FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- For Adam Stern, the walk back to the dugout after striking out yesterday must have seemed almost as long as the flight to Columbus, Ohio, that awaited the Orioles early today.
A flight that Stern won't be boarding.
The Orioles optioned Stern to Triple-A Norfolk after yesterday's 5-1 split-squad loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, removing him from the competition for the final roster spot. That also opened the door a lot wider for Freddie Bynum.
"They didn't get to really see enough of me and wanted me to go down and get more at-bats and stuff, and hopefully I'll be back later," Stern said. "It's understandable, but obviously it's disappointing anytime you get sent down."
Stern went 1-for-3 with an infield hit as the starting right fielder, leaving him with a .278 average this spring. Every failed at-bat seemed critical because he was limited to 14 games by a strained right oblique muscle and a recent bout with food poisoning.
"That kind of stuff happens," said Stern, who mostly will play center field at Norfolk. "Maybe I need to get more at-bats and be ready so when you get the call, you're ready to play and all timed up."
Rather than allow Stern to accompany the team north for its final three exhibition games, the Orioles will send him to the minor league complex in Sarasota.
"There's always opportunities you've got to take advantage of. Obviously, I didn't do it this year," he said. "Eighteen at-bats in spring training isn't really going to cut it. So I'll go down there and take it like a man, and hopefully be back up later."
Left fielder Jay Payton's hamstring injury could force him to be on the disabled list and change the makeup of the Orioles' roster. The club hasn't announced whether it will keep 13 pitchers, but it seems to be leaning in that direction. Losing Payton would increase the need for an extra outfielder - perhaps Bynum, who has outlasted Stern in camp despite batting .130.
It's possible the Orioles will put Payton on the disabled list and still go with three bench players, including Chris Gomez and backup catcher Paul Bako.
"With Jay out, I would think you need somebody who can play center field, or all of them, really," manager Sam Perlozzo said.
Jim Duquette, club vice president, said the Orioles haven't decided whether to keep an extra pitcher or reserve position player.
"That's the thing we're still sorting through," he said. "We're not ready to commit to that."
He also noted that Stern's limited exposure this spring hurt his chances.
"With Stern, we didn't feel like we had the opportunity to see an awful lot of him, and we feel like he needs more time down in the minor leagues," Duquette said. "He was one of the guys we were talking about all spring - Bynum and Stern and [Brandon] Fahey. Those were the primary candidates, and a couple of nonroster guys - [Jason] Dubois and [Jon] Knott and [Ruddy] Yan - played themselves into possible consideration for the job."
Stern's removal drastically improved Bynum's chances of making the club because he plays all three outfield positions.
But the Orioles continue to look outside the organization. They've held more discussions with the Kansas City Royals about Reggie Sanders, who will make $5 million this season. The Royals want left-hander Brian Burres in return and would absorb a significant portion of Sanders' salary, but an industry source said the Orioles don't believe they could provide enough at-bats for the veteran, so a deal is unlikely.
The same source also said the Orioles have held internal discussions about signing Eduardo Perez, who was released Tuesday by the Chicago White Sox.
"We don't have to make a final decision on our roster until Sunday at 3," Duquette said. "It's still not settled yet. We still have a guy or two in camp, and we could still make a trade."
Bynum also started in right field in yesterday's split-squad game against the Washington Nationals. He went 0-for-4 and has 19 strikeouts in 46 at-bats.
"I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself," he said. "I've been trying to relax and just let everything happen, just do what I know how to do. I try not to think about that other stuff."
Stern would have filled the Orioles' need for a late-inning defensive replacement who can run. But Bynum also can move to the infield and has flashed a good glove at every position he has played. And he's regarded as a better base stealer, though he got picked off at third during Monday's game in Fort Myers after pinch running for Payton.
If the Orioles stay in-house, Bynum appears to be their choice for that final roster spot. But the last three games, including stops in Norfolk, Va., and Washington, could lead the Orioles to go in another direction.
"Something could happen the next day or so that someone becomes available that might be - not necessarily a little bit better - but in addition to what we have," Perlozzo said.
Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.