The big news coming out of Fort Myers on Friday revolved around right-hander Brad Bergesen, but not how we expected.
Bergesen was in line for what was probably his most important start of the spring as he battles Chris Tillman for a spot in the Orioles' rotation and the chance to pitch Sunday, April 3 at Tampa Bay (Jeremy Guthrie will start the season opener on Friday, April 1; Brian Matusz will start April 2 and Jake Arrieta will start the home opener versus the Detroit Tigers April 4).
But Bergesen lasted just one batter, because that batter, Denard Span, hit a crushing liner that bounced off Bergesen's right forearm and forced him from the game.
It looked pretty scary, but X-rays were negative and it's being called a right forearm contusion. Bergesen even joked about it afterwards, when he was asked if he were disappointed that he didn't get a chance to show what he could do against a tough Twins lineup.
"It was a no-hitter," he deadpanned.
He said he is optimistic about returning soon – though a timetable won't be determined until the swelling subsides.
"The doctor said he hit me in probably the best spot," said Bergesen, who has a 5.82 ERA in 17 innings this spring. "He said any higher would have been a deep muscle bruise, and that would have caused some damage. And a little bit lower would have been ligaments, and lower than that would have caught the bone flush by itself. He said to get in the right arm, that's the best spot."
This isn't the first time Bergesen has dealt with a vicious comebacker. His banner rookie season in 2009 was cut short in July when a liner by Kansas City's Billy Butler caromed off Bergesen's left leg and caused a deep contusion. Bergesen said he thought about that play after the Span liner, but isn't concerned about pitching again.
"It's not going to be one of those things when I get back on the mound again, I'm going to be scared or tentative," Bergesen said. "I'll put it away and go forward with it."
While that was the ugly part of Friday's game – along with a brutal second inning in which Mike Ballard gave up six runs – there were a few positives. Jake Fox (ninth of the spring), Adam Jones (fifth) and Nolan Reimold (third) all homered.
But, perhaps most impressive, was lefty Chris George, who allowed one walk and one hit in 3 2/3 innings. He now has now pitched 10 spring innings without giving up an earned run.
"I have never thrown the ball better than I am throwing it right now," said George, 31, who was a first round pick of the Kansas City Royals in 1998. "My consistency with all my pitches is so much better right now than it ever was at any point in the big leagues."
George, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2004, has already been sent to minor-league camp but was kept around as insurance. He's expected to pitch in Triple-A Norfolk, as he has done each of the past two seasons, but Buck Showalter said it hasn't been determined whether he'll be in the Tides' bullpen or rotation.
"It's an uphill climb. I'm having to overcome some years of poor performances, but I have never thrown the ball better," George said. "I know that (pitching coach Mark Connor) and Buck have given me some positive feedback and I think they know I can come in there and throw strikes and get big league hitters out. I have done it. I have done it before and now I am featuring more consistency. I feel great about this spring."