SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles won't hold their first workout for pitchers and catchers until Friday at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, but the atmosphere during Thursday's workout on report day resembled a day with the entire squad in attendance.
Among the Orioles’ position players who reported early and worked out Thursday were center fielder Adam Jones and first baseman Chris Davis. Jones caught fly balls in center field and took batting practice, while Davis participated in some fielding drills and also practiced in the outfield, coming off the field joking that the was going to be a super-utility player this season.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the early turnout was the highest he has seen in his career.
“It’s the most I’ve ever had in 30-something years this early,” Showalter said. “The facility is one [reason]. It’s a great facility … This place buzzes the whole offseason. … I think they like being here. It’s a good environment. They know they’re not going to come in here, and it’s going to be some dictatorial boot camp. It’s going to be somewhat casual.
“If they don’t stay out there two hours, nobody’s going to question it. That’s intentional. I do think there’s some competition here. Also, guys look around at the weather they’ve been in, I’m sure some of them say, ‘I’m going down.’ “
Pitchers and catchers will work out at noon Friday. While some players could be delayed by the winter storm on the East Coast, nonroster right-hander Fabio Castillo, who was having trouble traveling from the Dominican Republic because of a weather-related delay, was the only likely late arrival.
Closer competition to play out
As expected, Showalter shied away Thursday from naming right-hander Tommy Hunter as the leading candidate to replace Jim Johnson as Orioles closer.
“Obviously, Tommy’s a strong candidate,” Showalter said. “I’m not going to handicap this every day,” he said. “I don’t mind doing this every day. I don’t think it’s productive for the players.”
Hunter likely will be asked throughout the spring about replacing Johnson, who was traded to the Oakland Athletics in December following back-to-back 50-save seasons.
“It's up in the air right now for everyone, so we'll see what happens,” Hunter said. “Buck likes those challenges during spring. What are they, competitions? Challenges? Those competitions come out and play. We'll see what happens.”
Showalter said he won't necessarily work Hunter any differently this spring, as if he was remaining in a setup role.
“We got [Johnson] some multiple innings and some back-to-backs,” Showalter said. “It’s very similar to the setup thing. I’ll be able to camouflage it for a long time if I want to.”
And Hunter said he didn’t prepare any differently this offseason for the possibility of a new role.
“I actually felt pretty good last year,” Hunter said. “I had a pretty good fastball last year, and I'm pretty much going to do that same thing. I'm not going to change anything. I'm not going to be somebody I'm not.
“Being a closer, it's a little different just having to bounce back so quick. It's a mindset and hopefully somebody catches on quick.”
Other closer possibilities include setup man Darren O’Day and new addition Ryan Webb, but like Hunter, neither has been a full-time closer.
Chen progressing in rehab
Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who is rehabbing from offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his right knee, said he’s progressing well.
“My knee feels pretty good now,” Chen said through an interpreter after doing some agility drills with Orioles medical coordinator Dave Walker. “When I do [pitchers' fielding practice] and running, I didn’t feel anything, so I feel like it’s going well.”
Chen said he has also worked in the bullpen a few times to get a feel for his pitches.
“I’m not 100 percent to be pitching again yet, but it’s going pretty well,” Chen said. “I’m trying to get a feel for my pitches and trying to be ready for spring training. … Before the surgery, when I was doing some weight training or running, I felt some pain, but after surgery, I don’t feel pain anymore, so it’s pretty good.”
Showalter said the club will have a better idea of when Chen could make his first spring start after this week, but at this point, Showalter didn’t believe Chen would have to be pushed back.
“Not yet,” Showalter said. “He's doing great, knock on wood. [Head trainer] Richie [Bancells] gave us the medical updates [Wednesday] before the meeting. He's doing really well.”
Reimold ‘feels good’
Outfielder Nolan Reimold has been cleared for unrestricted activities following a second neck surgery in July, and he believes he will be able to play in the Orioles’ first spring training game Feb. 28 against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla.
“The neck feels good,” Reimold said. “The one thing that's a little different is I had the surgery a month later [than last year's surgery], so the muscles around the neck are like a month behind where they were last year. … I'm still doing my exercises and stuff. It should keep improving. It’s fine right now as it is, and I can do everything, but that's just one thing I keep in the back of my mind.”
Around the horn
Top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last June, has increased his throwing progression to 120 feet this week. If all goes well, he will lengthen that to 150 feet next week. He’s on pace to throw off a mound next month, but Bundy said he sees his recovery as a “day-to-day” situation. … With Machado recovering from offseason knee surgery this spring, Showalter indicated that Rule 5 pick Michael Almanzar will see a lot of Grapefruit League game action at third base this spring rather than Ryan Flaherty, who will be competing for the starting second base job. … Showalter said that Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, T.J. McFarland, Kevin Gausman and Alfredo Aceves could all make the team as either starters or relievers. The club will likely stretch all of them out to start and decrease innings for some when roles become clear in mid-March. Right-hander Josh Stinson will compete for a roster spot exclusively as a reliever. … The Orioles have scheduled an intrasquad game for Feb. 27 and could have additional games on Feb. 25 or Feb. 26 if the innings are needed. … The Orioles had early offseason interest in right-hander Chad Gaudin, who failed his physical with the Philadelphia Phillies, but were also uncomfortable with his medical records.