SARASOTA, Fla. ——Despite a lack of splashy moves this offseason, the Orioles' 40-man roster is crowded and the team will have to make some difficult decisions as the spring progresses.
"It's getting a little painful with the roster spots, and I think we're going to have to make two or four moves before this camp is over," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Some of the guys who came off [the roster] that we knew would go elsewhere, that's an ongoing process."
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Ed Smith Stadium, 2700 12th St, Sarasota, FL 34237, USA
In sifting through the rest of the bench, Showalter said the ability to play shortstop will be important. Ryan Flaherty and Matt Antonelli have been taking grounders at shortstop, where the Orioles need insurance for J.J. Hardy, who set a career high in homers (30) and matched one in RBIs (80) despite being on the disabled list for nearly a month. Showalter also hinted that new Oriole Wilson Betemit, primarily known for his bat, could see time at short. Betemit has been practicing at third base and could play some first as well.
Showalter also said that playing outfield might be the "tiebreaker" in selecting a utility player. The Orioles signed free-agent Endy Chavez in the offseason to be a fourth outfielder and traded for Jai Miller. Both can play all three outfield positions.
"Those guys are so important over the course of a season," Showalter said. "I use the correlation to SEC football. It's that fifth or sixth game, when offensive linemen and defensive linemen and linebackers go down, it's their next line of defense that allows them to maintain a level of play that really separates them."
The two-phase construction project that has produced the new Ed Smith Stadium complex is drawing to a close, and Sarasota County officials will join Orioles attorney Alan Rifkin for a "compliance walkthrough" Monday that will mark its official completion.
"I think they'll see that the club has over-delivered on its end,'' Rifkin said, "and the product speaks for itself. I think everybody is extremely pleased with the outcome. It's everything and more than people had envisioned."
The second phase was not without a few glitches. The artificial turf field that was installed last year developed a drainage problem that led to some argument over who was responsible for correcting it, but the Orioles eventually supplied additional funding to put in a new infield, which was scheduled for a test run late Saturday afternoon.
"The Orioles stepped up at every opportunity to make sure it is the finest venue for spring training in all of baseball,'' Rifkin said.
Theoretically, county officials could raise an objection about some aspect of the camp, but that is considered unlikely.
Lots of closer options
Asked about how he will begin to contemplate the closer role, Showalter said he has ideas but wants to make sure everyone is healthy before really delving into the situation.
Among the candidates, only Jim Johnson is not at full strength. Johnson, who has been dealing with lower-back pain, will throw off a full mound for the first time Sunday.
"We have good options," Showalter said. "We'll see where we are with the health. It's kind of like the starting pitching. We think we have the people to do it, it's just a matter of sorting it out. It's the easy part and the hard part. I'd feel differently if we didn't have to people here to do it."
The Orioles acquired Matt Lindstrom (trade) and Luis Ayala (free agent), both of whom have closing experience, in the offseason and still have Kevin Gregg.
Around the horn
The team has scheduled intrasquad games March 2 and 3, and a third is possible. … Right-hander Jason Berken remained shut down Saturday after straining his left hamstring during conditioning drills. Berken said he felt better but was limping with his left thigh wrapped heavily as he walked around the clubhouse. … Right-hander Jon Link, who threw a bullpen session Friday, suffered a hamstring injury, Showalter said. … The team's artificial turf field, which will aid with bad weather as well as simulate the playing surfaces at Tampa Bay and Toronto, could be ready to use Sunday. Instructors Mike Bordick and Bobby Dickerson were scheduled to test the field Saturday afternoon by taking grounders and running on it. … Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette attended an event Saturday to dedicate the area's first Miracle League field. The Orioles and Pirates, who train in nearby Bradenton, donated $150,000 to help build a baseball field designed for special-needs adults and children. … Orioles special assistant Brady Anderson participated in fielding drills with the outfielders.