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Baltimore Orioles: Buck Showalter Has Birds Playing the Oriole Way

The Baltimore Orioles are off to a 4-0 start for the first time since their wire-to-wire AL East winning season of 1997. This is cause for excitement, O’s fans, and while many say it is too early to conjure up thoughts of the playoffs I say go ahead, think postseason baseball.

If you have watched all four games then you know it is not Orioles magic that is getting it done but the old Oriole Way. In case you forgot what the Oriole way is, it is playing baseball by emphasizing the fundamentals.

When playing the Oriole way, you play good defense, you pitch to your strengths and while you may not have more talent than the team sitting on the other bench, you out work and out hustle them.

You run the bases aggressively and with intelligence while never taking yourself out of an inning because you missed a sign or a base coaches’ instructions.

You also have to depend on timely hitting and make the opposing pitcher work for every strike he gets.

The Orioles perfect start is not a fluke. It is not a byproduct of playing teams that are not as good as the Orioles. The O’s are 4-0 because they have been playing a brand of baseball we have not seen since the late 80’s

Even in the late 90’s when the O’s last made the playoffs, they were made up of high-priced free agents and aging stars.

If you remember, the Oriole Way always began with good pitching and defense first. The last team I remember playing the Oriole Way and making it exciting for the fans was the 1989 “Why Not” team.

Three of the four starters to take the mound so far this year have received victories. The one starter who did not get a W, Chris Tillman, left after pitching six innings of hit-less baseball and arguably pitched the best game of the four starters so far.

Baltimore’s starters have pitched 26 innings and have only allowed two runs. They have walked nine, struck out 20 and have a staff ERA of 0.75. The staff is averaging just 4.22 hits per nine innings to start and each, other than Tillman, has shown a knack for working their way out of trouble. 

Aside from great starting pitching, the bullpen has held their own. While not as good as the starters, Baltimore’s relievers have tossed 10 innings, allowing just two runs on seven hits.

Defense has always been a part of the Oriole way and good defense has been a factor to start this season. The O’s have committed just one error in 169 chances to begin the season and have made a few highlight-reel plays.

Yesterday Felix Pie made a running catch that required him to run a good 50 yards, saving a double or possibly a triple. Nick Markakis’s game saving catch on Saturday night was a play I have seen on highlight shows every night since he made the catch.

The Orioles are solid with speed in the outfield and they have a good hard-nosed, smart bunch of ballplayers on the dirt in the infield.

While the Orioles are not knocking the cover off the ball like the Texas Rangers, they are using timely hitting to win games. They are also running the bases a lot smarter than I have seen in recent years.

The O’s are taking extra bases making their runs stick. Yesterday JJ Hardy took second base after he lined a shot into left field. Brian Roberts hit a three-run home run rendering the aggressive and smart base running unnecessary but it was the kind of play we have not seen consistently in many years at Camden Yards.

Hardy has already hit three doubles and scored four runs from the nine hole and speaking of Brian Roberts, with a pair of three-run dingers this season, he leads the leagues with eight RBI. Nick Markakis seems very comfortable in the No. 2 slot. Markakis is batting .429 to start the season and has been making pitchers work for every strike they throw him.

Keep in mind the heart of the order has yet to produce. Free agents Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds are batting a combined .178 and if you throw Adam Jones into the mix, that drops to a .164 through four games.

It is a long season and these guys will hit just as Roberts, Markakis and Hardy will cool but it is a good sign to be undefeated without your power hitters smacking the ball out of the park.

Baltimore has already matched their longest winning streak from all of last season and if they can win tomorrow night will have matched their longest winning streak in the last two seasons. They will also equal the start of the 1970 Orioles, who went on to win the World Series that year.

I am not saying the Orioles are going to the World Series but remember O’s fans this is not something new. This is an extension of what began last season when Buck Showalter took over 106 games into the 2010 season.

Showalter’s team has yet to trail in four games this season and since he took over last season the O’s are an American League best 38-23.

It was fitting the Orioles honored Earl Weaver yesterday. Current O’s skipper Buck Showalter elected to catch yesterday’s honorary first pitch from legendary O’s skipper Earl Weaver. Showalter then proceeded to watch his team beat the Tigers just as Weaver’s teams used to beat many opponents.

Yesterday and through the first four games, Showalter’s boys have pitched well, played solid defense, run the bases well and let us not forget the O’s (Brian Roberts) have a couple of Weaver’s all-time favorite play, the three-run home run.

Through the last 57 games of the 2010 season and through the first four games this season, Showalter has the O’s executing just like Earl used to have his boys of summer playing.

The Orioles way was a brand of baseball that made Baltimore, not the New York Yankees, the winningest franchise from the mid 60’s through the mid 90’s.

Remember a few years ago when baseball experts said the Tampa Rays could never do it, they could never hold on and win the AL East. This team is capable of winning 90-plus games playing this way.

You get the sense that the Orioles play to win the inning and that is how you win games.

So yes fans, it is OK to get excited about the playoffs because if Buck Showalter can continue to get this team to play the Oriole way, then October will return to Camden Yards.

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Washington Nationals: Bo Knows Coaching, Nats Third Base Coach Bo Harper

My goal today was not conduct a walk and talk, but seek out the part of the field where Nationals third base coach Bo Porter was conducting base running drills and simply listen.

Yesterday, after listening to Porter explain what kind of a team the Nationals wanted to be this season, I could not help but want to know what he had in store for the men today.

After his speech yesterday, I wanted run the bases and would have done it through a minefield. Porter seems to have a way of getting through to his listeners. Bo Knows base running and, if the guys he is teaching are paying attention, so will the Nationals.

Today Bo informed Rick Ankiel, Jerry Hairston Mike Moorse and Bryce Harper that “their team” was embarrassing running the basses last season and, as he put it, “we are going to get after people’s asses this season”

He informed them that the Nationals were ranked 27th in all of baseball in running from first to third last year. Porter gave the guys the stat to back it up: “Gentleman we had had 292 chances to go from first to third last season we made it just 63 times and that is embarrassing and pathetic,” Porter said while looking right at Bryce Harper.

Porter never had much of a major league career, batting just .214 lifetime with two home runs and eight runs batted lifetime, but how many good coaches do?

No big deal because a lot of good and great managers watched the game unfold from the bench and not the field.

Porter was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 40th round of the 1993 Major League Baseball Draft out of the University of Iowa.

In 1999, Porter made his major league debut with the Cubs. Following the season, the Oakland Athletics in the Rule 5 draft selected him. After the 2000 season, the Texas Rangers selected him off waivers.

He was granted free agency following the 2001 season and he played the remainder of his career in the Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies minor league systems.

Besides base running, Porter implemented an outfield drill that I had never seen used: He had the outfielders catch fly balls with a football tucked under their arms. Porter believes the football allows the outfielders to better track fly balls, as they cannot move their arms allowing them to cover more ground when the ball is headed for the gaps.

Porter began using this drill when he was a coach with the Florida Marlins.

I overheard Porter explain his philosophy to the credentialed media this way, “I implemented it in Florida, and I have had great success with it,” Porter said.

“The more drills we do with the football, they start to keep their form for a longer period of time, which actually allows them to start making more plays.” 

The team continued their four-field rotation of drills as pitchers continued to throw live batting practice. Bryce Harper was again the hit, no pun intended, as he made his way from field to field. Harper looked impressive in the batting cage and then again on the field, as he hit several line drive shots into the right center field gap.

I learned today that Bryce Harper will travel with the team to play the Mets in the Nats first exhibition game, but will not start. Veterans Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Pudge Rodriguez will not play in the Nationals first game this Monday.

Many veterans do not travel to play away games during the spring.

Those players that are expected to travel and play include Jerry Hairston Jr., Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa.

Nats manager Jim Riggleman held a meeting with several of the teams leaders yesterday. Rigglemann asked the players to start holding each other accountable for mistakes made on the field. He wants more leadership and acccountability from all of his players.

Riggleman told many members of the media that his message was a simple one: “My message to the players was, ‘There is a tremendous amount of talent in the room. With that talent, expectations are raised. So let’s meet and exceed those expectations and play baseball,'” Riggleman said.

“We have a lot of good baseball players. We have good athletes in the room.”


I cannot, for whatever reason, download this video. This is a video I took of Bo Porter giving instruction.

It provides great insight into what the Nationals are looking to do this season on the base paths. Please click on the You Tube link below.

I caution you, there is language with Porter dropping more than a few “F” bombs.

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Washington Nationals Spring Training Report: A Day of Bryce Harper

What a difference one week makes. Last week at this time, I knew everyone by name walking around the Nationals Spring Training complex in Viera, Florida. Today, I hardly knew anyone. The Washington Nationals’ first official day of full roster workouts were met with hoards of media and many fans.

The National media, the local DC media and everything else in between were there for basically one reason: to see the spring training debut of the 18-year-old baseball phenom known as Bryce Harper.

Harper made an appearance yesterday and was mobbed by autograph seekers. Nats manager Jim Riggleman admitted to me today that allowing Bryce into the mob was one of his biggest spring training gaffes in recent memory. “That will not happen again,” Riggleman said, and it did not today.

It was amazing to see all of the kids out at camp today, considering yesterday was the school holiday. I spoke with a young 10-year-old boy that told me he was there just to see Bryce Harper.

He also pointed out that he was only eight years younger than Bryce. Feeling even older than I am seeing the young superstar, I thanked the kid for his time and scooted him along his way, calling him a stinking something or another under my breath.

Today, for me, was also about Bryce Harper. A kid whose baseball hero was a guy that passed away when Bryce was three years old fascinates me. A guy he never got to see play, hell, his father, Ron Harper, never got see him play.

I am fascinated by any guy that signs his autograph with a Bible verse attached.

Bryce’s Bible verse is Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.” It is strange to think that if Bryce’s hero had been as grounded an 18-year-old kid as Bryce is, he may still be with us today.

Mickey Mantle passed away on August 13, 1995 from liver failure brought on by years of alcohol abuse. The irony is that almost 15 years to the date of Mantle’s death, Harper was introduced at a press conference and handed a jersey and hat by Ryan Zimmerman as this year’s newest Nationals young superstar phenom.

He mentioned Mantle in his first press conference and there may be a lot of similarities when it is all said and done. Mantle was just 19 years old when he made his Yankee debut. Mantle, like Harper, was a highly touted prospect and in fact, many were saying that Mickey was the next Joe DiMaggio.

That’s a lot of pressure for any kid at any age, especially in New York City. We will see what happens in the next 20 years, but for now, there are some comparisons to be made.

Harper already seems to fit in, he belongs and he will earn his way into this lineup before the end of this year. You just know greatness when you see “it” and this kid has “IT.” It is Bryce’s goal to hear, “Now batting for the Nationals, No. 34, Outfielder Bryce Harper,” before the end of the year.

If I am learning anything about this kid from talking to his dad and others around him, it’s when Bryce sets goals, he does accomplish them.

“It’s hard to believe that this is just the beginning, considering everything he has done and how hard he has worked, and still works, to get to this point,” Ron Harper, Bryce’s dad, told me. “Bryce is a focused, grounded kid that welcomes any and all challenges head on.”

“He expects nothing less than to be a good teammate first and a great player second,” Mr. Harper continued. When I asked him how he felt about the whole process and what he must be feeling today for Bryce, he answered “Like any other parent would, nervous, anxious and wanting nothing more than for my son to succeed. I am confident in his abilities in baseball as well as life.” Sounds like Bryce had some pretty good life coaching on top of his baseball training.  

Mr. Harper spent most of the day in a tower overlooking the four practice fields, watching Bryce in his first official day of spring workouts. It is too early to tell how quickly Bryce may make the show, but one thing is for sure.

If getting to the “BIGS” were strictly based on being grounded, well rounded and humble enough to be a God fearing 18-year-old making sure to give thanks when possible, then Bryce would be in the opening day lineup next month.

In other spring training news today, the Nationals completed about a three hour session of your basic baseball drill. Pitchers threw live batting practice on fields two and three. The infielders turned double plays and fielded bunts on field one, and an assortment of drills and conditioning took place on field four.

Each player took a turn, rotating fields, making sure they participated in every drill. Nats manager Jim Riggleman seems to be running a nice, focused and smooth camp. He has an array of veteran coaching help. Former Mets and Orioles manager, Davey Johnson, is a spring instructor, as is former manager Pat Corrales. Riggleman has some youth mixed in as well, like Coach Tony Tarassco.

All of the big guns were there taking their swings in the cage. Jayson Werth and his 126 million dollars worth of hair looked ready, as well as the clean-cut Adam LaRoche. Many of the players on all four fields could be overheard discussing the Carmelo Anthony trade to the Knicks.

However, there was one conversation I could not walk away from, a coaching session that just drew me in. On field three, third base coach Bo Porter was covering the signs he would be signaling this year while the players stood in the batter’s box.

Porter’s audience of about 20 players included future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Porter told them that understanding signs was both a verbal and non-verbal communication skill. One that, if they are going to succeed this year, was needed.

He explained the ramifications of missed signs and why it is so very important to pay attention, “If coach has a play on and you miss the sign, then you probably have also cost your team a chance of winning the game. Coach doesn’t put a call on if it is not a crucial time of the game,” Porter reminded them.

He got down on the ground, pushing both arms in an up and down motion, yelling “get down, get down,” to demonstrate how the on deck batter is responsible for the third base runner on a play at the plate. He also said something that a few individuals have probably heard in their careers, but never in a Nats uniform.

A line of thinking that has been missing in DC since the arrival of the Nationals.

He explained in almost an evangelical tone that everyone, regardless of how many years in the league, must be on board with the program. He told them that they need to understand that when he puts his right hand to his right ear, then a sign is coming and it is time to pay attention and listen, they had better be prepared.

He then said, “It is important to learn this now, gentlemen, because when we are playing baseball in late October and there are 55,000 screaming fans, you will know that one of reasons we are there is because you understood the commitment of learning verbal and non verbal communication. It all matters, men.”

While it is just day one of full roster workouts in Viera, Florida, it is never a bad omen to remind the players that they have a chance to play deep into the fall. In my mind, it is the only way to start the spring.

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Washington Nationals: A Walk and Talk With Nats Potential Closer Drew Storen

If the good Lord picked one weather day to represent spring training for every baseball team spread out over Florida and Arizona, he would have chosen today.

With clear blue skies and temperatures hovering around 80 degrees, the Washington Nationals picked up the pace on the fourth day of workouts for pitchers and catchers.

Yesterday’s big story was no doubt Stephen Strasburg’s pain free throwing session.

Strasburg had Tommy John surgery at the end of last season and the Nationals are in no hurry to rush the pitching phenom back any time soon.

The talk around camp today was the impending arrival of another ready made MLB phenom, outfielder Bryce Harper.

Harper is due to report on Sunday when the rest of the positional players report.

Strasburg and his battery mates worked on the fundamentals of the game like covering first base and they even did some situational bunting.

Of course, there was also lots of running and stretching. Strasburg did no throwing today.

The Nationals spring training facility is located in Viera, Fla. The team reports to Space Coast Stadium each morning and then walks the quarter mile to the four beautifully groomed and perfectly greened practice fields, which surround the stadium.

Upon seeing the walk by the players today, I came up with the name for my diary segment that will include player’s interviews, “the walk and talk with…”

Today I was fortunate enough to meet and interview a fantastic young personality in the Nats bullpen.

His refreshing attitude on playing the game of baseball really made me feel as though the future of Americas Past Time is in safe hands. 

Today’s walk and talk is with pitcher Drew Storen.

Nats Manager Jim Riggleman has called Storen the closer of the future in DC.

Storen had quite a whirlwind of a year in 2010. Aside from turning just 23 last August, Drew was promoted from the AAA Syracuse Chiefs to the Nationals on April-30.

In the span of six days, Storen accomplished a lot for a young major league relief pitcher. He debuted in the show May 17 against the St. Louis Cardinals.

In three batters faced, Storen collected two outs, with Matt Holliday becoming his first MLB strikeout, as well as hitting his first batter, Ryan Ludwick.

Working two-thirds of an inning two days later, Storen would collect his first major league win against the NY Mets.

Four days later in an inter-league game against the Orioles, Storen smacked his first big league hit, a line drive to left center field off Kevin Millwood.

Storen is a born closer.

He was one of college baseball’s premier closers during a stellar two-year collegiate career at Stanford University. He was a first team All-Pac-10 selection following each of his two seasons in a Cardinal uniform (2008 and ’09) and he led Stanford in both wins and saves in 2009, becoming the first Cardinal pitcher since Jeff Ballard in 1984 to accomplish the feat.

Originally drafted by the Yankees in 2007, Storen did not sign so that he could attend Stanford.

After selecting pitching phenom Steven Strasburg with the number one overall pick in 2009, the Nationals drafted Storen, a native of Brownsburg, IN, nine spots later, making him the tenth overall pick.

The Nationals added a little more to Storen’s whirlwind year when, on Jul. 30, they traded his good friend and their saves leader, Matt Capps, to the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline.

Capps was leading the Nats with 26 saves at the time of the trade and was the winning pitcher for the National league in the All-Star game.

Storen has said on numerous occasions that Capps had a big part in his success last season, taking him under his wing after the two met at the Nationals Fan fest last February.

Eight days following the Capps trade, Storen knew his time was coming to collect his first major league save.

He figured it would probably come in L.A on the road and he was right.

“I kept sitting out there (in the bullpen) knowing that the call was coming,” Storen said. “When the call came I was so pumped up and excited that I don’t even remember who I got out, I think I got Belliard to end it.”

It was Bellliard he got out to end it.

Belliard pinch it for Brad Ausmus and grounded out to Adam Dunn to end the game.

Storen would go onto to record four more saves last season with a 3.58 ERA in 54 appearances. He would boast a record of 4-4 with 52 strikeouts in just 55.1 innings pitched.

“I had closed at Stanford and was pretty good but this was like nothing I had ever prepared for, I was so happy when I got that first one (save)”. Storen said. “I was nervous and excited all at once, it was all like a big blur.”

He ended the year 4-4 with a 3.58 ERA.

When I asked him if Nats Manager Jim Riggleman had sat with him to discuss expectations he said: “Not really, I know what I have to do and I don’t really feel like that I have actually won the job yet. There are some guys here that are capable and I just have to go out there and do what I know how to do”.

The scouting report on Storen is that he defiantly has a closers mentality.

He does not get rattled and is intensely competitive; giving him the perfect closer’s makeup.

He has a devastating slider and a mid 90s fastball. 

Storen developed a changeup during the fall two seasons ago where he worked as a starter to further enhance all three pitches, as he throws a lot of strikes and attacks the hitter.

When asked about the veteran leadership the Nats acquired in the off-season by signing free agents like Jason Werth and Adam Laroche, he simply replied: “I’m excited, the leadership these guys bring is important to me, as a young guy I just love the experience a guy like (Jason) Werth comes with.

“I am constantly trying to learn and these guys are great teachers.”

On the great fortune of throwing to a future hall of fame catcher in Ivan Rodriguez,

“It’s like I cheat because I have a guy like that back there, he knows the hitters so well, you know he’s going to know how to throw a guy, and how to approach a guy,” Storen said. “I don’t really have to do a lot of thinking out there.”

The closers job is not guaranteed and Storen knows this, manager Jim Riggleman said numerous times this off-season that the closer role was up for grabs.

Several other good arms have a shot to emerge.

Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard provide Riggleman with a great lefty-right option in the seventh and eighth innings. Both were very good last almost unhittable at times.

Todd Coffey is the workhorse in the pen but he will also get a chance to pitch late this spring.

Storen’s biggest competition may be Henry Rodriguez.

In just his second year as a full-time reliever, Rodriguez went 1-0 with a 4.55 ERA in 29 appearances with the Athletics. He had 33 strikeouts in a little less than 28 innings of work.

If all goes well here in Viera, Riggleman may elect to have the competition continue up north by using a bullpen by committee approach.

Closer or bullpen by committee is not uncommon to start a season.

This approach is smart with young arms, especially when the weather has yet to turn warm. When you are thinking long term for a 162 game schedule, it just makes sense.

Storen is fine with whatever Riggleman decides as he stated on several occasions to me that he knows what he has to do and he is ready to do it.

“I look forward to the battles this spring. I welcome them”, Storen said.

“If Storen is the closer by March 31st, we would certainly welcome that, but we are not going to force that to happen,” Riggleman told “If he is pitching in the eighth, or if he gets an out in the seventh and then we need Burnett and Clippard to pitch the ninth, that’s fine. Winning the game is more important than who gets the save.”

The best thing about baseball and especially baseball in- February -in Florida is tomorrow is another day.

Check back to see whom I can grab for tomorrow’s walk and talk.

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Washington Nationals: Spring Training Diary From Viera, Florida

Let us just get right down to business. The current temperature in Viera, Florida is 74 degrees and articles are popping up in all the local papers about spring training and spring break. Since I am a 41-year-old happily married man with four great kids, you will get the diary from spring training. My wife does not allow me near the beaches this time of year.

My name is Alan Zlotorzynski and I am one of three featured writers for the Washington Capitals here on the Bleacher Report. I am fortunate and blessed to live less than five miles from the Washington Nationals’ Spring Training complex in Viera, Florida.

Since the Bleacher Report has established itself as the No. 1 website for the voice of the fan, I am going to keep a Nationals spring training diary. I promise to deliver stories that one can only get from being less than five feet from their favorite Nationals on a daily basis during the spring.

I will take great photos and I am working on some interviews with some of the players that will be an integral part of Washington’s 2011 season.

I am currently trying to get credentialed (hint…hint…Bleacher Report) and will work almost daily to capture the best of the 2011 Washington Nationals before they head north in April.

If you have anything specific that you would like to read or see in a photo, please feel free to send me an email.

Check back tomorrow for my first report from spring training.


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