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Playing Rangers is 'homecoming' for O's pitcher Arrieta

— When he was about 7, Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta attended a Texas Rangers game at old Arlington Stadium to watch his idol, the ageless Nolan Ryan, pitch.

Seventeen years later, Ryan is a baseball Hall-of-Famer and current president of the Rangers. And Arrieta is a promising rookie, who will attempt to beat his favorite childhood team Sunday in his first start in Texas as a major leaguer.

"It is crazy. To come to a lot of games, sit in the stands and watch and be a spectator," said Arrieta, who is 2-2 with a 4.96 ERA in six starts in the majors. "And now to play here, I almost feel like it's kind of like a homecoming."

Arrieta, 23, grew up in Plano, Texas, about a 30-minute drive from Arlington, and starred at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, about 15 minutes from Rangers Ballpark. As a kid, he said he probably attended about 10 Rangers' games per year.

"I was a Rangers fan because I grew up here, but I was more of a fan of certain players," he said. "Nolan Ryan obviously was my all-time favorite and that's what drew me to the Rangers, being able to see him."

Being a Ryan fan was sort of a birthright for Arrieta.

"I saw him throw one time live," Arrieta said. "My grandfather actually got to go to one of his no-hitters and he has got the ticket stub from that. That's pretty special. And Nolan Ryan is still part of this team. … I would really like to meet him."

Whether Arrieta can make an impression on the Ryan Express with his performance on Sunday is yet to be seen, but Arrieta should make a slight impact at the Rangers' Ballpark turnstiles. He said he expects at least 100 friends and family to come see him pitch. That group includes the baseball staff at TCU and high school friends who he hasn't seen in years.

"There have been a lot of great moments in my short career already," he said. "But this is going to be one that is definitely going to be at the top, to play in front of my friends and family."

Yet he said there will be no extra nerves when he takes the mound.

"I don't think it is any added pressure. It is going to be the same as any other start," he said. "I think it is going to be special, though, being able to share with all the people that are going to support me."

Wieters, Pie on the mend

Catcher Matt Wieters and outfielder Felix Pie likely will not play for the remainder of the series in Texas, but both could avoid the disabled list, interim manager Juan Samuel said.

Wieters, who has been bothered by tightness in the hamstring and sat out Thursday, before straining his right hamstring rounding second base in Friday's fifth inning, said he was sore Saturday. But he is still optimistic he will not have to go on the DL. That decision will be made after Thursday's workout in Baltimore.

"We didn't feel at this point that it was a DL situation. It's not as bad as it appeared," Samuel said. "We have a scheduled workout in Baltimore. We will see how he feels at that point. If he still needs some time, then we will have to make a decision and get some help here."

Backup Craig Tatum will handle starting catching duties Saturday and possibly Sunday, Samuel said. If Saturday night's game is a long one, Jake Fox could catch Sunday.

Pie, who left the game in the sixth, said his strained left quad was fine before Saturday's game, and that he could play Saturday or Sunday if needed. But Samuel said he is hoping to avoid that possibility.

"If I can, I am going to keep him out from Sunday," Samuel said. "With four days off, I don't think one day is going to hurt him. If we need to get him another day off, that's what we will do."

Corey Patterson started in left field in place of Pie on Saturday with Ty Wigginton as the designated hitter and Fox at first base.

D. Stockstill on Veloz signing

David Stockstill, the Orioles' director of international scouting, confirmed that the organization officially agreed to a contract Friday with 16-year-old Dominican third baseman Hector Veloz that includes a franchise-record signing bonus for a Dominican amateur.

Veloz reportedly received $300,000. Stockstill said the figure wasn't exact, but "it is in the ballpark." Veloz is a 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-handed hitter that the Orioles have been following for two and a half years. Veloz recently visited the club's Dominican academy, Stockstill said.

"He is an outstanding young man. He is well-educated, smart, well-spoken," Stockstill said. "He has a good arm, good hands and shows very good power from gap to gap. We are very proud he chose us over the competition."

Veloz was a highly regarded amateur, but according to Baseball America, he tested positive for the steroid stanozolol during a May drug test required by Major League Baseball for the Top 40 Dominican amateurs.

Stockstill would not confirm the drug report. He also declined comment about any other potential international signings.

Fox's confidence soaring

When the Orioles traded minor-league pitcher Ross Wolf for Fox on June 22, the utility infielder said he viewed it as a fresh start after not getting much of a chance with the Oakland A's. Fox, who had 11 homers with the Chicago Cubs in 2009, homered just twice in 98 at-bats with the A's.

In 20 at-bats with the Orioles heading into his start Saturday, Fox already has three homers including Friday night's game-winner in the 10th inning against the Texas Rangers. It's buoyed his confidence.

"Even when I was with Oakland, and then the way I got traded, you started questioning, 'Can I really play here every day; can I really play at this level?' Fox said. "I am coming out and proving it not only to everybody here but to myself, too. I can play at this level."

Around the horn

Third baseman Josh Bell was sent to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for Saturday's starter Chris Tillman. Bell had three singles in 15 at-bats and will return to the Tides as their starting third baseman. … Samuel said he has not yet named his rotation order to start the second half. … All three of Fox's homers for the Orioles have come on the road. … Unsigned ninth-round pick Parker Bridwell, a right-hander from Hereford High School in Hereford, Texas, attended Saturday's game. … The Rangers held an on-field ceremony before Saturday's game to honor infielder Michael Young, who this season surpassed Ivan Rodriguez as the franchise's all-time hits leader. Young had 1,770 hits as a Ranger heading into Saturday.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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