SARASOTA, Fla. — — Confident that he will be part of the Orioles' rotation to start the season, Jake Arrieta is using his spring starts to work on specific things. In the Orioles' 11-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins today, Arrieta focused on being aggressive early in counts.
That resulted in several quick groundball outs and a solid and efficient three-inning outing in which he allowed one run on three hits and no walks while striking out two.
"Breaking balls were a lot better today, a little bit more crisp," said Arrieta. "Just everything felt better, as I expected it to, my second time out. I only expect it to get better as spring goes on."
In two spring starts spanning five innings, Arrieta has allowed two earned runs on five hits and two walks. One of his few mistakes today was a 1-0 fastball that caught too much of the plate and was pounded over the left-field wall by Twins third baseman Luke Hughes.
Overall, the 25-year-old right-hander threw 26 of his 42 pitches for strikes. He got seven of his nine outs on groundballs.
"Really, I just wanted to establish the fastball. Throughout spring training, that's going to my primary objective — to establish that pitch — and work everything else off that," Arrieta said. "When you are working first-pitch strikes, the rate of swing is a lot more frequent. That was the result today. Pounded the zone, got a lot of early outs. … Today was a good example of the preparation needed to be ready for that Opening Day."
Roberts, Izturis on mend
Brian Roberts knows what everyone is thinking, so he was quick to point out that he's been getting back spasms throughout his big league career.
"It's what I used to get," he said. "When I get them, they usually come on and go away on their own after a couple of days. … It's not too bad."
Roberts was sidelined for a second-straight day because of back spasms, a development that obviously raises alarms after he was limited to 59 games in 2010 because of a herniated disk in his back. He said he felt a "grab" in his back late last week, a couple of days before his much-discussed, head-first slide into first base in Monday night's game against the New York Yankees.
"I never really said anything," said Roberts who is 3-for-12 this spring. "I just kept going. I wanted to keep playing. … I probably didn't help things [by] sliding when I already had a back spasm, but that wasn't what caused it."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that Roberts was "a lot closer" to playing today than he was Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Cesar Izturis, Roberts' double-play partner the past two seasons, also missed a second-consecutive day with a sore left ankle, sustained when he rolled it while trying to get back to first base Monday. Izturis took batting practice today, said he was experiencing no pain and estimated that he'll return in a couple of days.
Scott gets first hit
When he finally reached first base, Luke Scott pointed back to the Orioles' dugout, where several of his teammates and coaches were laughing. Scott, who is no stranger to both slumps and surges, broke an 0-for-13 performance in the Grapefruit League with a sharp single to lead off the third inning off Minnesota Twins reliever Matt Capps.
He also added an RBI groundout in the Orioles' victory over the Twins, finishing 1-for-3 with an RBI and a walk.
It wasn't a dominant performance by any means, but it was an uplifting one for Scott, who admitted before the game that he was a little frustrated with his slow start to the spring.
"Of course it bothers me,'' he said, "because I'm a competitor. I do not like not seeing the fruit of my labor."
Scott says that his timing has been off at the plate during games, though his batting practice sessions have been fine.
"In the games right now, my front hip is leaving early, which is causing the problem,'' he said. "If it stays in, I'll be where I want to be. My timing is off. In the games, I'm speeding up and jumping at the ball."
Next outing for Duke set
A day after his first outing in nearly a year, starter Justin Duchscherer told team officials that he was feeling good physically. His next test will come Sunday when the right-hander throws three innings in an intra-squad game.
Showalter wanted to split up Duchscherer and Brian Matusz, who both pitched Wednesday in Clearwater. With Duchscherer pitching in the intra-squad game, Matusz will face the Detroit Tigers Sunday at Ed Smith Stadium.
Around the horn