Orioles' Lee 'getting better all the time'

First baseman goes 0-for-2 in second spring game as he continues recovery from foot injury

March 22, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — It isn't often during spring training that you see a veteran and projected lineup regular enter the game in the fifth inning, but with Opening Day 10 days away, Derrek Lee is running out of time to get at-bats.

After Vladimir Guerrero got two at-bats at designated hitter, Lee replaced him and went 0-for-2 with a groundout and a popout in the Orioles' 6-2 victory over the New York Yankees on Tuesday at Ed Smith Stadium.

It was just Lee's second game this spring, and he's 0-for-4 with a walk.

"He knows how important these at-bats are," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I talked to him and Vladi, guys might [think] it might be a little beneath them to get at-bats at the end, but it's part of the process. He wants them."

Lee took it slowly early in camp with his surgically repaired right thumb. When it appeared that the veteran first baseman was nearing a return, he started struggling with right wrist tendinitis. He made his Grapefruit League debut Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies and fouled a ball off his left foot.

Lee remained in the game, but his foot was giving him more and more pain as the day wore on, and the 35-year-old eventually had an X-ray and MRI on his foot. Both came back clean, allowing Lee to take part in the pre-game workout and get two at-bats in the game.

"If I can run and hit, I'll play," Lee said before the game. "I was only concerned when the doctor was looking at the X-ray and said that he saw something suspicious. I said, 'Oh, boy.' But it's fine. The next day, it was very sore, but now it's getting better all the time."

Lee could play first base Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, but Showalter said that decision won't be made until he sees how the veteran feels when he reports to the park.

Duchscherer getting closer

Having pitched just two innings this spring, Justin Duchscherer will not be ready to begin the season in the big league rotation. However, the veteran right-hander, who has been sidelined for much of the spring because of recurring hip soreness, has his sights set on pitching on the first Orioles homestand.

The Orioles won't need a fifth starter until April 10, which would give Duchscherer about a week and half more to prepare.

"We discussed it. [Showalter] had me come in the other day, and we went over how I'm feeling, what I'm thinking," Duchscherer said. "They probably won't need a fifth starter until the 10th, so I told them I'll do everything I can to get well by then, and hopefully I can. That's the goal."

The first step will be getting through a bullpen session Wednesday. He hasn't been on the mound since a couple of days after he made his only spring appearance against the Philadelphia Phillies on March 8.

Getting their work in

In his first game action since the Orioles' Grapefruit League opener on Feb. 28, reliever Koji Uehara pitched a perfect inning against a group of low-level minor leaguers from the Boston Red Sox's organization. Uehara, who got a cortisone shot March 3 to relieve elbow discomfort, struck out one and threw 11 of his 12 pitches for strikes. He was clocked at 88 mph on the radar gun.

"Physically, I felt real good. The elbow felt good," he said through interpreter Jiwon Bang. "I threw fastballs and splitters only. I expect to be facing better hitters in the future."

Reliever Kevin Gregg also pitched in a minor league game, facing five batters and allowing two hits, hitting a batter and striking out one. Still, he was pleased with the way he felt, saying, "I got my mechanics back where they used to be."

Chris Tillman also started a minor league game at Twin Lakes Park, turning in six innings and allowing one earned run on seven hits and no walks. He struck out four and actually got 22 outs as several innings were prolonged for him to reach his pitch count.

Bullpen candidate Josh Rupe threw four scoreless innings in another minor league game.

Changing it up

In an attempt to put the ball in play more and increase his average from a career worst .198 in 2010, new Oriole third baseman Mark Reynolds tweaked his mechanics this spring, replacing his usual toe-tap for a leg kick as he prepared for a pitch.

After half a spring with no homers and little offense to show for his troubles, he is scrapping the experiment and going back to an altered toe-tap as a timing mechanism. He felt he wasn't generating the power he normally has when he drives the ball.

"I am comfortable, and I think I can give myself more of a chance this way," Reynolds said. "I am still trying to throw a few things out, but as far as now, I am feeling comfortable. I'm not going back to my old 'swing and hope I hit it' thing. It's more of a comfort-level thing. It's what I have been doing throughout my career."

Reynolds was 8-for-41 (.195 average) heading into Sunday. He went back to the toe-tap and had two hits in four at-bats. However, he went 0-for-3 on Tuesday with two strikeouts, dropping his spring average to .208.

Around the horn

Orioles infielder Brendan Harris will be sidelined for a couple of days after having a growth removed from his back. … Showalter said Brian Matusz will start for the Orioles on Wednesday night against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers. David Riske, Clay Rapada and Jim Johnson are also scheduled to pitch for the Orioles, while Francisco Liriano will start for the Twins. Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Luke Scott will not make the trip. … The coaching staff will meet early Wednesday afternoon to discuss the next round of roster cuts.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.

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