Hayden Penn, an Orioles pitcher whose 2006 season was derailed by an injury, gave his first interview of the spring on Thursday while waiting to take his physical examination. The 22-year-old no longer concerns himself with the appendectomy that interrupted his rapid ascent to the big leagues, but he understands that it's still a fertile topic of discussion.
"I can't think twice about it. It is what it is," he said about last season. "Maybe I'll learn from it and get better. All I can do is pitch and not worry about the past. Things happen. But things happen to everybody. That's life."
Penn had already answered many questions about the sneak attack of appendicitis, but the winter has lent some fresh perspective. The right-hander had a 2-2 record and a 1.48 ERA at Triple-A when he was promoted last May, but the illness surfaced the night before his first start and eventually sent him back to extended Spring Training.
It took him months to work back into pitching shape, but he was named the organization's pitcher of the month in August. Penn proceeded to struggle in the big leagues, though, and claims that he wasn't at his best by that point. Now, after an offseason full of working out, he feels rested and ready to return to peak condition.
"Coming back, maybe I came back a little early and my mechanics were a little off," he said. "I watched tape. I watched things that I've done and I've talked to people that have seen me in the past. I really can't pinpoint what it was, and maybe it was just trying to overdo it: 'Here's my opportunity. September's here and now I've got to go.'
"Maybe I tried to push too hard, and didn't just go there to pitch and do what I do."
"He was on track when he had the appendicitis. Then once that happens, you're playing catch-up the rest of the year," said Jim Duquette, Baltimore's vice president of baseball operations. "You keep reminding yourself that he's 22 years old and he has 14 or 15 starts at the Major League level already. He was motivated this offseason to prove that the end of the season was an aberration. We still have high expectations and hopes for him."
With the recent signing of Steve Trachsel, Penn may be boxed out of a rotation slot in the big leagues. He'll be monitored closely in Spring Training, though, and could make the parent club as a long reliever. Otherwise, he'll start at Triple-A Norfolk and be the team's first contingency plan if somebody gets hurt.
"We're going to look at him and give him a thorough evaluation this spring," Duquette said. "He's going to get regular work and see where it goes. It's nice to have him as depth -- as it stands right now -- and there are always injuries that occur. Ideally, we want him to start, but we'll see how he pitches this spring."
No matter where he starts the season, Penn feels comfortable. He knows his role and he knows what pitching coach Leo Mazzone expects to see out of him this spring and in the coming months.
"It's a whole different experience than it was last year," he said. "[Leo] was calling me 'Sean' for the first month. We talked a couple times this offseason, and I think it's going to be a lot more comfortable and a lot more relaxed."
Strong arm: Jim Hoey is back in camp and ready to prove that his four-level jump through the organization was legitimate. The right-hander had missed most of the previous two seasons with elbow trouble and was shut down early in 2006 because of a sore shoulder, but he said he's fully healthy and ready to take the ball again.
"It was my first healthy season all year," he said. "In fact, since I've been in the minors -- two short seasons and then Tommy John [elbow ligament replacement surgery]. Last year was my first full season and it actually extended, which was good."
Hoey started at Class A Delmarva in 2006 and racked up 18 saves in 27 games. Then he moved to Frederick, where he posted an 0.64 ERA and 11 saves in 14 games. From there, Hoey pitched eight games for Double-A Bowie and finished his season with a 12-game trial-by-fire at the big-league level.
"It took me halfway through the offseason to realize, 'Wow, I did make it from low [Class] A to the big leagues,'" Hoey said. "That's when everyone tells you. You never have time to reflect on that during the season. You just go out there and play. It wasn't until I got home and you see all your friends and family and high school teammates."
Hoey said he spent the offseason working with a physical trainer to keep his strength up. The 24-year-old said he'd like an opportunity to start in the big leagues, but he's well aware that he may have to go back to the Minors.
"It's in the back of my mind -- Triple-A, start there and do well," he said. "Inevitably, I want to make the team but whatever happens, happens. Whatever they need."
First impressions: Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo said the first day of workouts went well, and he also said that he sent a message to the pitchers in his pre-practice team meetings.
"I told the guys this morning in the meetings that the worst thing they could do was think that this pitching staff was set and that nobody can get hurt, and that you can't change anybody's mind," he said in response to a question about Penn. "In that sense, it goes for everyone, not just Hayden Penn. It would be a big mistake for any one of them to think that there's no openings on the staff."
Odds and ends: Baltimore designated right-handed pitcher Ryan Keefer for assignment to make room for Trachsel. Keefer underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in December and will be rehabbing his arm for the foreseeable future.
Minor League catcher Eli Whiteside temporarily left the team on Thursday after the death of his grandfather. Whiteside flew home and is expected back next week. In the interim, Baltimore invited Brian Bock to fill Whiteside's spot.
Quotable: "It's something I forgot about. There are a couple things I can take [from it], but overall, I don't even know what happened. I don't want to think about it. It's a new year, a new start, a clean slate. I'm ready to go." -- Penn, officially burying last season and looking forward to this one
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less