SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles made a pair of significant roster cuts following Wednesday’s 7-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, optioning South Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon and catcher Johnny Monell to Triple-A Norfolk.
The club also reassigned non-roster outfielder Xavier Paul to minor league camp.
Yoon, 27, signed a three-year, $5.575 million deal with the Orioles last month, but he couldn’t pitch in a Grapefruit League game until getting his work visa, a tedious process that sent him to Canada for four days and was just completed last week.
“That was the main thing,” Yoon said through interpreter Justin Yoo. “My preparation was there. I feel like I was ready. I couldn’t get enough innings because of the visa.
“I’ve thought about it,” Yoon said of being optioned, “but I really wasn’t expecting it. … I actually feel good right now. I want to maintain where I’m at.”
There is a clause in Yoon’s contract that allows the club to send him to the minors to begin the season. So Yoon will go to Norfolk to be stretched out as a starter so he is an option for the big league club.
“He’s not going to start with us,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We think he’s got a chance to be with us at some point. I think he said the other day when he was talking to us, he needs to go down there and pitch innings, and [the innings]starting to go away. He needs some time down there against competition.”
On Wednesday, he made just his second spring appearance, retiring six of seven batters and giving up a wind-aided home run ball to Jayson Nix. He finished his outing by striking out former Oriole Wilson Betemit on an offspeed pitch.
“[He did] better [than] last time,” Showalter said. “I thought he showed the repertoire a little bit more today, had a good delivery. He’s going to be a strike thrower. He showed all three today. That’s intriguing.”
The Orioles optioning Monell, who was acquired in the offseason in a trade with the San Francisco Giants, makes Baltimore native Steve Clevenger the favorite to win the backup catching job, but the club could still go outside the organization to find Matt Wieters’ backup.
Three catchers — Wieters, Clevenger and non-roster backstop Caleb Joseph — remain in big league camp.
“He’s the leading candidate,” Showalter said. “Stevie’s presented himself well. We’ll see what happens between now and the end of the spring, what other options present themselves. Caleb’s had a good spring. I would characterize Steve as the leader in the clubhouse.”
Showalter made it clear early this spring that the position would be won on defense.
“We’re always looking, but we like the option Steve gives us,” Showalter said. “He’s done a nice job behind the plate defensively. More importantly, he’s engaged in that aspect of it. … We like what his bat brings also, as we do with [Monell].”
Clevenger is hitting .522 (12-for-23) this spring, while Monell hit .278 (5-for-18).
Even though the move gives the backup catcher battle more clarity, Clevenger said he still needs to win the job.
“I’m going to go out there and show [Showalter],” said Clevenger, 26. “Basically until my name is announced on Opening Day, that’s when I’ll be on the team.
“I feel very comfortable with what I’ve done,” he added. “Hitting, the main thing is catching. They made it a starting point from the beginning, it was going to be the catching that determined the job, and I feel like my catching has been up to far so par in spring training.”
Paul hit .214 (6-for-28) with six RBIs this spring.
With the moves, the Orioles now have 43 players in big league camp, including eight non-roster invitees.
Machado getting knee checked Thursday
Orioles third baseman Manny Machado will fly to Los Angeles early Thursday morning for an afternoon appointment with orthopedist Dr. Neal ElAttrache, the surgeon who performed his left-knee surgery last October, and take a red-eye flight back to Sarasota, Fla.
Showalter indicated Wednesday that the team has already received clearance from ElAttrache for Machado to begin playing in games and that decision now lies in the hands of the team trainers.
“If you’re expecting a yea or nay from this doctor tomorrow on Manny, it’s probably not going to happen as far a decision because that decision has already been given to us,” Showalter said. “Our doctors in Baltimore want him to see [Dr. ElAttrache] one more time. It’s kind of in our hands. Dr. ElAttrache has told us, it’s not like I’m going to write some magic [note]. … He’s not going to give some note or something. He’ll see where he is comparatively speaking.”
Machado is steadily returning to rehab activities after he stopped because of scar tissue buildup in the knee. Machado has not resumed on-field base-running drills — he’s been running in the pool — which appears to be his final hurdle before returning to games.
“This isn’t some check, now you can start doing everything,” Showalter said. “It’s not like he’s magically going to start playing in games the day he gets back. When [head trainer] Richie [Bancells] and our people feel he’s ready, he’ll play, so this isn’t some get out of jail card he’s going to get.”
Lough returning Thursday
Orioles outfielder David Lough passed a series of concussion tests and is slated to play as a substitute against the Pittsburgh Pirates Thursday night in Bradenton, Fla., Showalter said.
Lough was scratched from last Friday’s game against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Fla., and hasn’t played since after complaining of neck stiffness and concussion symptoms like dizziness and floaters in his eyes.
“They wanted to take precaution and go through a concussion protocol,” Lough said. “I’ve been taking some tests. … I just wanted to be safe than sorry and get everything checked out and make everything good to go before the season and get back on the right track.”
Lough did some early running drills with Bancells and took batting practice before Wednesday’s game.
Asked if Lough knew what triggered the symptoms, he said they first arose after his inside-the-park home run attempt on March 8 against the Red Sox in Fort Myers.
“I think the inside-the-park home run when we were in Boston kind of possibly triggered it,” he said. “We’re not really sure. I made a couple of diving catches in the outfield, but after that was when I started getting symptoms. I hadn’t said anything for a couple of days and when I did they wanted to make sure everything was fine so we had to run through some tests.”
Around the horn:
Left-hander Brian Matusz threw five innings in a minor league game against the Twins’ Triple-A team at Ed Smith Stadium.
Matusz, who pitched the entire season as a reliever last year, is continuing to be stretched out. He threw 60 pitches on Tuesday and mixed all four of his pitches in each inning. ... Right-hander Evan Meek threw a scoreless inning on Wednesday and now has thrown six scoreless innings without allowing a hit this spring. … After going through a 1-for-19 slump, Delmon Young is 4-for-6 with two doubles over his past two games. … Right-hander Darren O’Day threw two scoreless innings in a minor league game Wednesday, allowing no hits and striking out two with no walks. … Outfielder Francisco Peguero is out for at least two weeks, when he will have a cast on his ailing right wrist, and will begin the season on the disabled list. Peguero hasn’t played since March 5 with wrist tendinitis. .… Right-hander Edgmer Escalona, who was shut down in early March with shoulder tightness, said Wednesday that he hopes to start shoulder exercises this week and could resume throwing in 11/2 weeks.
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