Orioles' Tatum eager to get healthy, back behind plate

Competing with Fox for backup catcher job, he says, 'I can't make the team not playing'

March 16, 2011|By Dan Connolly and Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

TAMPA, Fla. — — Craig Tatum understands why the Orioles are proceeding cautiously with the tweaked muscle in his right side. They don't want him to make it worse, end up really hurt and lose the battle for reserve catcher because he was injured.

Tatum gets that thinking, but he's got a flip side.

"I want to make the team. I can't make the team not playing," said Tatum, who is competing with Jake Fox to back up Matt Wieters. "But I'll do whatever they tell me to do. They know a lot more about it than I do."

Tatum said he felt tightness in his right side after he slipped on the plate during infield drills. He felt it again while running the bases Saturday, and the Orioles decided to shut him down until he is completely pain-free.

"They said maybe [Thursday] I can hit if it feels like it does today, because it feels good today," Tatum said Wednesday morning. "I guess it's just day to day."

Tatum has hit .304 in 23 at-bats this spring but has been overshadowed at the plate by Fox, who is hitting .341 with a team-leading five homers. Tatum has the clear advantage defensively, which is considered more important for a backup.

"My job is to catch, not hit," said Tatum, who batted .281 with no homers and nine RBIs in 43 games last year. "The hitting is a bonus. A lot of people, all they look at is the hitting. When you're a backup, how much hitting can you do? You're in there once a week, so once a week you've got to keep your team in the game."

Further complicating things is that Fox and Tatum have become friends the past year and have lockers next to each other in the spring.

"It's hard because you don't want to root against your friends, so I just choose not to root against him," Tatum said. "He's hitting the ball well, and I'm happy for him. We've said to each other that we could both make the team. But if he makes the team and I don't, I'll be happy for him."

If it comes down to the two — Fox can also play the corner infield and left field — Fox has the advantage since he is out of options and Tatum can still be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers. It's what happened to him last July, when he was sent back to Triple-A Norfolk.

"I'd lie if I said I didn't think about it, but at the same time, I want to play to where the options don't matter," Tatum said.

Injured players take steps

Brian Roberts made progress for a second consecutive day, playing catch and taking 20 swings off a tee from each side of the plate. The second baseman, who has been experiencing back and neck discomfort, hasn't played in a game since March 7 and has just 12 at-bats this spring.

"Feels good. No problems," Roberts said after working with hitting instructor Terry Crowley in the indoor batting cage. "I'm pretty confident, moving forward, we're not going to have any setbacks."

After dealing with back troubles for the past 15 months, Roberts isn't going to rush back to action but believes he is getting closer to a return to the lineup.

"There's obviously a progression, which we'll go through," Roberts said. "I'm not going to get in a game after hitting twice off a tee, but I don't think this is going to be a long progression. I don't think anybody foresees that. Date-wise, I don't know for sure, but I think if everything goes well, it shouldn't be too long."

Manager Buck Showalter said Wednesday night that he is hopeful that Roberts, pitcher Koji Uehara (elbow soreness) and first baseman Derrek Lee (right wrist) could appear in a game by this weekend.

"I got all three slated sometime this weekend if things stay on schedule," Showalter said.

Uehara, who hasn't pitched since the Orioles' exhibition opener, threw off a mound again Wednesday. Lee, who has not appeared in a game this spring, hit off of a tee and participated in soft-toss drills and could take live batting practice from a coach Thursday or Friday, "depending on how he feels," Showalter said.

Guthrie gets work in

Asked to assess his performance Wednesday against Boston Red Sox minor leaguers at Twin Lakes Park, Orioles likely Opening Day starter Jeremy Guthrie's response was, "Short and uneventful." It was an apt description of his outing.

Guthrie threw five innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits and two walks while striking out one. The numbers were largely irrelevant as two innings were extended beyond three outs so Guthrie could get his pitch count up. He threw 70 total pitches, 43 for strikes.

Five of the six hits he allowed came in the fourth inning, and both runs scored in his fifth and final frame. That inning started with a homer by Ray Chang.

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