SARASOTA, FLA. — When Buck Showalter assembled his group of pitchers and catchers for the first time on the Camden Yards field of the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Friday morning, he saw plenty of new faces looking back at him.
Of the 37 pitchers and catchers the Orioles invited to major league camp this spring, 17 of them were not here this time last year.
With spring training now officially underway, the Orioles manager said he's shifted focus away from the offseason, and any notion that the club hasn't done enough to compete in the competitive American League East.
"I've turned the page on that," Showalter said. "If somebody different [who is not] on our roster shows up … just because things are delayed sometimes, they are not denied. I like what we got. Until something changes, I'm going to grind [with] that."
So, even though Friday's first official workout of the spring included the usual minutiae of pitchers fielding practice drills, it was important for Showalter to instill his and the organization's way of playing the game.
"It's an important day," he said. "It's the first day, and we have a lot of new players who haven't been here. It's an important day for presentation, so to speak. I think the word [to use] is efficient. You try to be efficient without doing some things that paint an appearance that's not realistic."
During the season, Showalter often points to these days as the foundation for success. On Friday, he was front and center with his fungo bat in hand teaching situational bunt defense drills, knowing that few minutes can be wasted in preparing his squad for the season opener on March 31 against the defending world champion Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards.
"My biggest challenge is, I've got to slow myself down," Showalter said. "Keep in mind the tempo and the process of everything. You know where you want to end up, but you got to go through the steps to get there. It's exciting. I think [for] everybody that's been in the game for a long time, you got that moment where all of a sudden you get the sense of anticipation that you can't wait to get out there in that environment because it's something you are comfortable in. I had a little trouble sleeping last night for the right reasons."
For new players such as right-hander Liam Hendriks, Showalter's structure on Friday immediately left a strong impression.
"I really liked the fact that [pitchers fielding practices] were split up into certain drills," said Hendriks, who spent his entire career in the Minnesota Twins organization before he was claimed by the Orioles this offseason. "With the Twins, you do three or four of each [drill] and then you move on to the next group … whereas here, you focus on that one aspect and you do 10 minutes on that one aspect so it's more of a chance to kind of weld it into your brain a little bit, so that it's almost second nature. It's a bit different, but I like it."
When dividing pitchers into groups, Showalter made sure he placed some veterans among each group of newcomers. He made sure he put relievers Tommy Hunter and Darren O'Day together in the same group and paired starters Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez together. Catchers took their cues from starter Matt Wieters.
"Buck knows exactly what he's doing, so he's going to put at least two guys in each group that were here last year or the year before," said Gonzalez, who will likely be in the Opening Day starting rotation. "And I think it's important for the young guys to see what we're doing so they can learn from it and get the experience they need to, so whenever they have to do it in the future and we're not there, they'll be the ones who are in charge."
Showalter said that he trusts his veterans to show new players the clubhouse culture.
"Our guys are very comfortable in saying, 'Not here. We don't do it that way here,'" he said. "It doesn't mean somebody else is wrong, it's just the way we do things. You want to eliminate that as quick as possible, where they don't know what's going on. Where they've got to know they got to shave a 10-day beard or something. I don't want that distraction. The players handle that."
Showalter joked that it was funny seeing certain position players come to camp Friday thinking they were early — the first full squad workout isn't until Wednesday — when a majority of position players have already arrived.
"I hope it's done by example of the players who are already here and things they do and say, but I actually take a little of the other approach," Showalter said. "We're not going to tell you. We're going to show you. There's a little reputation. Not of me, but just the environment and the culture that we've kind of created, and it's kind of fun to watch how quick that peer help sets in."
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