Recovering Orioles pitchers feeling good after simulated game

Hunter, Britton, Johnson combine to throw four innings, eye next step

March 06, 2012|By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun

FORT MYERS, Fla. — — Three critical cogs of the Orioles' pitching staff spent Tuesday morning on the back fields of the Ed Smith Stadium complex.

While the Orioles' travel squad was on its way to Fort Myers to play the Boston Red Sox for an afternoon game at JetBlue Park, right-hander Tommy Hunter, left-hander Zach Britton and right-hander Jim Johnson — all rehabilitating injuries this spring — participated in a simulated game in Sarasota.

For the trio, this was their first time pitching in game scenarios. Hitters Jon Hester, Jai Miller, Nick Markakis and special assistant Brady Anderson served as hitters but rarely swung.

Hunter, battling lower-back stiffness, threw 37 pitches — mostly fastballs — over two innings after taking four days off. As planned, he will throw three innings in Sunday's "B" game.

"Everything felt really good. The back is not an issue," Hunter said. "After taking those four days off, I felt a lot better. I felt pretty strong with it. This next bullpen [session] is going to be pretty fun. I'll start mixing all my pitches in and see where they are."

Britton, on a throwing progression the entire spring for left-shoulder inflammation, threw 15 pitches in one inning. He tested all his pitches, and it was just the second time he tried throwing off-speed pitches.

"I was actually pretty surprised," Britton said. "It was good. I feel a lot more fresh, too, because I've kind of been on a slow progression, so getting on a mound, it felt really lively. I know I'm going to have a few more days off before I get into a game, so I think it'll be good. I'm real happy with it."

He will throw at least one more bullpen session between now and Sunday's "B" game, in which he's slated to throw two innings.

"I still need to sharpen them [his pitches] before I get into an actual game," Britton said. "In the bullpen, the adrenaline was pumping. But out there, it was nice and easy."

Johnson, who has been held back because of lower-back discomfort, also threw one inning (17 pitches) and was working on his mechanics in the outing.

"It feels good," he said. "It feels a lot better today mechanically. I felt like I was repeating my delivery pretty good. There's still a lot left in the tank as far as velocity, but it was definitely a good step. When I get to where I'm comfortable with my delivery and I can repeat it, that's the big focus right now. Then the velocity will start coming more."

Johnson said he tried to throw a few curveballs, which was different with batters in the box.

"It's a different look," said Johnson, who said he will pitch in another simulated game before possibly pitching in a live game Sunday. "It went good."

Markakis, who is recovering from offseason abdominal surgery, swung at one of Johnson's pitches for a line drive up the middle, then walked out of the batter's box, turned to manager Buck Showalter and said, "I'm ready."

"Go on and head up to Baltimore and I'll see you there," Showalter joked.

Anderson hit a liner down the first base line off Hunter, then ripped another ball into right-center field.

"I'm more worried about starting to get my location and not giving up hits to Brady Anderson," Hunter said afterward.

Tillman struggles

It was Chris Tillman's first spring outing in Tuesday's 5-4 loss to the Red Sox, but the Orioles right-hander was disappointed in his three-run third inning that gave Boston a 4-0 lead.

The Red Sox took advantage of a one-out throwing error by Ryan Flaherty that put runners at first and third. Tillman then gave up three run-scoring hits: a double to Adrian Gonzalez, a single to Ryan Lavarnway and a double to Cody Ross.

After his outing, Tillman took the blame.

"Errors happen," he said. "It's my job to do damage control. It's on me there. You got to make better pitches down in the zone. Physically, I felt really good. Obviously, the pitches weren't there. It just a matter of pulling back on the fastball a little bit — I was good in and out, but I was a little bit up in the zone."

Showalter was pleased with Tillman's recovery in the fourth, when he retired the Red Sox in order.

"Tilly is capable of better than that first inning, but he came back out there and made some adjustments and got some thing done," Showalter said. "At the major league level, we can't constantly be going through those adjustments. Sometime, you can't work your way back from that."

Lockermates trading grips

Newly acquired veteran relievers Matt Lindstrom and Luis Ayala have already begun comparing notes.

Lindstrom said Ayala, who pitched with the New York Yankees last year, has shown him a new slider grip he learned from Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. He was testing is in his first Grapefruit League outing Monday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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