BRADENTON, Fla. – Orioles manager Buck Showalter is considering opening the season with a short bench in order to keep a 13th pitcher on the 25-man Opening Day roster.
“This time of year, you’re considering everything,” Showalter said before the Orioles’ Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. “You say, ‘What really impacts your team when you’ve got seven or eight guys who play every day? Is it the 13th pitcher or the fourth bench player who doesn’t play much?’ ”
First baseman Chris Davis, center fielder Adam Jones and right fielder Nick Markakis all played in 160 games, and third baseman Manny Machado played in all 156 games before his season ended with a left knee injury. Shortstop J.J. Hardy appeared in 159 games.
Showalter has said this spring that he’s not taking that durability for granted and has lauded the club’s depth at various positions. But it’s the deep pitching that might make Showalter keep an extra pitcher at the start of the regular season.
Much will depend on Machado’s recovery. If he hasn’t recovered fully from offseason knee surgery in time for Opening Day, Ryan Flaherty — who is the leading candidate for the starting second base job — would likely shift to third base and Jemile Weeks would then become the favorite to play second base.
If Flaherty and Weeks are both everyday players in Machado’s absence, the club would still need a utility infielder. Top position player prospect Jonathan Schoop has had a spectacular spring — he is 9-for-17 with three doubles, one home run and five RBIs — and is giving the Orioles a difficult decision.
“He might be continuing to make it an easy decision,” Showalter said. “There’s a lot of ways to look at that. We came in here completely wide open there. It still is.”
It also would create a tough decision among outfielders. With Jones, Markakis, David Lough and Nelson Cruz entrenched, there is just one spot left between Steve Pearce, Nolan Reimold, Delmon Young and Henry Urrutia.
But with 11 pitchers out of options, including left-hander Zach Britton and right-hander Josh Stinson, having 13 pitchers would allow the Orioles to keep an extra player in the bullpen without risking losing him on waivers.
Almanzar adjusting well
Michael Almanzar, the club’s Rule 5 selection, had just one hit in his first nine at-bats this spring, but he seems to be getting comfortable at the plate.
The 23-year-old infielder hit his first major league spring training home run Monday, a two-run blast in the seventh inning of the Orioles’ 7-6 comeback win over the Pirates.
Down three runs at the time, Almanzar hit a 2-1 fastball from Pirates right-hander Duke Welker over the right-field fence to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to one run. He was 2-for-3 with a double in the game. Over his past two starts, Almanzar is 4-for-8 with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs.
“He can hit a fastball,” Showalter said. “You can project what that body is going to look like in a couple years, too. … I think it took him about a week to calm down. He was a little excited to be here and get the opportunity. That’s the way you want him to be, but he’s starting to settle down a bit and show us why we like him.”
The Orioles selected Almanzar, who hasn’t played above Double-A, from the Boston Red Sox in December. As a Rule 5 selection, he must remain on the big league roster for the entire season or the Orioles have to offer him back to Boston.
Berry happy with experience
Left-hander Tim Berry was among the latest round of cuts Monday — he was optioned to Double-A Bowie and will report to minor league camp at Twin Lakes Park — but he said he learned a lot from his first big league camp.
“It was more the experience more than anything, being in the environment every day,” Berry said. “It makes you better being around good players, and it was a good experience. I want to get back as soon as possible. … I didn’t want to come in and do too much. I wanted to do my thing and watch other people, and that’s what I did. I didn’t want to get too involved and step on each other’s toes.”
Berry, who was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, was a 50th-round pick in 2009, but he has developed into the club’s second-best left-handed pitching prospect behind Eduardo Rodriguez. He followed a strong season at High-A Frederick (11-7, 3.85 ERA) with a solid performance in the Arizona Fall League (2-0, 1.84 ERA, 14 2/3 IP).
“He’s been impressive,” Showalter said. “I can see why we protected him, and he carried over from a good fall league, and he’ll be one of the five starters in Bowie.”