By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun
7:00 AM EDT, March 16, 2014
SARASOTA, Fla. — It already was expected. Now it’s pretty much a certainty that Manny Machado will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list. That means Ryan Flaherty likely will be the club’s Opening Day third baseman.
With Flaherty temporarily out of the mix, rookie Jonathan Schoop seems to be winning the second base competition over Jemile Weeks. And with Weeks not truly a utility guy and Alexi Casilla battling injury woes, it wouldn’t be surprising if 37-year-old Alex Gonzalez makes the Opening Day roster as the utility infielder.
Gonzalez, a career .246 hitter over his 15-season career, is batting .435 in 23 at-bats with one double, two homers and six RBIs in spring training.
“When you have the track record that Alex has, you’re just trying to see if he’s maintaining those skills,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Because if that’s the case, he’s easy to trust. He knows how to play.”
Gonzalez is known more for his glove, though, and his ability to play all infield positions certainly works in his favor with the Orioles.
“He presents a lot of options for you defensively, which you’re always looking for,” Showalter said. “He kind of picked us as much as we picked him. I know this is something he’d like to do. We’ll see where it takes him. We’ve got some other people doing well, too, so he’s going to make it tough on us.”
** Suk-min Yoon’s first outing for the Orioles on Saturday was a success: one scoreless inning against a makeshift New York Yankees lineup. He says he is about 20 days away from being in midseason form. That’s in line with the conventional thinking that he is going to start the year in Triple-A Norfolk's rotation.
I was impressed by his composure, and he sure does have an array of pitches: fastball, curveball, changeup, cutter/slider and a palm ball, which we didn’t see Saturday. Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph joked that he runs out of fingers when trying to sign which pitch Yoon should throw.
Joseph, who has caught Yoon in a bullpen previously, said what most impressed him about Yoon’s game is his command of his pitches and the natural, downward movement on his fastball.
“He was peppering that bottom part of the zone with, really, all his pitches,” Joseph said. “I have to work on really getting under it because he is so down with the ball, which is good.”
** As for Joseph, this guy always has been easy to root for. He is a total baseball rat, and he has a great sense of humor. Last year, his bat really flourished, and Showalter on Saturday made a point of praising his defense, which always has been considered a step behind his offensive game.
“Caleb’s really handled himself well behind the plate. He is much improved catching since the first time I saw him. It’s a real tribute to [minor league catching instructor] Don Werner and, of course, Caleb,” Showalter said. “He’s presenting himself as an option for us.”
The sense is that Joseph begins the season at Triple-A Norfolk, but he could get his first taste of the majors this year, after six seasons in the minors. That would be cool to see.
** Here’s my two cents on Saturday’s revelation that Manny Machado has not been running for the past five days because of soreness caused by scar tissue in his surgically repaired left knee: This may be a good thing. It’s a small setback, but now there likely is no pressure for Machado to rush ahead for Opening Day. He needs to come back only when he can be the electrifying player we are used to seeing. And if that isn’t until April 15 or May 1, so be it. Machado is a huge part of the Orioles’ present and future. He needs to be careful, and the club needs to be careful with him.
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