SARASOTA, Fla. — Orioles manager Buck Showalter spent much of Friday afternoon telling players who will and won’t be making the club’s 25-man roster — leaving him with only one decision remaining.
Steve Pearce and Conor Jackson are still battling to be the final first base-outfield reserve on the club’s 2013 roster.
Otherwise, things are set for Tuesday’s season opener, with right-hander Jake Arrieta winning the final rotation spot, lefties Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland added to an eight-man bullpen and infielder-outfielder Ryan Flaherty capturing a utility role.
“Yeah, it’s definitely exciting news,” said Flaherty, who, as a Rule 5 pick last year, was with the Orioles all season, but can be sent to the minors this year. “To be able to help the team out, it was kind of my goal coming into camp, and I’m excited to get the opportunity.”
The roster picture became clearer this week as starting pitcher Chris Tillman (abdomen soreness) was placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday, while infielder Wilson Betemit (right PCL tear), right-hander Steve Johnson (right lat strain) and left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada (recovering from elbow ligament surgery) will be put on the DL this weekend.
Betemit’s injury cemented Flaherty’s spot on the roster, while McFarland benefitted from the club’s decision to disable Tillman, who will be eligible to be activated April 6 and is expected to start the fifth game of the regular season.
When Tillman returns, the Orioles will have to make another move; they’ll worry about that decision, however, when it becomes imminent.
Until then, the Orioles have a little more roster flexibility, allowing them to hold onto McFarland, who was selected in the Rule 5 draft this winter from the Cleveland Indians. The Orioles must keep McFarland on their big league roster or DL all season or offer him back to the Indians at half the original $50,000 purchase price.
“I'm so happy, I'm ecstatic. It's surreal. This is incredible,” said McFarland, a fourth round pick out of an Illinois high school in 2007. “I can't really sum it up into words right now. It's a dream come true. Since 2007 when my career started, that's what I've been hoping for and it finally happened. I'm just so excited.”
Showalter gave McFarland the news after the 23-year-old lefty threw four perfect innings in the Orioles’ 6-1 exhibition victory over the State College of Florida.
“I was doing some shoulder exercises in the training room and he came right up to me and said it straight up. There was no messing around or nothing,” McFarland said. “I shook his hand and said 'Thank you' and he said 'Congratulations,' and that was awesome.”
Showalter also had a brief conversation with Arrieta on Friday afternoon, letting him know that he won the available spot in the rotation, beating out Matusz and Johnson, among others. The 27-year-old right-hander will face the Minnesota Twins in the club’s fourth game of the season, which is also the home opener at Camden Yards.
It will be the third consecutive year that Arrieta has pitched the home opener; last year he pitched seven shutout innings to beat the Twins to begin the season.
“It’s a big honor to pitch that first game in front of the hometown fans,” Arrieta said. “I know all of Baltimore is ecstatic and very excited for that moment. It’s something that a lot of emotions will continue to come out as that moment comes near.”
Arrieta had the best camp of any Orioles pitcher, allowing just three earned runs in 17 1/3 innings (1.56 ERA), striking out 16 and walking eight batters. He’s had success in spurts before, but he said he is better equipped to maintain consistency this year.
“I’m much more focused and much better prepared this time around, Not that I wasn’t prepared or [didn’t have] focus going into this last season,” said Arrieta, who was 3-9 with a 6.20 ERA in 24 games (18 starts) for the Orioles in 2012. “But I think my preparation and focus is a little bit more fine-tuned. And now I am in this position and am ready to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and keep my job all year.”
Johnson, who thrust himself into the competition and pitched well throughout much of the spring, has been told he will be placed on the disabled list with a lat muscle strain that caused him to miss a scheduled start Thursday.
The team has shut down Johnson for several days hoping rest will alleviate the discomfort. He last pitched in a major league exhibition game on March 22, so the transaction can be backdated to March 23, meaning he could come off the DL by April 7. It’s likely he’ll be sent to Triple-A Norfolk to begin the season once he is injury-free.
“Obviously, I am disappointed. I definitely wanted to start out healthy, either way, wherever I ended up,” Johnson said. “But I’ll take some time, rest it and try to get healthy. I don’t know how long, but hopefully it’s only a couple days” before resuming baseball activities.
Johnson, Betemit and Wada are expected to stay in Sarasota when the team leaves Florida.
Outfielder Chris Dickerson was the final position player on the bubble to be reassigned to minor league camp, leaving Pearce and Jackson to battle for the last spot. The club has one more Grapefruit League game remaining, Saturday at Ed Smith Stadium against the New York Mets, before submitting its 25-man roster by 3 p.m. Sunday.
Pearce, 29, has hit .341 with a team-high six homers and 17 RBIs in 25 spring games. Jackson, 30, has hit .302 with three homers and 6 RBIs in 22 games. Pearce, who batted .254 in 28 games with the Orioles last year, appears to have the edge for the final spot.
Two other pitchers, righty Jair Jurrjens and lefty Mark Hendrickson, are still in camp but will not break with the team. Jurrjens, who could pitch Saturday, is dealing with a rib bruise after being hit by a batted ball on Wednesday night. Showalter said Jurrjens is feeling better and will avoid the disabled list. He is ticketed to start the season in the Triple-A Norfolk rotation.
Hendrickson is also expected to begin at Norfolk as the 38-year-old veteran continues to re-invent himself as a side-armer.
Orioles roster (so far)
The Orioles have notified 24 players that they’ll be on the team’s 25-man Opening Day roster. The final spot is expected to either go to 1B-OF Steve Pearce or 1B-OF Conor Jackson. Here’s a look at the 24 players who have made the team:
Pitchers (12): Jake Arrieta, Luis Ayala, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, Tommy Hunter, Jim Johnson, Brian Matusz, T.J. McFarland, Darren O’Day, Troy Patton, Pedro Strop.
Hitters (12): Alexi Casilla, Chris Davis, Ryan Flaherty, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Nick Markakis, Nate McLouth, Nolan Reimold, Brian Roberts, Taylor Teagarden, Matt Wieters.