FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -The Orioles' top three pitching prospects were among 12 players sent to minor league camp yesterday in the first cuts of spring.
Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta, potentially the strongest trio of pitchers the organization has had in decades, impressed during their short story here.
"I've been watching pitchers for a long time," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said, "and I would say those three guys are as good as I have seen at any one time coming up through somebody's system."
Said team president Andy MacPhail: "I was impressed with their work ethic and their professionalism. For young kids, they have more than God-given stuff. They really have the right approach."
Although minor league assignments are not yet official, Matusz, the club's top draft pick in 2008, is expected to start at Single-A Frederick, while Troy Patton and Arrieta are targeted for Double-A Bowie.
Tillman, who turns 21 in April, will most likely begin at Triple-A Norfolk, where he would again be among the youngest players. The organization would like to reunite him with Tides pitching coach Mike Griffin, who was at Double-A Bowie last year when Tillman was 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA.
That plan could change, however, depending on the makeup of the Tides' staff after the Orioles make final cuts in April.
Also sent to minor league camp in Sarasota yesterday were four pitchers on the 40-man roster - Patton, David Hernandez, Jim Hoey and Chorye Spoone (Northeast, CCBC-Catonsville) - and five nonroster invitees: catchers Adam Donachie and Jose Reyes, pitchers Fredy Deza and Ryan Keefer, and infielder Craig Brazell.
The group will report tomorrow, and minor league games start Tuesday. The Orioles are down to 55 players in camp.
Tillman, who allowed one run in four innings this spring, will work on his fastball command and improving his changeup in the minors. He said this camp was much different from his first in 2008.
"Last year I was all nervous and I wanted to prove everything to everybody," Tillman said. "This year ... it was a lot more relaxed."
Arrieta, 23, threw one scoreless inning in one official spring game. Trembley said he told Arrieta: " 'Don't be in a hurry.' ... We want him to pitch every fifth day."
Trembley said Matusz, 22, who threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings in two Grapefruit League games, did a lot of the talking during their conversation yesterday.
"This guy has had the time of his life here and was grateful and appreciative," Trembley said.
Second baseman Brian Roberts will join Team USA in Miami for the second round of the World Baseball Classic. The spot opened because of an injury to the Boston Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia.
Roberts' absence means the Orioles will be missing three-fourths of their starting infield, with Melvin Mora and Cesar Izturis playing for Venezuela.
Johnson shut down
Reliever Jim Johnson, considered a key part of the Orioles' bullpen, has been shelved for at least a week with an impingement in his throwing shoulder, similar to the injury that sidelined him late last season. Johnson told MLB.com he felt some soreness in the shoulder during his last exhibition appearance.
Around the horn:
Right fielder Nick Markakis was in the clubhouse after the birth of his first child, Taylor, on Thursday. ... Rich Hill will throw from a mound today. ... Right-hander Koji Uehara (left hamstring strain) jogged lightly, rode a stationary bike and played catch but doesn't know when he'll be able to run or pitch.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.
The wind was blowing out of Fort Lauderdale Stadium, and so were baseballs during the Orioles' 9-8 victory over the Red Sox yesterday. Donnie Murphy had the most dramatic of six home runs by the Orioles - a solo shot in the bottom of the ninth to give them a win over the Boston Red Sox. In the Orioles' 15 previous Grapefruit League games, they had a total of eight homers. Felix Pie and Nick Markakis hit their first homers of the spring, Nolan Reimold hit his second and Justin Turner hit two - his second and third of the month.
Turner, a versatile infield prospect acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in the Ramon Hernandez deal, is trying to force his way into the utility infielder picture, and he had another big day. He blasted the two home runs and had three RBIs in a 2-for-4 performance that raised his Grapefruit League average to .385. "It seems like he gets a couple of hits every game," manager Dave Trembley said. Trembley dodged a question about whether Turner is in the running for the final utility spot but said he has made a great early impression with his ability to drive fastballs and play several positions.
The Orioles have rare back-to-back trips to Fort Myers, Fla., starting today with a game against the Red Sox. Brian Bass, Chris Waters and Wilfrido Perez will pitch. The Orioles' hitters will face four members of the Red Sox's 2008 staff: Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen. The Orioles will return home and bus back across Alligator Alley to Fort Myers again tomorrow to face the Minnesota Twins.