Hill showing right stuff

The Baltimore Sun

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. - Recently acquired left-hander Rich Hill is progressing in his comeback from command issues in 2008, and he was throwing so well during his batting practice session yesterday that reserve catcher Guillermo Quiroz couldn't restrain his enthusiasm.

"That's the best left-handed stuff I've ever seen," Quiroz said.

Maybe that's a little bit much, but the issue with Hill has never been his talent. He was one of the brightest young pitchers in baseball a couple of seasons ago before he spun out of control.

"We all know the stuff," pitching coach Rick Kranitz said. "You don't just walk on a diamond and all of a sudden, you're [fourth] in the league in strikeouts. That's not a mistake. We know what kind of stuff he has. You just have to make sure it gets consistent. He has [gotten better each time]. We're taking little steps at a time."

The next big step will come Sunday, when Hill makes his exhibition debut in the Orioles' rotation on the road against the Washington Nationals.

Wieters honored again

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters was named Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America at the end of last season. This week, the magazine released its top 100 prospects for 2009 and he was at the top of that list, too.

Guess that shouldn't come as a great surprise, but Wieters was chosen over Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price, who came up late in the season and starred in last year's American League Championship Series.

"It's a great honor, but you have to look at it as what I did last year and this is a whole new year," he said. "You can look at that kind of stuff in the offseason, but when spring training comes around, you've got to really get back going and focus on this year."

The Orioles have three prospects in the top 25 - the other two are Chris Tillman (No. 21) and Brian Matusz (No. 25). Jake Arrieta is ranked No. 67.

Hargrove in camp

Former Orioles manager Mike Hargrove is helping coach the Italian team, but he said again yesterday that he wouldn't mind getting one more chance to manage in the major leagues. He quit in Seattle while the Mariners were still in contention in 2007 - supposedly because he had lost the desire to manage the team - so he acknowledges that he'll have to convince a team he still has the fire to be an effective manager.

There is a back story that Hargrove will not talk about, but it became apparent later that the team was in turmoil at several levels, including the front office. Since then, the Mariners have fired general manager Bill Bavasi and manager John McLaren.

Hargrove spent last summer managing a summer league team in Liberal, Kan., and is set to do that again this year, but he's available to manage in the big leagues if an opportunity arises.

"Yeah, I'd like to give it one more try," he said.

Clarity on passports

Now that newly acquired outfielder Felix Pie has reported, it's probably a good time to clear up some misconceptions about his delayed arrival. It apparently was not the result of some kind of mistake by Pie and certainly was not because of any intransigence on the part of Dominican government officials.

Pie, and other foreign players living in their home countries, have to go through the American consulate to get a passport before every season. It's a fairly routine procedure, but it is subject to the fits and starts of government bureaucracy and has become more complicated and time-consuming in the post-Sept. 11 world.

The reason Pie's passport got hung up: He was traded to the Orioles late in the offseason and had to refile his application because of the change of employer. The government moves at its own pace, though it wouldn't be a complete surprise if there are times when the process moves faster for the better-known players or if someone influential intervenes on behalf of the applicant.

Around the horn

Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda visited Fort Lauderdale Stadium to promote the World Baseball Classic but quickly got pulled into the discussion of the Florida Marlins' stadium situation. During interviews on a couple of local television stations, Lasorda encouraged Miami residents to support the Marlins' quest for a new ballpark. ...B.J. Surhoff has joined the Orioles as a spring instructor. ... Wieters walked in his first two plate appearances. Orioles play-by-play announcer Joe Angel thinks he knows why. "I think the word on Wieters has gotten back to Italy," he said.

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