IL notes: Avery learning, improving

Orioles prospect a 'sponge' in soaking up new information

By John Wagner / Special to | July 2, 2012 6:16 AM ET

Xavier Avery has had a couple of cups of coffee with the Orioles this season. The latest was a brief stay that ended Sunday when they acquired Jim Thome.

But Avery isn't moping about his limited Major League opportunities. Instead, he's returned to Norfolk ready and eager to prepare for a permanent spot in Baltimore.

"I'm not finished [improving]," the 22-year-old outfielder said. "I went to the big leagues and found there were still some things I needed to improve on.

"I want to hit the ball the other way [better]. Major League pitchers hit their spots more often and they throw 3-1 changeups and 2-0 changeups, so you have to be able to hit the ball the other way and not be so aggressive on the fastball."

Norfolk manager Ron Johnson said he and his coaching staff are working on a number of things to sharpen the skills of the 6-foot, 190-pound outfielder who spurned a scholarship offer from the University of Georgia to sign with Baltimore in 2008.

"I've enjoyed every minute of having him because he's a Major League player," Johnson said. "He has the skills. When you watch a game, his athleticism stands out. I watch his at-bats against guys who have plus stuff, from day one it hasn't affected his ability to play the game. It doesn't affect his approach. It doesn't make him quicker, it doesn't make him cheat [with his swing to hit certain pitches].

"When you combine his athleticism -- his speed, his quickness -- with his ability to be a sponge to soak up new information, well, I could go on and on about him. He's going to be a fine player and I enjoy having him on this team."

Avery has surpassed nearly all of the numbers he posted last year at Double-A Bowie. He hasn't matched the 36 steals, although he already has 16, but his batting average is higher (.268 compared to .259) and he has more homers (six vs. four) and his 26 RBIs in 59 games this year equal his total in 138 Double-A contests.

"My expectation for this year is to be a better hitter," Avery said. "I want to be a better leadoff hitter, a more patient hitter. I want to cut down on my strikeouts, things like that."

Last year, the Georgia native struck out 156 times or once every 3.6 at-bats. This year, he's fanned 57 times or once every 3.9 at-bats.

"Pitchers are smarter up here," Avery said. "They throw more breaking balls and they are just better all-around."

Avery said he doesn't worry about his status as one of the Orioles' top prospects or comments about sticking in the big leagues.

"I'm not focused on what everybody else thinks, I'm focused on what I need to do to get better," he said. "If I hear something that I need to focus on, to get better at, I'll think about it.

"It's kind of like looking in the mirror. I have to do that every day."

Johnson said the day Avery is called up and stays with the Orioles is getting closer.

"He's already had success in the big leagues, so he is close [to staying there permanently]," Johnson said. "What you are looking for now is consistency.

"He's got the ability to do Adam Jones-type stuff: Hit .280 with 20 home runs and 30 stolen bases. It's hard to put a timetable on it, but he has earned the right to develop at his own pace. He'll show us when he's ready to stay."

In brief

From best to better? Indianapolis posted an IL-best 19-11 record in May. The Indians improved that mark in June, finishing the month 20-9 -- again the best record in the league. In May, the key was a 2.52 team ERA; in June, Indianapolis batted .270 and averaged 5.7 runs per game. It didn't hurt that the Tribe had a 3.50 team ERA during the month. As a result, the Indians are an IL-best 51-31 and lead second-place Columbus by 10 1/2 games in the Western Division.

Fountain of youth: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RHP Ramon Ortiz lost three of his first four starts. But the right-hander, who turned 39 in May, has been impressive ever since. He has not lost since that 0-3 start, winning six times while lowering his ERA to 2.78, fifth-best in the IL. In six June starts, Ortiz was 3-0 with a 2.04 ERA.

Fading fast: Gwinnett swept a doubleheader from Columbus on June 15 to improve to 37-32, just three games behind first-place Charlotte in the Southern Division. But those two victories are but a memory since the Braves lost 15 straight after that, falling to the bottom of the division, 11 games in back of the Knights. The reasons for the streak? Gwinnett pitchers gave up an average of 6.6 runs per game, including five contests in which the opponent scored 10 or more. The offense, meanwhile, averaged 2.7 runs, scoring two runs or fewer 10 times.

He said it: "The way that [Matt Harvey] threw tonight, that was a big league guy on the mound tonight -- and on a good night. He commanded the strike zone, threw the secondary stuff for strikes, and it was the best I've seen his changeup. ... He overpowered hitters. The thing that was most impressive to me was that a lot of secondary stuff that he threw was strikes and they're swinging and missing in the strike zone. That's a big thing for the next level." -- Bisons manager Wally Backman to the Buffalo News on June 29 after Harvey allowed two hits over seven shutout innings in an 8-0 blanking of Louisville. Harvey struck out nine and ranks second in the IL with 96 punchouts.

John Wagner is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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