As the Orioles' pitchers and catchers conduct their first spring workout Sunday at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, two of the team's most valued arms will be closely monitored.
Left-hander Zach Britton, ailing from lingering left-shoulder inflammation, had a successful second throwing session Saturday in Sarasota. He will get Sunday off before taking a major step forward — throwing on back-to-back days for the first time — Monday and Tuesday.
And right-hander Jim Johnson, the favorite to secure the closer role this spring, will be slowed by lower-back discomfort. Johnson will throw Sunday but will toss from flat ground as part of a "trunk stabilization" program.
"The big thing now is getting your body healthy and ready to go," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We'll probably take it slow with Zach and J.J."
Showalter said he's not concerned about either pitcher's ability to be ready for the season.
Johnson converted his final eight save opportunities last season, including seven straight to end the season once he was handed the closer role from Kevin Gregg in September. Showalter said part of the team's decision to move slowly with Johnson has to do with his new role.
"It's understanding what he's going to be doing this year," Showalter said. "He's going to be on this club, and there's no reason to [rush]. … There's no reason to push that envelope."
Showalter also mentioned that Johnson has had some patella (knee) issues in the past but the most recent trainer's report said those have been absolved. After throwing on flat ground Sunday, the next step for Johnson is to throw from a half mound.
Britton, who hasn't been able to shake the pain in his shoulder since a stint on the disabled list in August, has been cautious this offseason. But Britton said the diagnosis he received from Dr. Keith Meister at TMI Sports Medicine was encouraging. His MRI revealed no structural damage, and a new anti-inflammatory medicine seems to be working.
Before his session Saturday, Britton said the inflammation is likely something he will have to monitor throughout his career.
"[Meister] said this is something that could go away for five years and creep back up on you," Britton said. "It just happens over time. But he said it's nothing serious. It's just something you have to take care of right when it happens."
If back-to-back throwing sessions Monday and Tuesday go well, Britton would have Wednesday off, then go back-to-back again Thursday and Friday.
Chen has high hopes
Wei-Yin Chen's introduction to the major leagues Saturday came with two video cameras awaiting him at his locker as the 26-year-old Taiwanese left-hander returned from playing catch on pitchers-and-catchers report day.
Chen, who signed a three-year, $11.338 million contract this offseason, must adapt to the spotlight. He is expected to compete for a top-of-the-rotation spot this spring and said he hopes this year is the beginning of a long major league career.
"I hope I can be here at least 10 years or longer," Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. "When I was in high school, a lot of my classmates and teammates went to the states to play baseball, so that's always been my dream to play in the MLB."
Chen, who had a career 36-30 record and a 2.68 ERA in four seasons with then Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Central League, added that he spent some of his offseason in Arizona weight training.
"I know American baseball is totally different than Japan," Chen said. "I did a lot to prepare for that."
One thing that's different: the weather.
"It's so beautiful here," Chen said. "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."
Around the horn
Showalter said second baseman Brian Roberts, whose past two seasons have been derailed by concussion symptoms, reported to camp Saturday. "He looked good," Showalter said. "He was smiling and had a good look on his face." … As part of pre-workout physicals, pitchers will participate in new pitching development coordinator Rick Peterson's pitching lab — a kind of mechanical analysis testing that he developed with Dr. James Andrews — beginning Sunday. … Right-handed pitcher Ryan Edell, a minor league free-agent acquisition, hasn't reported to camp and apparently might have retired. … Showalter was watching the Weather Channel on the flat-screen TV in his new office, monitoring Sunday's weather. There's a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms for the Orioles' scheduled noon workout. … While the Orioles' remodeled facility is sparkling, first baseman Joe Mahoney and pitcher Steve Johnson (St. Paul's) have the most dubious locker spots, right next to two drink coolers on opposite corners of the clubhouse — the doors open toward their lockers.
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