Carroll County Times

Healthy Orioles making it through spring training

SARASOTA, Fla. - Three weeks into spring training, the Baltimore Orioles are happy and relatively healthy.

Nolan Reimold has a sore shoulder, but that's not expected to hinder his recovery from neck surgery. He only revealed the shoulder was bothering him after he hit a home run Friday.

Backup catcher Taylor Teagarden's back is bothering him. It hurt him in last year's spring training at just about the same time, and he missed four months.

Tsuyoshi Wada seems to be coming along nicely after last May's Tommy John surgery. He's already thrown three times, and will throw again Wednesday. His return could come as early as May.

Best of all, the Orioles are 7-2 in exhibition play. Their starting pitching has been fine. Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman entered spring training as the rotation incumbents, and nothing so far has changed that. In 10 1-3 innings, the four have combined to give up just two runs, on a wind-aided two-run home run on Sunday against Tillman.

The fifth starter quandary seems a little clearer. Jair Jurrjens had a shaky first inning on Thursday, and he'll try again today in Dunedin, Fla., against Toronto. This time, he'll follow Steve Johnson, who'll get his first start.

With four weeks still left before Opening Day, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton and Johnson have the advantage to start. Jurrjens and Rule 5 draft pick T.J. McFarland have struggled while Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz look like better bets for the bullpen. The Orioles would like Wada to be the fifth starter, but don't want to rush him.

Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman could join the rotation later in the season and though they've been impressive, are likely to start the season at Double-A Bowie.

The three most reliable right-handers in the bullpen, Luis Ayala, Jim Johnson and Darren O'Day, haven't yet pitched. Manager Buck Showalter wants to keep them fresh. Johnson and O'Day may pitch on Wednesday against Spain's World Baseball Classic entry. Ayala may not throw for another week.

Pedro Strop left the team on Sunday for the Dominican Republic's WBC team, and so did catcher Chris Robinson, who's playing for Canada.

Adam Jones and minor league infielder Jonathan Schoop are gone, too. Jones is playing for the U.S. and Schoop for The Netherlands.

Chris Davis has been displaying a deft glove at first base, and it's helped that instead of the unsure Wilson Betemit at third, he has Manny Machado there. Brian Roberts has looked happy and healthy, too. He smacked his first home run in an Orioles uniform since April 2011 on Friday, and his wife is expecting their first child soon.

Nick Markakis missed Sunday with neck spasms, but that's considered minor, and Nate McLouth has looked healthy in his first Orioles spring training, too.

If Roberts and Reimold are healthy, the questions are at designated hitter and the bench. Betemit is signed for another year, and he can be the left-handed hitting DH. The other candidates include Russ Canzler, Conor Jackson and Danny Valencia.

All three can play first base, but Jackson took a step on Sunday by smacking two home runs.

Should Roberts remain healthy, the team will need a utility infielder, and the choice will probably be between Alexi Casilla and Ryan Flaherty.

Casilla was acquired on waivers from Minnesota last November and Flaherty was on scholarship as a Rule 5 draftee last year. Casilla has exceptional base-stealing skills, though he hasn't done a great job getting on base. He can play second and short. Flaherty can play first and the outfield, too.

At this point in spring training, Showalter's choices are enviable, and that's a welcome departure from previous years.