One of the major factors in the Orioles' nightmarish season last year was their inability to throw the ball over the plate. And when three of their young pitchers appeared to be just as wild early in spring training, team officials had to feel as if they were reliving the same nightmare.
Adam Loewen walked four of the seven batters he faced in the exhibition opener Feb. 28, and Orioles pitchers walked eight batters overall against the Marlins. That brought back memories of last year, when they led the major leagues by issuing 696 bases on balls, 160.5 above the average of 635.5 for the 30 major league teams and 35 more than any other team.
Highly touted prospect Garrett Olson was extremely wild in an intrasquad game, and even when he pitched two scoreless innings Saturday and struck out three, he also walked two batters.
Jeremy Guthrie made his spring debut Sunday and also had control troubles. He walked one and hit a batter in his two innings.
During the offseason, manager Dave Trembley talked about the importance of the pitchers throwing strikes more consistently. Hoping to cure the control malady, the Orioles hired Rick Kranitz, who spent more than two decades in the Cubs organization, from the Florida Marlins to serve as the pitching coach.
Manager Dave Trembley said of Kranitz, "He brings a level of expertise in mechanics and has the ability to adapt to all different styles."
That is something the Orioles are likely to need after posting the second-highest ERA (5.17) and giving up the second most earned runs (827) last year.
There were signs of progress over the weekend, however. The Orioles allowed only three walks per game in three consecutive games, and right-hander Daniel Cabrera, who led the majors with 108 walks last year and 104 the year before, pitched three scoreless innings March 1 ... and didn't walk a single hitter.
Maybe Kranitz's message to stop nibbling and throw strikes is hitting its target after all.
--1B Mike Costanzo, a left-handed hitter in camp as a non-roster invitee, went 4-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs as the Orioles' cleanup hitter in Thursday's loss to Minnesota. Costanzo, 24, hit 27 homers for Class AA Bowie last year.
--OF Adam Jones, a centerpiece in the trade that sent LHP Erik Bedard to Seattle, left Thursday's game with a tight back. After the game, he told MLB.com that he exited merely for precautionary reasons and that the injury was minor.
--RHP Daniel Cabrera's spring got off to a strong start with a scoreless three-inning outing against the Nationals. But displaying his typical inconsistency, Cabrera was hit hard Thursday by the Twins. He allowed five runs (two earned) in 1 2/3 innings. He walked two and threw a wild pitch.
--RHP Matt Albers appears to be being groomed for the final slot in the rotation. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz is working to change his emphasis from curveballs to sinkers and fastballs, to go after hitters with fastballs and get them to hit groundballs for outs.
--LHP Troy Patton was shut down after the pain in his left shoulder became worse last weekend. The starter, who was acquired from the Astros in the Miguel Tejada trade, returned to Baltimore on Tuesday for further testing but is expected to undergo surgery that will keep him out for the entire season. He was expected to get the fifth spot in the rotation.
--RF Nick Markakis, who led the Orioles in most offensive categories in 2007, had his contract extended Tuesday, but he wasn't happy. Beginning his third major league season, Markakis received just a $55,000 raise to $455,000. "That's how the Orioles feel ... I'm going to have to deal with it," he said.
--3B Melvin Mora, whose average, home run and RBI totals have dropped in each of the past two seasons, is off to a hot start. He vowed coming into spring training to improve, and he is leading the club with seven RBIs. Mora's .500 average is second only to RF Nick Markakis' .538.
--RHP Dennis Sarfate, one of the pitchers who came to the team in the trade for Miguel Tejada, was given a vote of confidence by manager Dave Trembley. "He will have to pitch his way off this club," Trembley said the reliever who has only 15 major league appearances in his career.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- The number of career complete games among the eight anticipated starters on the 40-man roster. All were by Daniel Cabrera, who has 116 career starts, while the other seven total 112 career starts. Non-roster invitee Steve Trachsel has 20 complete games in 409 starts.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know there are a lot of people who won't believe it until they see it, but I think he's going to have a very solid season for us." -- Manager Dave Trembley on RHP Daniel Cabrera, who led the league in walks the last two years and led the league with 18 losses last season.
ARRIVALS: CF Adam Jones (trade with Mariners), LHP George Sherrill (trade with Mariners), RHP Roberto Novoa (waiver claim from Cubs), C Guillermo Quiroz (free agent from Rangers), OF Luke Scott (trade with Astros), LHP Troy Patton (trade with Astros), RHP Matt Albers and RHP Dennis Sarfate (trade with Astros), RHP Greg Aquino (waiver claim from Brewers), OF Chris Roberson (contract purchased from Phillies), RHP Lance Cormier (minor league free agent from Braves), RHP Steve Trachsel (minor league free agent from Cubs).
DEPARTURES: LHP Erik Bedard (traded to Mariners), SS Miguel Tejada (traded to Astros), RHP Kris Benson (non-tendered free agent, signed minor league deal with Phillies), C Paul Bako (non-tendered), CF Corey Patterson (non-tendered).
SPRING FOCUS: It will be critical and difficult for the Orioles to come up with a starting rotation after trading their best pitcher, Erik Bedard, to the Mariners. The top two projected starters won a combined 16 games last season, and one, Daniel Cabrera, remains a gigantic question mark because of his lack of control and consistency. The other three form a mountain of inexperience with a combined 3-5 record, which leaves the possibility for a lot of changes before Opening Day. The bullpen is in similar limbo, which means a lot of work for pitching coach Rick Krantz.
1. RHP Jeremy Guthrie
2. RHP Daniel Cabrera
3. LHP Adam Loewen
4. LHP Garrett Olson
5. RHP Matt Albers
Guthrie, the likely No. 1, pitched better than his 7-5 record would indicate -- he had a 3.70 ERA in 175 1/3 innings -- but 2007 was his rookie season. Cabrera led the league with 18 losses and 108 walks, but his potential gives him a spot that is his to lose.
Loewen was out for the season after six starts but could be a key man if he comes back strong from surgery for a stress fracture in his left elbow. There are numerous possibilities for the other spots.
Olson, who has climbed through the Orioles' organization, and Albers, who came from the Astros, are considered the best of the group that includes RHPs Hayden Penn and Brian Burres. Also in the mix is veteran RHP Steve Trachsel, in camp on a minor league contract.
LHP Troy Patton, also acquired from the Astros, would have been a rotation candidate, but a shoulder injury has shelved him until 2009.
LHP George Sherrill (closer)
RHP Chad Bradford
LHP Jamie Walker
RHP Lance Cormier
RHP Greg Aquino
RHP Dennis Sarfate
Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker are the lone returnees because closer Chris Ray and setup man Danys Baez will sit out all or most of the season after having Tommy John surgery. The remaining relievers have been collected from free agent signings, off the waiver wire and through trades, which means there probably will be a lot of competition for the jobs.
Brian Burres could be the long man, and RHPs Jim Hoey, Fernando Cabrera and Rocky Cherry also hope to earn a spot along with longshots Randor Bierd, a Rule 5 pick from the Tigers, and Bob McCrory.
The group that emerges could prove to be a decent unit with more potential waiting to be called up from the minor leagues.
1. 2B Brian Roberts
2. 3B Melvin Mora
3. RF Nick Markakis
4. DH Aubrey Huff
5. C Ramon Hernandez
6. LF Luke Scott
7. 1B Kevin Millar
8. CF Adam Jones
9. SS Luis Hernandez
There could be several changes if Roberts is traded, as expected, but for now Roberts and perhaps Melvin Mora will be at the top and Luis Hernandez and Adam Jones will be at the bottom of the lineup.
Nick Markakis is a sure bet at No. 3, but the four, five, six and seven spots are interchangeable depending on production. That group will include Aubrey Huff, Luke Scott, Kevin Millar and Ramon Hernandez.
The lack of power is an ongoing problem in the organization. The Orioles hope that Markakis can continue to hit the long ball and that Scott, who came from the Astros, a rejuvenated Hernandez and Huff and Millar can step up. Jay Gibbons will get a chance to share the designated hitter role with Huff and Millar.
OF Jay Payton
INF Scott Moore
INF Brandon Fahey
C Guillermo Quiroz
OF Freddie Bynum
OF Tike Redman
Picking the right players for the bench will be difficult. There will be some speed but little power among the reserves. The extra outfielders -- Jay Payton, Tike Redman and Freddie Bynum -- could be productive and would provide some speed.
Scott Moore could be a key backup as a pinch hitter. As has been the case for several seasons, backup catcher Guillermo Quiroz offers little with the bat, which keeps the pressure on to have a slowing Hernandez behind the plate too often.
TOP ROOKIES: LHP Garrett Olson, who got his first taste of the majors while going 1-3 in seven starts in 2007, could lean on that limited experience to step up as a regular in the rotation. LHP Troy Patton, acquired from the Astros in the trade for Miguel Tejada, was one of the gems of the Houston organization despite appearing in only three games and losing his only two late-season starts last year.
OF Adam Jones (back tightness) left the March 6. He is day-to-day.
1B/DH Aubrey Huff (offseason hernia surgery) is being brought slowly, but the team hoped he could make his first exhibition appearance the first week of March.
RHP Chris Ray (Tommy John surgery in August 2007) might miss all of the 2008 season.
RHP Danys Baez (Tommy John surgery in September 2007) likely will miss the entire 2008 season.
LHP Troy Patton (sore left shoulder) has a labrum tear, will require surgery, and is out until at least 2009.