Dr. Shorebird at the Mini Camp

Photo, Craig Landefeld

On the Right Path

The position promoted by the Orioles this week at the Pitchers Mini-camp seemed to be full of O’s. Optimism and Opportunity! Just as you never let your enemy know he hurt you, you never let your competitor know you are desperate to make a trade. The game-face appears to rightfully be “we’re moving ahead with who we have, and we will compete. We will just look closer at who we have. If you want to trade with us, you will have to offer a good deal. We’re just fine, thank you.” This is somewhat reminiscent of “I like our guys” and “Next man up.”

So, this week the Orioles took a closer look at who they have and I believe they were delighted with what they saw. Yes, everyone knows they need more quality starters and they have questions regarding the order of their 7-8-9 inning relievers. Do they already have the pitchers to be competitive in the American League East? They do have some impressive “arms,” but can they “pitch” as opposed to just throwing? They know more about that now.

They thought they had solutions before – the promised cavalry and last years’ Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson (now signed to pitch in Korea) shuttle. Injuries have disrupted plans time and time again. Now there are fresh home-grown guys as well as a few Rule 5 picks and free agent signings. Can they pitch as well as throw?

I don’t rely on my pitching evaluation as much as I rely on the evaluations of professional. Buck Showalter talks a lot about “seeing it in his eyes.” This week, I believe that I see it in Buck’s and Pitching Coach Roger McDowell’s eyes.

Last year, we had not yet signed McDowell by Mini-camp. He had to get to know his pitchers during spring training and start with the preconceived ideas of others. The first thing I noticed at mini-camp was McDowell’s interactions with everyone. You could see it in his walk and in his eyes. These are his pitchers now. He knows how to help those he got to know during last season and he liked what he saw in the new guys.

He will try to steer the battleship and not attempt to turn it around. No one comes into a mini-camp expecting to add 5 – 10 mph to their velocity. As McDowell said today us after camp, “my job is to take the pitchers that we have and get them better and compete in the American League East, and that’s what we’ll do. Whoever we have, that’s who we’re going to have. My job is to get them better and hopefully do well.”

A major part of pitching is the mental aspect. McDowell is a master at that. He, and Bullpen Coach, Alan Mills, have gained the trust of the pitchers and they, in turn, will help the pitchers trust their own stuff – not just in the bullpen but in the game when it is on the line. Confidence and craftiness can be taught.

Mini-camp also provides the opportunity to chat with coaches and other pitchers about finessing secondary pitches without the pressure of being in season.
Getting back to “seeing it in their eyes,” the pitchers are well aware of their special opportunity. You can see it in their eyes and their excitement on the field even during boring drills.

Even if trades and free agent signings occur (such as Chris Tillman), look for major steps forward from Hunter Harvey, Nestor Cortes, Miggy Castro, Jimmy Yacabonis and Tanner Scott. Also look for veterans Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier and Chris Tillman (probable signing) to be in top form. It’s great to see the home-grown talent progressing and getting noticed by the staff.