02/18/12 12:10 PM EST
Storylines abound as O's report to Sarasota
New faces dot Baltimore roster; rotation battle looms at camp
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
The Orioles are christening the 2012 season at Ed Smith Stadium this weekend, as the team's pitchers and catchers -- who reported Saturday morning to a brand new clubhouse -- will take the field for the first workout at approximately 9:15 a.m. ET Sunday.
"I get excited for spring," said catcher Matt Wieters, one of several Orioles who makes his offseason home in Sarasota. "I get excited every January when you start thinking about Spring Training."
Along with Wieters, young hurlers Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz were among those who have already been working out at the team's complex to get a head start on camp. And with good reason; all three are coming off injuries from 2011 and are vying for a rotation spot.
"Last year there was more of a competition for that back end [of the rotation]," said Britton, who has been slowed with left shoulder inflammation, but expects to still compete. "Now you got 12, 13 guys battling for five spots, so it should be really interesting."
Britton was slated to throw long toss on Saturday afternoon and, assuming all goes well, he will throw on back-to-back days Monday and Tuesday. The 24-year-old lefty estimates he's about two weeks away from getting up on a mound, and his progression over the next few weeks will go a long ways in determining Britton's readiness this spring.
Britton's competition to crack the O's starting five isn't short on numbers, with Arrieta, Matusz, Jason Hammel, Tommy Hunter, Dana Eveland, Chris Tillman, Brad Bergesen, Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada, among others, also expected to be in the mix. Gone is innings-eater Jeremy Guthrie, who was dealt to Colorado in return for Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom, leaving a hole in Baltimore's rotation.
"It's pretty crazy that at 29 I'd be one of the old guys," said Hammel, who will return to the American League East, the division he came up in as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. "I've seen other guys in the same position when I was a young kid. I'm still young, but, the guys really reached out and tried hard to be a leader at that age. That's exactly what I'm going to do. Whatever my role is, I want to be a leader. I remember at the end of the year with the Rockies knowing that the next year it would be a pretty young rotation there. I'm just going to try to give out whatever advice and experience I can hand out, so any help I can get from them back is also going to be a big bonus."
Although Hammel is a relative unknown to Orioles fans, the most intrigue on Saturday clearly surrounded Chen, whose arrival prompted a crowd of Taiwanese reporters to swarm around his locker.
"It's so beautiful here," Chen, speaking through interpreter Tim Lin, said of the Orioles' state-of-the-art spring facility. "Everything's great. The weather in Florida is beautiful. Not like in Japan because it's so cold over there right now. I feel very comfortable to be here."
Chen, who is one of the team's frontrunners for a rotation spot, said it has been his dream since high school to play Major League Baseball, and he hoped to play "at least 10 years or longer."
While the team's first full-squad workout isn't until Feb. 24, the energy level on Saturday was high as the players got reacquainted, and in some cases got to know each other, in a camp filled with the new faces that come with 31 pitchers.
"I think competition is what fuels everything," Tillman said. "It's going to be a fun camp. I know I'm excited. I think that goes for most people."
The Orioles have added roughly a dozen players under new executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, and there won't be any shortage of storylines this spring. Baltimore has 10 players who are out of options and must be placed on waivers if they don't make the team this spring, giving Duquette and manager Buck Showalter a tall task in roster juggling to try to give them the best possible outlook for the season.
The O's will open the Grapefruit League schedule on March 5 with split-squad games at 1:05 p.m. ET against the Rays and at 7:05 p.m. at home against the Pirates, so the first few weeks will feature extra arms -- including a minicamp for some of the team's Minor League invitees -- to ensure they are covered.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.