Anthony Bochniak, a 71-year-old Baltimorean and longtime Oriole fans, is gearing up to attend his first games at Camden Yards. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun video)
JUPITER, FLA. — Even though Eddie Gamboa struggled in his short time in big league camp this spring, Orioles manager Buck Showalter believes he's further along in the his transformation into a knuckleballer than former Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey was at the same time.
"He just needs to keep the ball in his hand," Showalter said. "He had a lot of success with it the last month of two of the season. … Other knuckleballers have told him sometimes it's four or five years to really get a feel for it. Just telling him, we're going to run this course with him and see where it takes us."
Wednesday, the Orioles optioned Gamboa -- who is in his third season attempting to perfect the knuckleball -- but before was sent to minor league camp, Showalter wanted to give him a message.
"I just wanted him to know that we as an organization, the first time there's a couple of bad outings, we're not going to put our hands up in the air," Showalter said. "He's gotten a little better each year with it. It will be interesting to see if he can carry over what he did last year. He was 80-85 percent [knuckleballs]."
When managing the Texas Rangers, Showalter suggested that Dickey – then struggling to stick in the majors – transition to becoming a knuckleball pitcher. He's currently the best one in the game, winning the National League Cy Young in 2012. Showalter also managed knuckleballer Russ Springer.
"He's ahead of R.A," Showalter said of Gamboa. "I went through the process with two or three of them. [Gamboa is] ahead of them, believe it or not. His knuckleball is quality. He's athletic. He has all the attributes to do it. Whether he can do it or not is just keeping it in his hand and keep throwing it."
Gamboa admitted he's struggled to throw the knuckler more often. In his first spring start March 3 in Lakeland, he allowed a three-run homer on a 3-1 fastball, drawing criticism from Showalter. Besides emphasizing that Gamboa continue focusing on the knuckleball, Showalter told him to reduce his repertoire to three pitches – a knuckleball, fastball and cutter.
"A couple things in this camp helped [Gamboa]," Showalter said. "Every time he cocked a fastball, it got squared up. … I think the commitment is there now.
"I think he's really benefitted from talking to other knuckleballers who have been successful in the majors and they've all be saying the same thing," Showalter added. "Actually, we could look back on it a few years from now and think about that outing in Lakeland, might have been the last thing he needed to experience."
Gamboa allowed six runs on five hits over three spring innings, hitting two batters, walking two and striking out one.
Fortunately, Chris Tillman is not allergic to ice, because he was wearing a ton of it on Thursday morning. Tillman always gets iced up the day after throwing to ward off any post-workout soreness in his arm and shoulder.
"It's the good kind of soreness,'' he said. "I get sore every time I pitch, just because that's how I am. I have to go 100 percent every time. I actually miss that soreness [in the offseason]. It's actually part of what you miss. It's a very good soreness. It's a you-know-you're-doing-the-right-thing kind of soreness."
Tillman is scheduled to pitch Saturday on one of the back fields against a team from Puerto Rico. He hopes to expand his pitch count to about 60 or 65 and is happy for the opportunity to stretch out in a controlled environment.
"I think you can control it more because it's not a real spring training game,'' he said. "You can control more variables. That's part of why we're doing it, to get [Matt] Wieters back there. We'll get to work on whatever we have to without worrying about results."
Closer Zach Britton will stretch out to two innings in his next spring outing this weekend – game conditions permitting. He already has pitched three scoreless one-inning outings, and the most recent two came over a three-day span. But he will pitch a little longer on occasion this spring so he can have the ability to work on some things.
"I think it's just to get more pitches in ... to get your arm-slot there,'' he said. "I think more than anything, it's just more pitches and getting comfortable on the mound."
Before his first full season as a reliever last spring, Britton's first three spring training outings were two-inning stints before he finished Grapefruit League play with six outings of one inning or less.
Britton said that coming off a season in which he settled into the closer role changed his offseason routine. He had already had 10 bullpen sessions by the time he reported for training camp last year, but was instructed by pitching coach Dave Wallace not to pitch until he was back with the team.
The team the Orioles brought across the state to play the Cardinals in Jupiter on Thursday had few starters – second baseman Jonathan Schoop was truly the only starter in the lineup – but gave several reserves their first opportunity to start this spring.
It gave Showalter an opportunity to see how those reserves fared against a left-handed starter, Jaime Garcia.
Around the horn
Right-hander Kevin Gausman is slated to throw three to four innings in his start Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates' "B" team at Ed Smith Stadium. … Matt Wieters will not play in Friday's game in Dunedin, giving him two days off before he catches (but doesn't throw) in back-to-back simulated exhibitions on Saturday and Sunday. Wieters would then get Monday off before he's slated to be cleared to play -- and throw – in Grapefruit League games.