Cuts clarify Orioles' roster picture, but injury to Matusz muddies it back up

Lefty starting pitcher hit in left biceps by line drive; Reimold, Hendrickson among those sent out

March 28, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles took a huge step Monday toward setting their 25-man roster for Friday's season opener, making moves with eight players, including sending outfielder Nolan Reimold to the minors and potentially severing ties with veteran left-hander Mark Hendrickson.

But just when things looked to be flatlining in a tumultuous spring, the Orioles were thrown another curve as No. 2 starter Brian Matusz was struck in the left biceps by a liner during a simulated game Monday afternoon.

"It was in the second inning. I was feeling good, I was starting to get in a good groove, and [Orioles farmhand] L.J. Hoes came up and hit a fastball right back at my arm," said Matusz, who did not need X-rays. "I put ice on it right away. I got a couple of treatments. We put a pressure pad on it, just to keep the inflammation down. We'll see how it feels tomorrow."

Matusz's injury comes three days after projected starter Brad Bergesen was struck in the right forearm while pitching in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins. Bergesen still hopes to earn a rotation spot and start Sunday's third game of the regular season, while Matusz plans to take his turn Saturday in Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays.

"I'm optimistic. I don't even think it is going to set me back at all. If anything, I'm upset about not continuing to get my work in," said Matusz, who originally was supposed to pitch in a minor league game Monday that was canceled because of wet conditions. "I was starting to feel good. I was starting to get in a good groove. I wanted to get in a little more work. We'll see how it feels [Tuesday] and just go from there. That's pretty much all you can do."

Although the rotation is suddenly in flux, manager Buck Showalter said he believes Matusz, who has allowed 17 hits, seven walks and nine earned runs in 132/3 innings, has pitched enough this spring to be ready for Saturday.

"I think so, if he's OK," Showalter said. "But we've still got something going on there with Bergesen and Matusz."

If they aren't ready, Showalter said, he is considering several options, including top prospect Zach Britton "or another pitcher. I don't know. [Britton] would be one of the candidates."

Although there has been no official roster pronouncement from the club, if Matusz is healthy, the Orioles basically have 22 spots set, meaning four players are essentially fighting for three openings: pitchers Chris Tillman and Bergesen, catcher Craig Tatum and infielder Robert Andino.

That's assuming catcher-utility man Jake Fox, who hit his major league-leading 10th homer of the spring Monday afternoon, makes the team. It would be surprising if he didn't.

Joining Reimold and Hendrickson in Monday's reassignment to minor league camp were pitchers Clay Rapada, David Riske, Ryan Drese and Pat Egan and infielder Nick Green. Outfielder Randy Winn asked for and was granted his unconditional release.

Those moves reduced the number of players in camp to 30, which includes pitcher Rick VandenHurk, who left the team Sunday but was waiting to hear whether he cleared waivers before he could be sent to the minors.

Also still around were infielder Brendan Harris, who soon will be reassigned to the minors, and pitcher Justin Duchscherer, who will start the season on the disabled list. And then there's Britton, who has a 1.35 ERA after allowing just two earned runs in six innings against the Detroit Tigers on Monday. Despite his spring performance (three earned runs in 20 innings), he likely will be sent to the minors for at least 20 days to delay his free-agency clock by one full season.

That essentially leaves the Orioles with 26 viable roster candidates heading into Tuesday's exhibition finale in Sarasota. The 25-man roster must be set by 11 a.m. Thursday.

Reimold's demotion wasn't surprising considering he was battling for the outfield reserve spot with Felix Pie, who is out of minor league options. The Orioles want Reimold, 27, to play every day in the minors after a lost 2010 season in which he hit .207 in 39 games in the big leagues and battled injuries and off-the-field issues. He rebounded this spring, batting .315 with three homers, 10 RBIs and a .448 on-base percentage in 24 games.

"He had a really good offseason. He put a lot of the challenges he had last year behind him and put himself in a good spot to get back to the 2009 form that I had heard about," Showalter said. "I know it's frustrating for him, but it was frustrating for us also to see all the struggles he went through last year. If he hadn't had the challenge he had last year, he'd probably be in a different [situation] … but he's put the tough part behind him, and I think he's got the best ahead of him. He'll be back."

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