SARASOTA, Fla. — In a battle that came down to the final day of spring training games and was compared by one of the candidates to "two heavyweights battling against each other," Steve Pearce beat Conor Jackson for the final spot on the Orioles' 25-man Opening Day roster.
Pearce, a first baseman-outfielder who changed organizations five times last season, was told he made the team before the Orioles' 7-1 win over the New York Mets in their Grapefruit League finale.
"It was tough," Pearce said. "It was almost like waiting the whole time to see what move was going to be made. It's just one of those things. I've been through it before, thank God, so I knew how to take it. I let them make decision and I go out there and play ball.
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Ed Smith Stadium, 2700 12th Street, Sarasota, FL 34237, USA
"I was very relieved. It was a long camp," he added. "It came down to today and I knew I did everything I could to make this team."
The competition between Pearce and Jackson was exceptionally close, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. But Showalter noted that Pearce best fits the team's need for a reserve player, while the organization wanted to see Jackson go to Triple-A Norfolk to get everyday at-bats at first base and the corner outfield spots so he can be ready for everyday duty in case of an injury.
"I don't want to view something as callously as the flip of a coin, but it was very close to take it this deep into it," Showalter said. "Some of it has to do with the way we're going to use him. … Steve's skills serve the role just a tad better."
The 29-year-old Pearce compiled a .340/.377/.851 batting line with a team-high 18 RBIs in 26 spring games. He hit his seventh homer of the spring — tying for most in the Grapefruit League — in Saturday's win.
"I worked hard this offseason," Pearce said. "I started baseball activities way early because I knew that I was going to have to prove myself and have to win a job. I didn't have the luxury to come in here and start working through things. I worked through the kinks early, and I came out firing right out of the chute. I've been fortunate that I've been able to start off that way."
Jackson, who was signed as a minor league free agent in December, also had a solid spring, hitting .302/.327/.528 with three doubles, three homers and six RBIs in 53 spring at-bats.
"It was kind of like two heavyweights battling against each other," Jackson said before Saturday's announcement. "We were going back and forth. He's had a pretty good spring. It's one of those situations where, may the best man win it and go from there."
Pearce said he and Jackson often talked about the competition.
"We talked during the process a lot about it," Pearce said, "just we were always wondering, 'Did they tell you anything?' We were just trying to get some vibe which direction they were heading."