After a dozen days of being limited to the back fields of the Ed Smith Stadium complex, sometimes lost in the monotony of pitchers' fielding practice, bullpen sessions and bunting drills, the Orioles finally put on their game faces Friday afternoon.
Playing for the first time inside Ed Smith Stadium, the team took part in its first of two nine-inning intrasquad games, and manager Buck Showalter played organizer, trying to simulate a normal game day.
It was simply an intrasquad game, an outing that likely will have been forgotten by most by the time the Orioles return to Baltimore next month. Each pitcher threw one inning, and the final three innings were mostly taken up by 13 players brought over from the team's minor league camp at Twin Lakes Park.
Each inning ended with a fielding drill, and one pitcher, reliever Pedro Strop, threw a four-out half-inning because he went through hitters without meeting the minimum number of pitches. And take away media and scouts and the Ed Smith seating bowl was quiet enough to hear the base coaches' every word.
It wasn't the regular season, but it was something.
"I knew we were going to win today," Orioles manager Buck Showalter quipped. "That's for sure. It was good. I know [players] were tired. They were looking forward to getting in some game situations."
Over the next four days, the Orioles will get in plenty of innings. They will play another intrasquad game Saturday, then open their Grapefruit League season with a day-night, away-and-home, split-squad doubleheader.
"We're really playing doubleheaders three of the next four days," Showalter said.
For left fielder L.J. Hoes, it was a chance to make an early impression. Hoes, a 21-year-old minor leaguer invited to big league camp, hit an RBI triple in the eighth inning off Greg Burke to give the visiting Orioles a 2-1 win over the home Orioles.
Hoes, who will return to minor league camp in the coming days, played the entire game along with a pair of fellow invitees, first baseman Joe Mahoney and outfielder Xavier Avery. By the time they returned to the Orioles' clubhouse, it was mostly empty — the other starters long gone.
"I just wanted to go out there and play hard," Hoes said. "I'm thankful for the opportunity I'm having to be in big league camp and just go out there and work to get better day by day, no matter who is watching. My thing is to go out there and make myself better as a player."
For veteran third baseman Mark Reynolds, it was his first opportunity to put doubters to rest. With nearly no one watching, Reynolds — who made 26 errors last season in 114 games at third base — turned in two nice defensive plays. In the third inning, he barehanded a slow roller down the line and threw out the speedy Avery at first. Later in the game, he made a diving stop in the hole, quickly got to his feet and threw out Taylor Teagarden by a step.
Reynolds dropped 20 pounds in the offseason and has shown commitment to getting better defensively since arriving in Sarasota, Showalter said.
"I'm not sure he would have been able to do that [last year as] athletically as he did today," Showalter said of the slow roller. "It's a good start. You like to see a guy get a return right out the chute for some things he's put emphasis on."
Two of the organization's vaunted young pitchers — right-hander Jake Arrieta and left-hander Brian Matusz — threw perfect innings for the visiting team.
So did new reliever Darren O' Day, who had his first exposure to All-Star and Gold Glove catcher Matt Wieters by throwing a perfect top of the fourth inning.
"It's an intrasquad, but with as many talented pitchers as we have, every game counts," O' Day said. "I wanted to go out there and pitch well, and I think I did. One thing I took away was how nice it is to throw to Wieters. He presents a nice target out there. I only threw about 10-15 pitches, but I liked the way he was thinking. He had never caught a bullpen of mine. That showed me something."
For some, like Jason Hammel, a veteran right-hander who was part of the trade that sent No. 1 starter Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies last month, it was the first opportunity to pitch in front of his new teammates in a game-like scenario. Hammel pitched a perfect top of the first, striking out the final two batters he faced.
"There's a lot of stuff going on," Showalter said of Hammel. "You've got to think, this is the first time he pitched in front of his new teammates in a game situation. You want to present yourself well, and he did. He had some juices flowing."
Showalter made certain not to magnify the day beyond its meaning.
But its meaning was enough.
"I don't care what you do on the back fields in practice or whatever," he said. "It's just a different [feel], not just for [the players], but for us."
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