium ahead of Sunday's report date for position players. However, Markakis is in Sarasota and has been in touch with Showalter and team officials do expect to see Florimon Jr. tomorrow. "It is what it is," Showalter said. "It's good to see. It seems like everybody is ready to get moving. But it's voluntary. If it's voluntary and somebody doesn't show up, we shouldn't go, 'Why the hell isn't he here?'"

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

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