When Henry Urrutia made his major league debut in 2013, it was almost exclusively as a designated hitter. He played in 24 games for the Orioles, but only three innings in left field.
This year, since his recall Saturday from Triple-A Norfolk, Urrutia has started in all five games, including four in left.
So what's been the difference for the 28-year-old Cuban who was initially considered below-average defensively?
Perspective, said Urrutia, who missed most of 2014 after sports hernia surgery. He so badly wants to play — and stick — in the majors. And he knew he'd have to improve his glovework if he wanted to play for Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
"Buck loves a good defense," Urrutia said. "If I want to play in the big leagues for a long time, I have to play good defense, be the best defensive guy I can be. That's why I'm working on that."
Said Showalter: "Henry worked very hard at it. … He knew it was something he had to get better at. And I'm proud of him."
Urrutia said he has been more attentive to the more subtle aspects of playing the field this year.
"I can catch the ball. I can throw, but you have to throw 100 percent, you have to make good plays," Urrutia said. "You can do that by working every day on the field before the games."
He has done that, and he gives major credit to outfield instructor Wayne Kirby, who worked with him a lot this year in spring training, and center fielder Adam Jones.
There have been some obvious payoffs from the extra work, like on Sunday when he robbed former teammate Danny Valencia of a home run at the left-field wall. Urrutia said he had a feeling before the game that he'd make a highlight-reel catch.
"I was thinking about the wall and I thought, 'I want to make a good catch,'" he said. "And when I saw that fly ball, I said, 'This is my time.'"
There have also been some points of instruction for Urrutia. On Wednesday, he made a throw to cutoff man Jonathan Schoop that Schoop dropped in the rush to throw home. Kirby said Urrutia needed to have more urgency on the play.
"It's still a growing stage with him as far as the small things about baseball," Kirby said. "You've got to come in with a sense of urgency and a sense of throwing the ball hard to the cutoff man instead of three-quarter speed. Those are growing pains. Things he's gonna have to continue to learn."
The good thing is, Kirby said, Urrutia is a sponge for information. Urrutia now speaks English fluently after coming to the country in 2013.
"He's asking everybody about the game and what to do in the outfield, what to do at the plate," Kirby said. "He can lean on our players that have been up here a long time and keep asking questions."
It has already been a rough season for infielder-outfielder Steve Pearce, who has hit .227 in 58 games with the Orioles this season and has been on the disabled list since July 22 with a strained left oblique.
Things haven't gone much better in Sarasota, Fla. Several days ago, Pearce felt some tightness while taking batting practice, so his rehabilitation was slowed some. He returned to hitting against live pitching Wednesday, taking three at-bats against veteran right-hander Chris Perez, who signed a minor league deal with the Orioles in July and is in Sarasota while serving a 50-game suspension for failing a drug test.
In the third plate appearance, Perez plunked Pearce in the back, ending the session. Showalter said he's under the impression Pearce is fine and will continue to face live pitching a few more times. There is no set timetable for his return, but the Orioles remain hopeful it will be around Sept. 1.
"If he could get through a couple of days of [live pitching], that could come pretty quick," Showalter said. "Let's see how he recovers from the HBP."
Former Orioles outfielder Travis Snider is back with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team that traded him to the Orioles in January for two minor leaguers. According to several reports, Snider, who was released by the Orioles on Saturday, has signed a minor league deal with Pittsburgh.
Snider, who batted .237 with three homers in 69 games with the Orioles, will report to the Pirates' Triple-A team and is a candidate to join the major league club once rosters expand Sept. 1. The Pirates are only obligated to pay a prorated portion of the league minimum once Snider makes the majors; the Orioles will continue to pay the remainder of the his $2.1 million salary.
In the offseason, the Orioles acquired Snider in exchange for minor league lefties Stephen Tarpley and Steven Brault. Brault is 10-4 with a 2.83 ERA in 24 starts between High-A and Double-A and Tarpley is 10-2 with a 2.14 ERA in 16 starts at the Low-A level.
Right-hander Chaz Roe (right shoulder tendinitis) threw from flat ground Wednesday at Camden Yards, the first time the reliever has done that since going on the disabled list Aug. 10.
Showalter said it went well and Roe will throw from flat ground a few more times before progressing to a mound. He is eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday, but it's more likely he'll go on a brief rehab assignment before being activated.
"We probably want him to get a couple outings," Showalter said. "Until he gets on the rubber, it's hard to project what the time frame [is]."
Roe had a platelet-rich-plasma injection in the shoulder last week, which often speeds up the healing process. Once he is ready to pitch, Showalter said it doesn't really matter which affiliate Roe joins, but proximity to the big league club will play a part in that decision.
Around the horn
Catcher Matt Wieters wasn't in the starting lineup Wednesday, but Showalter said he was fine after playing Tuesday for the first time in a week because of a right hamstring strain. Wieters has only started at catcher in consecutive games once this season, but the manager said, "I'd be surprised if that didn't happen sometime between now and the end of the season." … Showalter said there was no update on David Lough, who was designated for assignment Friday. If Lough clears waivers, he'll be outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. … Left-hander Mike Belfiore has re-signed with the organization and was assigned to Norfolk. Belfiore, 26, was 5-11 with a 5.60 ERA in 22 starts for Detroit's Triple-A affiliate in Toledo. … Maryland baseball coach John Szefc threw out Wednesday's ceremonial first pitch. … In a pregame ceremony Wednesday, the Orioles honored the winners of the city's RBI League championships. Jones, who has been active in Baltimore's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program, congratulated each player.