Orioles' Britton, Tillman gearing up to make Fenway debuts

Lefty 'definitely excited'; righty has more muted reaction

May 15, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Orioles starters Chris Tillman and Zach Britton will experience an important first this week: their first appearances at Fenway Park in Boston.

"It's time. What are we going to do, keep them from pitching there?" Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "They pitch. It's part of the process. I'd like to think it won't be the last time they pitch there. We'll see."

Tillman, who is 2-3 with a 6.15 ERA, will start Monday's game against Daisuke Matsuzaka. Britton (5-2, 2.42) pitches the finale of the two-game series Tuesday against John Lackey.

"I am definitely excited about Fenway. I have never been there, so I am anxious to see that park and everything that goes around it," Britton said. "I heard it is pretty old, but I heard it is a great atmosphere, so I am looking forward to it."

Britton, a rookie, is seemingly excited wherever he pitches in the majors. The day before his big league debut in April, he went out to the left-field stands at Tropicana Field hours before game time to get a feel for the place. And Fenway has a little more aura than the Trop.

"I definitely am going to take a little tour, an unguided tour," Britton, 23, said. "I am going to walk around and see what it is like."

Tillman said he has respect for places like Fenway and Yankee Stadium, but he can't let it be more than that.

"I'm not going to lie. When I first came up, yeah, I think there's that awe factor," Tillman said. "But now I know it's just about getting the job done — every time — and improving on the things I need to improve on and just giving this team a chance to win. It's the most important thing, and I think that's the first thing in any of our pitchers' heads."

Showalter knows young players can be intimidated by things like Fenway's Green Monster wall in left field. But he said they can't let it be a psychological barrier.

"Well, if it is, and you plan on pitching in the big leagues, in the American League East for the Baltimore Orioles, you better figure it out," Showalter said. "Because it ain't going away. That thing has been there for a while."

Orioles pitching coach Mark Connor said he talked to Britton on Sunday morning about playing at Fenway and how it is a "great experience." But he said there will be no substitute for actually pitching there.

"I don't think anything really prepares a pitcher to pitch there," Connor said. "It's like pitching at Yankee Stadium for the first time."

Reynolds flashes power

Mark Reynolds' opposite-field homer Saturday may or may not be the spark the third baseman needs to get out of a funk that has kept his batting average below .200 this season.

Reynolds said after Saturday's game that he appreciates the way Showalter has stuck with him. On Sunday morning, the manager said he'll continue to do that — to a point.

"As long as you are trying and you are not giving in to it, but he understands that we do have other options," Showalter said. "I am trustworthy of a track record, and keep in mind this guy is 27, he's not 35. He has played four years in the big leagues. I just want him to defend all that's happening."

Showalter said he has seen moments of frustration from the easygoing Reynolds — "a couple bat slams on the rack, but it's not your big [display]" — but he understands how badly Reynolds wants to succeed.

"I think he is a little tired of the 'ooh' and 'ah,' where it's 'just missed it, just missed it, just missed it.' I don't think he wants that," Showalter said. "He wants to center a ball up like he did [Saturday]."

Matusz on pitch count

Left-hander Brian Matusz (intercostal strain) will make his season debut at Single-A Frederick on Monday and is expected to pitch about four innings. But Showalter said the organization is more concerned about Matusz's pitch count, which will be between 55 and 60.

"So if he has got 45 pitches in the fourth inning, he is going to keep pitching," Showalter said.

The plan is for Matusz to throw 80 pitches in his next outing, which is slated for May 26 at either Triple-A Norfolk or Double-A Bowie. That depends primarily on the weather forecast for that day.

The Orioles could activate Matusz after May 26, or they may want him to have a 100-pitch, pain-free outing in the minors before he returns to the majors.

Around the horn

Norfolk catcher Craig Tatum (shoulder soreness) is eligible to come off the Triple-A disabled list but will remain on it for a few more days, Showalter said. Tatum threw at various lengths and experienced discomfort on 120-foot throws, so the organization will be cautious. … Righty Justin Duchscherer (left hip) will throw three innings in extended spring Wednesday. If that goes well, he'll throw four innings his next time out. …Before throwing three innings Sunday, the Orioles' bullpen hadn't pitched in regulation in its past three games. Friday and Saturday, Orioles starters pitched complete games, and Thursday, Britton went nine innings before the bullpen pitched the final three extra innings.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

twitter.com/danconnollysun

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