The young pitchers who provided whatever positive aspects the Orioles mustered during the 2006 season seem to be starting this spring with the same attributes that earned them accolades last year.
Starting off on the right foot and hearing the positive talk after the fact has left-hander Erik Bedard and right-hander Daniel Cabrera thinking some positive things themselves.
Bedard, who led the club with 15 wins last season, and Cabrera, who has been praised for his potential but has been erratic through most of his brief career, were not scored upon in their first two starts, causing some teammates and opponents to take notice.
Of course, manager Sam Perlozzo spoke more cautiously and said he didn't want anybody to get too carried away with praise or with ideas about the season because of the early spring success.
Still, when Bedard was asked about how he might like to be the Opening Day starter, he couldn't suppress a smile.
"It would be fun," admitted Bedard, who added that it would be a great honor to get that assignment. "It gives you the feeling that you're the team's best pitcher. To do what I did last year and for me to be the No. 1 starter would be a great feeling."
Cabrera, who is hoping to have his first full season with the Orioles, finished 2006 with three straight wins that included a one-hitter against the Yankees. He believes he is ready to take a giant step up this year.
"I'm starting to see all the things I worked on in the offseason," Cabrera said. "I've got the same windup as last year, but the difference is I feel more consistent now. I worked a lot on my mechanics."
In the hitting department, right fielder Nick Markakis started off batting above .500. He had 11 hits in the Orioles' first nine exhibition games after finishing 2006 with a .296 average.
--RHP Kris Benson suffered a setback in his rehabilitation of the rotator cuff that has been partially torn, reportedly for a few years. He took off one day and was too sore to return to his regimen for the next two days, which boosts the possibility of season-ending surgery.
--RHP Hayden Penn returned to pitch after being sidelined by a sprained ankle suffered while moving into his spring training apartment. He was not outstanding but did not allow a run in one inning of work, and he felt no ill effects on his ankle.
--C Paul Bako was reportedly ready to play on March 9 after being sidelined by a strained right oblique muscle, but manager Sam Perlozzo said he would wait another day and get him behind the plate for three or four innings on March 10.
--OF Adam Stern, who had been slowed by a sore right oblique, saw his first action of the spring on March 9 when he entered the game as a pinch runner.
--RHP Paul Shuey, making his third appearance of the spring after not pitching in the majors since 2003 and undergoing experimental hip-replacement surgery last year, strained his right Achilles tendon as he broke from the mound when he threw a wild pitch.
BY THE NUMBERS: 30 -- The number of pitchers who appeared in the Orioles' first nine spring training games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know what I'm doing right now when I'm working with (pitching coach) Leo Mazzone. Last year at this time I was in the (World Baseball) Classic and didn't have a chance to work with him. Now we're working from the first day of spring training; he's feeling comfortable and I'm feeling comfortable, too." -- RHP Daniel Cabrera on his improvement this spring.
The Orioles unloaded a lot of dead wood during the offseason and made a lot of changes in their pitching staff with a new starter and several new relievers. They also brought in two new bats that could add some much needed punch to the lineup.
ARRIVALS: INF/OF Aubrey Huff (free agent from Astros), RHP Jaret Wright (trade with Yankees), LHP Jamie Walker (free agent from Tigers), RHP Danys Baez (free agent from Braves), RHP Chad Bradford (free agent from Mets), RHP Scott Williamson (free agent from Padres), RHP Jeremy Guthrie (claimed off waivers from Indians), C Paul Bako (free agent from Royals), OF/2B Freddie Bynum (trade with Cubs), OF Jay Payton (free agent from A's), RHP Steve Trachsel (free agent from Mets).
DEPARTURES: RHP Chris Britton (traded to Yankees), RHP LaTroy Hawkins (free agent, signed with Rockies), INF/OF David Newhan (free agent, signed with Mets), RHP Aaron Rakers (free agent), RHP Winston Abreu (free agent, signed with Nationals), RHP Rodrigo Lopez (traded to Rockies).
SPRING FOCUS: Most critical is the progress of RHP Daniel Cabrera and LHP Adam Loewen, though a close watch will be kept on the new acquisitions to rebuild the bullpen. Also of interest will be the dynamics of three players who might rotate at first base and DH and in the outfield -- returnees Jay Gibbons and Kevin Millar and newcomer Aubrey Huff.
1. LHP Erik Bedard
2. RHP Jaret Wright
3. RHP Daniel Cabrera
4. LHP Adam Loewen
5. RHP Steve Trachsel
Kris Benson returned to training camp to try to go through rehabilitation of his rotator cuff instead of having surgery that would keep him out for the season. Still, the signing of Trachsel might turn out to be a plus.
A lot of people in the organization believe that this will be the year the young starters come into their own. They also have their fingers crossed that this group will, in fact, be better than last season.
Bedard showed he belongs in the majors, but there are question marks about Cabrera and Loewen becoming more consistent. That will have to happen for the club to improve.
RHP Chris Ray (closer)
RHP Todd Williams
RHP Chad Bradford
LHP Jamie Walker
RHP Danny Baez
LHP Brian Burres
LHP John Parrish
Management realized the need for major changes in the bullpen and got rid of everyone but Ray and Williams and replaced them with veterans who can solidify what was the biggest problem of the 2006 season.
The club spent a lot of money to improve the relief staff. There is room for a long reliever, but that spot could be filled by a young future starter.
In addition to bringing in such names as Baez, Bradford and Walker, the Orioles signed some lesser relievers who could offer competition for the spots in the 'pen.
1. 2B Brian Roberts
2. 3B Melvin Mora
3. RF Nick Markakis
4. SS Miguel Tejada
5. 1B Aubrey Huff
6. C Ramon Hernandez
7. DH Jay Gibbons/Kevin Millar
8. LF Jay Payton
9. CF Corey Patterson
The addition of Huff's medium-to-good power batting behind Tejada will be helpful to the Orioles' home run and RBI leader and figures to improve the production at the top of the order.
Having Payton and Patterson at the bottom of the order should give Roberts, Mora and Markakis more opportunities for RBIs from the top three spots.
If Hernandez can come close to last year's production and Gibbons and/or Millar can find the power strokes they had in their earlier years, the lineup could be Baltimore's best in several seasons.
INF Chris Gomez
C Paul Bako
OF Adam Stern
OF/INF Freddie Bynum or Brandon Fahey
Gomez, who was re-signed after a torrid September, is a key because he can play almost anywhere and could be used as a pinch hitter, though manager Sam Perlozzo rarely uses pinch hitters.
Bako was signed in the offseason in hopes he could be the first effective backup catcher in Baltimore for several years. It's hoped he will get to start 30 to 40 games without causing a huge dropoff on either offense or defense.
Bynum and Fahey do a lot of the same things, so it's likely that only one of them will make the roster. If Stern shows promise with his bat, he could end up in the outfield/pinch hitter mix.
TOP ROOKIES: Top prospect RHP Hayden Penn, 22, could find himself this season after some struggles in 2006. He could be called up to work in the bullpen and try to earn a spot in the rotation.
C Adam Donachie was picked up from the Phillies in a trade of Rule 5 selections. He is inexperienced, but scouts think he could make the grade if the club decides to go with three catchers.
1B/DH Kevin Millar hit a foul ball off his left foot and caused a deep bruise but broke nothing. He was expected to be out a few days.
RHP Paul Shuey injured his right Achilles tendon and is out indefinitely.
RHP Kris Benson (partially torn rotator cuff) will attempt to rehab the injury rather than undergo surgery that likely would cause him to miss the entire season. He is out indefinitely.