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Five Questions As Orioles Head For Spring Training

February 15, 2010

By Pete Kerzel

Matt Wieters
(Mitch Stringer/PressBox)
The Orioles team in Sarasota, Fla., for spring training and Grapefruit League play bears only a passing resemblance to the group that finished 2009 with a 12th consecutive losing season.

There’s a new workhorse atop the rotation in Kevin Millwood, acquired in a trade with Texas, and a new closer in the back end of the bullpen in Mike Gonzalez, signed to a two-year deal as a free agent. Two new corner infielders also came via free agency: first baseman Garrett Atkins, late of the Colorado Rockies, and ex-Oriole Miguel Tejada, who was signed to play third base and add leadership to a decidedly young team.

Manager Dave Trembley’s demeanor has changed, too. No more Mr. Nice Guy, says the skipper, emphasizing performance and accountability from his players.

“They have to step up, more so than a manager or a coach, and say, ‘Hey, this is not permissible, this is not acceptable,’ or we're never going to change what's existed here the last 12 years,” Trembley said. “It’s easy to tread water like that. We’re all going to have to make a whole lot more sacrifices, be a whole lot … less complacent.”

Lots of questions remain unanswered, things that must be figured out during the roughly six weeks in Sarasota before the Birds open the season at Tampa Bay April 6, and before they host their first game at Camden Yards April 9. Here is a quick look at five of the most compelling ones:

• What does the rotation look like?
Millwood, an innings-eating right-hander, is expected to be the top dog on the staff, a nod to his veteran presence and the problems right-hander Jeremy Guthrie had in that role the last two seasons. Millwood’s arrival knocks Guthrie into the No. 2 slot, which should mean more favorable matchups than facing other teams’ No. 1 pitchers on a routine basis.

Righty Brad Bergesen went 7-5 in 19 starts as a rookie before a liner to his left leg effectively ended his season July 31. He’s healthy and ready to solidify the middle of the rotation.

The Orioles want to be careful with two prized possessions, left-hander Brian Matusz and right-hander Chris Tillman, so they’ll be slotted deep in the rotation.

• Who’s hitting where in the lineup?
Aside from second baseman Brian Roberts, who will lead off, and shortstop Cesar Izturis, who seems pegged to hit ninth, Trembley must figure out how to maximize minimal power and still produce runs. The Orioles have guys with decent power in right-fielder Nick Markakis, center-fielder Adam Jones, designated hitter Luke Scott and left fielder Nolan Reimold.

Look for Tejada to hit second, and take advantage of Roberts’ running and Markakis behind him in the three-hole. Scott, Atkins and Reimold will be a mix-and-match group in the middle of the order, at least until Jones and Matt Wieters force their way into consideration.

• Which Matt Wieters will show up in April?
In his final 28 games, Wieters hit .343 with 17 RBIs and had eight multi-hit games in his final 15 contests. That raised his season mark to .288, more along the lines of the hype that accompanied his ballyhooed recall from Triple-A Norfolk in May. Though he was hitting only .263 in late August, the power and run production also increased in the season’s final month. Wieters had 17 RBIs in 20 games and four of his nine homers in September.

• Where does Koji Uehara fit in? 
When the right-hander was healthy enough to pitch in 2009, Uehara routinely ran out of gas, huffing and puffing in the fourth and fifth innings as Baltimore’s summertime heat and humidity wilted him. This year, he’ll work out of the bullpen, where he could fill any of a number of roles. Long relief would seem to suit him best, and his splits one time through a lineup suggest he could be effective in this role.

• Is there anyone on the current roster who might unexpectedly not survive spring training?
Two names jump out: Scott and reserve infielder Ty Wigginton. Scott’s name was mentioned frequently in offseason trade talks, and a big spring or another team’s injury situation could make him a marketable trade chip. Wigginton assumed he would succeed Melvin Mora at third base and wasn’t happy when the Orioles signed Atkins, who played that position in Colorado, and Tejada, who hasn’t ever manned the hot corner in the majors.

Issue 146: February 2010