SARASOTA, FLA. — The Grapefruit League season starts early this year because of the World Baseball Classic, but manager Buck Showalter said his team is where it needs to be heading into the Orioles' exhibition opener against the Detroit Tigers on Friday in Lakeland.
The Orioles will get their first chance to see the newly renovated Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, though Showalter wouldn't have complained about devoting more of the extra time to full-squad workouts and fundamental prep.
"You always think you had another couple days, but the games identify and jolt some things that you want to come back to," he said. "We got everything covered that we wanted to get covered, leaving some room for some things we need to re-address as spring goes on."
Right-hander Tyler Wilson will be the first Orioles pitcher to take the mound against an opponent in a different uniform. American League Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer will be the starter for the Tigers.
Showalter confirmed there won't be any front-line players making the trip to Lakeland, but there will be several in the lineup Saturday, when the Orioles play the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton. WBC participants Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop, Manny Machado and Welington Castillo are expected to make their first of several exhibition starts before leaving the team.
Nuno's rude welcome: Newly acquired left-hander Vidal Nuno got to see up close what happens when opposing pitchers throw too many strikes to the heart of the Orioles lineup. He gave up back-to-back home runs to Machado and Castillo in a three-run third inning Thursday that accounted for the first runs in either of the Orioles' two intrasquad games.
"He was fine," Showalter said. "He threw some good pitches. He's got a chance to help us. It was one of those days — the wind blowing out. I don't put much stock in it."
Nuno was acquired Sunday from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for pitching prospect Ryan Moseley. He's expected to be one of the top candidates to fill a left-handed long-relief role and could serve as a spot starter.
He threw 19 pitches, 15 of which were strikes.
Zach Britton said Thursday morning that while his sore left oblique is getting better every day, he's still feeling some discomfort in the area and does not have a target date for returning to the mound.
"Feeling better," he said. "We'll treat it again today and come back tomorrow hopefully feeling even better. Really good progress this morning."
Though he hopes to start throwing again in the next few days, the Orioles are not going to take any chances with an injury that can become problematic if aggravated.
"We all agreed there's no reason to go out there and go through the motions and possibly do any damage," Britton said. "We have time right now on our side, so kind of just stay in here and treat it today and come in in the morning and see how I feel.
"It's still there a little bit, but not as severe as it was, so we'll just kind of take it each morning and see how I feel and when it comes down to throwing or throwing off a mound; once it's completely gone, we'll do that. So, hopefully not too many more games."
More intrasquad intrigue
Adam Jones had a pair of singles in two at-bats and new right fielder Seth Smith displayed some of his on-base potential and patience by walking in both of his plate appearances.
Left-hander Jed Bradley struggled with his control in his first competitive appearance in an Orioles uniform. He walked the first batter he faced, hit Robert Andino with a pitch and issued a second walk before getting his first out.
Dominican prospect Jesus Liranzo made an impression in his first inning, reaching 98 mph on the radar gun, according to Showalter.
Rule 5 draftee Aneury Tavarez had some trouble gripping the bat on a drizzly afternoon, twice sending it into the empty stands.
Around the horn
Showalter said after the intrasquad game that J.J. Hardy had received an injection in his lower back Thursday, but indicated that Hardy, Chris Tillman (shoulder) and Britton (oblique) all are showing improvement. "Nothing negative there," Showalter said. "They're on good footing." …Ubaldo Jimenez said before taking the mound to start Thursday's intrasquad game that he was happy to turn the page on 2016 after throwing the last pitch of the club's wild-card loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. "It's a new season, a new spring training, so everything is new," Jimenez said. "I don't ever think about last year. There's nothing you can do with that but move on."