Orioles Notebook: Birds sign Maryland native, pitcher Banks

SARASOTA, Fla. - Early Tuesday morning, an athletic man with more than 500 lifetime home runs drove a cream-colored Bentley up to the Baltimore Orioles spring training complex.

He was looking for a tryout. Not for himself, but for his newest client.

Gary Sheffield, who retired after the 2009 season, has begun representing a handful of players, and he brought pitcher Josh Banks to meet with Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette.

Banks, a Severna Park native, was once a highly thought of prospect. Drafted by the Orioles in the 34th round in 2000, Banks went to Florida International University. Three years later, the Toronto Blue Jays selected him in the second round.

Banks' career has been a disappointment. He reached the big leagues in 2007, and made his first start at Oriole Park. It didn't go well. He allowed five runs and nine hits in 5 1-3 innings, and after the season, the Blue Jays sent him to San Diego. After parts of two seasons with the Padres, he was let go, had one appearance for Houston in 2010, and hasn't pitched in the big leagues since.

After throwing at the team's minor league complex at Twin Lakes Park, Banks agreed to a minor league contract with the team he loved as a boy.

"It's pretty surreal," Banks said. "I guess Gary thought this was the best fit, so I'll go with what he thinks."

Duquette has been stockpiling pitchers, and if Banks does well at minor league camp, he'll come over to work with the big leaguers.

"He's a local kid and he went and pitched effectively in winter ball and showed that he was healthy," Duquette said.

Duquette signed Sheffield as a 17-year-old when he worked for the Milwaukee Brewer.

"Gary brought him here because he sees the opportunity for pitchers to help our major league team. So Gary's been paying attention. I'll tell you that," Duquette said.

HURTING ARMS: Manager Buck Showalter brought pitching coach Rick Adair into his daily press conference for an update on the injured pitchers.

Zach Britton, who has been slowed by a sore left shoulder, threw again Tuesday, and he'll throw his first bullpen session Friday. Britton will throw again March 5.

Adair and Showalter said that if Britton continues to progress, he'll still have an opportunity to come north with the club.

"If he stays on this schedule, he's an option to break with us and make our club," Showalter said.

Jim Johnson, whose lower back issues have hampered him, threw his second bullpen Tuesday, and will throw again Friday and March 5, Adair said.

Tsuyoshi Wada, who had a cortisone shot Sunday, is progressing nicely, Showalter said. He'll be re-evaluated on Wednesday.

Jason Berken, whose left hamstring has slowed him, will start throwing again on Wednesday.

Nick Markakis, who is still recovering from surgery on his abdomen last month, won't play in the first week of games, Showalter said.

EXHIBITION OPENERS: The Orioles, much to Showalter's displeasure, have been chosen to play split-squad games on their first day of exhibition games. Alfredo Simon was chosen to start next Monday's game against Tampa Bay at Port Charlotte. Brian Matusz will start the night game in Sarasota against Pittsburgh. Both are supposed to pitch two innings.

The Orioles will play intrasquad games Friday and Saturday.

ODDS AND ENDS: Duquette indicated that veteran catcher Ronny Paulino, who was supposed to report 10 days ago, will probably be on hand by the end of the week. Paulino has been held up in the Dominican Republic by visa issues. Dennys Reyes, a veteran pitcher who hasn't reported either because of those same issues, may not report.

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