Orioles cut Britton, Tatum and Harris as spring camp nears end

Britton, the promising young pitcher, will likely be back with the team later this year

March 29, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, FLA — — Assuming there are no additional health concerns involving the starting rotation, the Orioles have set their 25-man roster, which includes young pitchers Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen but not left-hander Zach Britton, the talk of this camp.

The 23-year-old Britton was optioned Tuesday to Triple-A Norfolk with catcher Craig Tatum, who lost the backup backstop battle to Jake Fox. Also, infielder Brendan Harris was assigned to minor league camp Tuesday, and right-hander Justin Duchscherer (left hip soreness) was placed on the 15-day disabled list with the hopes of returning by April 20.

With right-hander Rick VandenHurk unofficially put on waivers — the club is waiting on whether he clears on Wednesday before announcing it — the Orioles have 25 players left in camp. They must submit their Opening Day, 25-man roster by 11 a.m. Thursday.

"I wasn't surprised. Right when they called me in I figured, 'Hey, you were either making the team or not making the team,'" Britton said. "I was leaning toward not making the team, so I expected it."

There weren't any roster surprises Tuesday, though Bergesen and Tillman initially were expected to battle for a slot in the four-man rotation. Instead both will open with the big-league team, assuming Bergesen (right forearm contusion) has no problems in a simulated game against minor leaguers Wednesday.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter has not committed to Tillman or Bergesen for Sunday's start at Tropicana Field. The other pitcher will go to the bullpen until a fifth starter is needed April 10. Bergesen is likely better suited for relief, but Showalter said both are being considered.

"We'll be able to nail that down tomorrow by 2 o'clock," Showalter said Tuesday when asked if Bergesen could make Sunday's start. "Let's talk tomorrow, see how options present themselves."

Britton outpitched every starter on staff this spring, allowing just three runs in 20 innings (1.35 ERA) and further establishing himself as the club's best pitching prospect. He has made just 12 starts above Double-A, however, and will start April at Triple-A Norfolk, where he'll work on refining his changeup grip and being more efficient with his pitches.

"It doesn't do me any good to go down to Triple-A and pout because it's not going to help me get up here any quicker," Britton said. "So, I understand that I need to go down there and work on some stuff, too. I'm not perfect, I got some stuff I need to work on."

If Britton stays in the minors for at least 20 days, it will delay his service-time clock, essentially making him eligible for free agency in 2017 instead of 2016. It's the underlying reason why he has been sent down and also why it is assumed he'll be in the big leagues soon.

"We all understand the business side. I think everyone knows it kind of came down to that, which is fine," Britton said. "It's flattering that the organization feels that highly of me, that they want me around for so long."

Tuesday's moves also mean that infielder Robert Andino makes the team as a bench player as does Fox, who had 10 homers this spring.

Andino, who hit .278 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 54 spring at-bats, was one of the more intriguing players on the roster bubble. Out of minor-league options, the club did not expect the 26-year-old utility infielder to clear waivers like he did last spring.

However, Andino serves a similar role as veteran Cesar Izturis, who was signed to a $1.5 million deal this winter, so his roster status was uncertain until he officially received word he made the team.

"I wasn't stressed or nothing, but fortunately, they said I was on the team. Really, I don't have no words for it," said Andino, who has played 94 games with the Orioles in two seasons. "I am just proud of myself for one of the few times in my life. With all the (stuff) I've been through, I just felt like I did something right in my life."

As for starting catcher Matt Wieters' backup, Tatum is considered better defensively than Fox, but Fox is out of options and Tatum still has a minor-league option remaining.

Tatum hit .216 in 37 at-bats this spring and missed a week after tweaking a side muscle. The 28-year-old catcher made the team out of spring last year, but was sent to the minors in July for three weeks — again primarily due to a roster crunch. He hit .289 with no homers in 43 games with the Orioles in 2010. Showalter intimated that Tatum could return to the team as soon as its pitching situation clears up.

"Craig did some good things for us last year and will get an opportunity again if he takes care of his end of the bargain," Showalter said.

Harris, 30, was not on the Orioles' 40-man roster after coming over from the Minnesota Twins in the J.J. Hardy deal. He hit .226 in 53 spring at-bats with two homers and 10 RBIs.

Hendrickson still undecided

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