CHICAGO — — Outfielder Felix Pie hadn't started a game since April 17, and he had just three at-bats in the Orioles' previous 11 games.
Given a rare start Sunday in place of center fielder Adam Jones in the Orioles' 6-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox, Pie singled in his first at-bat. He then hit a triple off the base of the center field wall in his second at-bat, helping to key the Orioles' five-run fifth inning and providing more evidence that he has matured from his days playing on the other side of town with the Chicago Cubs.
"That's a tribute to the work he puts in to be ready," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "You see it every day. He's not wallowing around in self pity. I think his teammates have a lot to do with that, too. They generally like him and respect him and they keep him engaged."
During his days as a top prospect with the Cubs, Pie got a reputation as someone who wasn't a great teammate and sulked when he was not playing well, or not playing at all.
However, Showalter praised the way Pie has handled the fourth outfielder role, which calls for him mostly to be a late-game defensive replacement and get a few starts along the way. Pie has started just five of the Orioles' 26 games, but three of those starts came the first week of the season with Luke Scott sidelined.
"Felix has had a great attitude," Showalter said. "As a manager, you watch him on the bench and watch him in the clubhouse. You see little signs sometimes and you want to keep him — for lack of a better expression — connected or engaged, and keep him relevant in his mind, too. I make a point of trying to make sure I talk to him or get a feel for him every day. Everybody can get a little fragile from that perspective. He's a valuable part of our club. We all know that there will be periods where he'll get a lot of playing time. Felix is a good player."
For the season, Pie is hitting .292 (7-for-24). He admitted that it has been tough to stay sharp getting so few at-bats, but he understands his role.
"I'm working hard every day so when I have a turn to play, I do my best," Pie said. "Like I've said in the past, whenever they need me, I'm going to be ready every day. I'm here to help the team. I know late in the game, I'm going to go in to play defense, so I've been working hard on that."
Getting back to Gonzo
Oriole pitching coaches worked hard last year to eliminate the rocking motion in reliever Michael Gonzalez's frenetic delivery. They told him that the violent delivery made him more susceptible to injury and affected his mechanics and his command.
Gonzalez went along with the changes, but in the midst of one of the worst stretches in his career, he decided to revert back to his old ways. On Saturday night, Gonzalez was rocking back and forth before every pitch en route to striking out four of the six hitters he faced over two innings.
"As silly as it may look out on the field, it definitely locks me in. It helps me get back in the moment," said Gonzalez, who had allowed runs in four straight outings and in six of his first seven before Saturday. "I forget about the fans, the players, everything. I just focus on pitching. I remember when things were going really well, I couldn't hear anything. I remember the first few games in Baltimore, I could single out a person booing me. That obviously changed my mindset. It got to the point where, hey, what makes me successful is I could care less what everybody thinks. I had to get back to that point."
Gonzalez said that he decided to get back to his old delivery after watching tapes from some of his past outings with the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates.
"It got to that breaking point," he said. "I tried to simplify things because maybe it would help my career or it would help me throw more strikes. The truth of the matter is I've never been a finesse pitcher. I've never been a strike machine or a Koji [Uehara] who is going to go out there and he just can't miss. I'm going to miss some times, but for the most part, I'm going to get you and I have to go with my odds. "
Simon getting closer
Alfredo Simon will make his next start Thursday for one of the Orioles' minor league affiliates. The big right-hander threw four scoreless innings in an extended spring training game Saturday, allowing two hits and striking out six. Showalter said that his fastball averaged 94 mph.
Simon, who spent about two months in a Dominican Republic prison as the main suspect in a New Year's Day shooting, remains on Major League Baseball's restricted list. The Orioles are currently talking to the league and the player's union about the situation, and it appears they'll be able to keep him on the restricted list for a little longer. The Orioles' 40-man roster is currently filled so they'll have to make a roster move when Simon comes off the restricted list.
Manny the Magnificent