Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair came into spring training with a whole lot of evaluating to do. Close to a dozen possible starters were fighting for a wide-open rotation. Now, with two weeks until opening day, competition and injuries have dwindled that pool to about seven or eight pitchers. I asked Adair - over a tuna sandwich lunch - for his take on some of the key pitchers. Here's what he had to say:
On Brian Matusz this year compared to this time last year:
"He's obviously much stronger and did a great job in the offseason with his conditioning, and he's put on some very good weight. His endurance is much better. He has the ability to control the running game now. His velocity is good. There's a big difference between his curveball and his slider. His changeup has really - it's a whole lot better than it was last year. He's made a lot of improvements and we're excited about what he's done and the way he's performed."
On Matusz's confidence:
"I think he gained a lot of confidence this winter from a conditioning standpoint and it's carried over into his side work and how he's carried himself in the clubhouse, and obviously his performances. I think yesterday was his first walk and he's probably only had one walk in 16 innings now, and he's got a lot of strikeouts so he's really confident in what he's doing and it shows in his face and his body language."
On Jake Arrieta's spring after surgery last year to remove bone chips in his elbow:
"He's working extremely hard. He's gotten much better out of the windup and the stretch at time is still a little awkward for him. He can get out of sync relatively quick, but has the ability to get himself back under control. You know, his stuff is probably as good as we have on this staff. We're happy with him and just have our fingers crossed that he stays healthy."
On why pitching out of the stretch is a challenge for Arrieta:
"He's just used to being slow and being able to hold runners by throwing over at various times. He's gotten to the point now where he's at a manageable release time that, regardless if they're running, with a guy like (Matt) Wieters and (Taylor) Teagarden behind the plate, has a legitimate chance of controlling the running game. He's done a great job of that and still maintaining the quality of stuff. Actually his command has improved by doing that."
On Zach Britton and Alfredo Simon's injuries affecting the decision-making process:
"I think we know what they can do and how much better they have gotten, but those two setbacks and just fighting some fatigue, or general soreness with Zach in his shoulder, Alfredo with his groin. We feel good about where they are and what they've done, just getting them on the field has been a challenge, but once they're healthy, I think we feel real good about them being part of our club."
On why fans should be excited about Wei-Yin Chen:
"He's a left-hander that is very athletic and has good stuff. I think his stuff definitely competes in the American League. He has great awareness of the game and what he is doing. It's going to be real interesting to see how he reacts once the season starts. We feel real good about his track record and how he's handled himself at spring training."
On what Jason Hammel has done well this spring:
"He's been very good. He's down in the strike zone. He's 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7 or whatever he is, creates good angle. He's a four-pitch guy. He's handling the running game better. He's eliminated the walks as far as being wild out of the zone at times. He's been good. We're real pleased with him."
Dontrelle Willis signed a minor league contract with the Orioles and is in camp today. He's being looked at as a bullpen candidate, not a starter. I asked Adair how the O's go about getting Willis back to the dominant pitcher he was in his early 20s.
"There are a lot of good pitching coaches who've had him and I know these guys, and it's not something where you're going to lay your hands on him and all of the sudden it's going to be better, but it's really going to have to come from Dontrelle to talk to us and tell us where he's been, what he thinks and what we can do for him."