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Orioles' Arrieta 'can't be happier' after Grapefruit League debut

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Right-hander Jake Arrieta looked very impressive in his 2012 Grapefruit League debut Friday afternoon, throwing two hitless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays and displaying terrific velocity.

His fastball was clocked by the Charlotte Sports Complex radar gun as high as 97 mph, and it averaged 96 mph over the course of a 24-pitch outing during which he threw 17 strikes and allowed just one walk.

Though Arrieta still has to prove that his surgically repaired elbow is strong enough to pitch late into ballgames, he had to be very encouraged with how strong he felt the first time out. He is just seven months removed from the procedure that extracted a large spur from his pitching elbow.

"I've really never felt this good since I've been a pro," Arrieta said. "There's still room for improvement. I've still got some strength to gain back. But I think it's going to be a really fun year."

Arrieta couldn't help but view his performance through the prism of what he went through last year, pitching through elbow pain for four months before finally deciding to have the surgery in August.

"It made it all worthwhile," he said. "Pitching with the bone spur last year and getting the bone spur taken out the beginning of August when I did, it was a hard position to be in: having to contemplate surgery, being shut down for the year, not knowing what the results would be. But being in the situation where I am now, after putting in the hours of hard work, day in and day out, I can't be happier with where I am right now."

Manager Buck Showalter was certainly impressed.

"Jake threw the ball well," he said. "You could see it in his face. It was a pretty big moment for him to finally get back out there. Anytime you go inside anybody's elbow or shoulder, you never know exactly what you're going to get, but that was pretty good."

Of course, it was only two innings, and Showalter — who was clearly shaken after outfielder Nolan Reimold was hit in the face by a pitch in the first inning — wasn't in the mood to project anything too far into the future.

"It's a good step for him today," Showalter said. "Let's see where it takes us. He got close to 40 pitches under his belt, and we'll keep stepping forward on it. It's a good start. If he had told me last year when he made the decision to do what we did, that we'd be sitting here today, I'd feel real good about it. He worked his butt off on his rehab, and today was a good return for it."

Game report

The Orioles and Rays played to a 10-inning, 3-3 tie in a game that featured scoreless performances by Orioles pitchers Pat Neshek, Chris George and Steve Johnson (St. Paul's).

Brad Bergesen allowed two runs on three hits over two innings, but Showalter complimented the movement on his sinker.

Outfielders Endy Chavez and Xavier Avery each drove in a run in a seven-hit performance by the offense.

Sore subject

Showalter revealed Friday that three more Orioles are suffering from lower-back soreness. Third baseman Mark Reynolds, reliever Matt Lindstrom and reserve catcher Taylor Teagarden have had their schedules altered to allow time for the inflammation to subside.

The Orioles have been bringing reliever Jim Johnson and starting pitcher Tommy Hunter along slowly because of lower-back issues.

"We're just modifying them a little bit," Showalter said before the game. "If we were in season, we might handle things a little differently."

Berken setback

Pitcher Jason Berken has suffered a setback in his recovery from the hamstring strain he suffered early in camp. Showalter stopped short of saying he no longer can be ready to start the regular season on time, but it seems likely he'll have to spend some time in extended spring training.

"We're kind of getting to the point where setbacks for starting pitchers — or any pitchers — [are] not good," Showalter said.

The No-Hair Club

Rays manager Joe Maddon, who isn't afraid to make a statement off the top of his head, has announced that this year's hairdo will actually be a hair-don't. He and selected Rays players will shave their heads March 15 to pay tribute to children battling cancer.

"This is about being there for the kids and their families," Maddon said in a statement. "We want them to know they are not alone. It's a small gesture, but it is our way of showing support for them while gaining empathy for what they are going through."

The Rays support a number of institutions and foundations that aid in that cause, including the Pediatric Cancer Foundation and the Moffitt Cancer Center.

Around the horn

Left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada threw a bullpen session and will throw another Sunday before moving on to live batting practice. ... Kevin Gregg has been added to the list of pitchers who will throw in the "B" game Sunday. That game will also feature Hunter and fellow starter Zach Britton. ... Catcher Ronny Paulino, who had been delayed by work-visa issues, is expected to be in camp Saturday.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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