Reliever Pedro Strop, who threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings for the Dominican Republic's World Baseball Classic championship team, was back with the Orioles on Thursday, doling out hugs to teammates while grinning non-stop.

"It was unbelievable. I don't even know how to describe this experience, an unbelievable feeling," said Strop, who was 3-0 with two holds in the tournament in which the Dominican didn't lose a game. "That's the only thing I can say."

Strop flew back from San Francisco on Wednesday night, slept until the late morning and was at the park Thursday afternoon. He likely won't pitch until Saturday at the earliest, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

Showalter expressed concern earlier this month that he'd have to be careful with Strop, who was in high-energy, adrenaline-pumping games and now returns to the less-intense Grapefruit League. But Showalter wasn't as concerned Thursday.

"Pete's got his on button on all the time," You don't ever have to worry about him being ready to pitch and compete. He likes it," Showalter said. "I'm really proud of him, he pitched well."

Showalter said he jokingly asked Strop if he is a starting pitcher now after his experience in the first game of the WBC, in which the club's top set-up man was asked to throw 1 2/3 innings. He usually goes just one inning for the Orioles, so the organization wasn't thrilled with him going longer in his first outing.

Strop said he understood the concern, but he hadn't thrown many pitches in his first inning of work.

"I know Buck was going to be like, 'Ehhhh. What's going on?'" Strop said smiling. "But, at the same time, I knew it wasn't a lot of pitches, so I wasn't going to do anything stupid, either."
    Much was made about the emotions and gyrations the Dominican team showed on the field during the tournament. Strop, who often jumps, fist pumps or points upward after getting key outs, said his team was just playing loose and enjoying the opportunity to play for its country.

"It might look weird to some people because they don't know the way we play baseball in the Dominican, but this is the way we grew up playing," he said. "We were playing for the Dominican team. That's ours right there. From the first day, we were on the same page. We want to win the tournament. We went for it. We went hard."

Getting the pitching set up

Miguel Gonzalez threw 75 pitches in five-plus innings Wednesday in a minor league game and said all of his pitches were crisper than his last time out. He'll likely pitch again Monday and then expects to start the Orioles' final Grapefruit League game March 30 against the New York Mets. That puts him in line to pitch on full rest either the third game of the season at the Tampa Bay Rays or the home opener April 5 at Camden Yards.

Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen, who are expected to be the club's No. 1 and No. 2 2 starters, respectively, to start the season, likely will pitch in minor league games Wednesday or Thursday as a final tune-up for April 2 and April 3. Chen will start this Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies in Sarasota.

Steve Johnson, who is battling for the fifth starter's spot, will pitch in Friday's big league game. Sunday's starter is undecided, but it will be either Chris Tillman, who is expected to make the rotation, or Brian Matusz, who is battling for the fifth spot. Showalter said the one who doesn't start against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton will pitch in a minor league game on Sunday. Monday's starter against the Boston Red Sox is also listed as undecided.

McLouth lovin' the 80s

Left fielder Nate McLouth's walk-up song to home plate is one of the more bizarre choices in baseball. He uses "Kyrie," a No. 1 hit in March 1986 by pop band Mr. Mister. McLouth wasn't quite 5 when the song was atop the Billboard charts.

But he says he's been getting into 80s music for a while now, and he simply loves that song. So he likes to walk to the plate hearing Mr. Mister belt out the tune.

"Some things are timeless. Chuck Taylors, peanut butter and jelly and 'Kyrie,'" McLouth said stonefaced.

Around the horn

Orioles brass met Thursday afternoon to further discuss the club's 25-man roster. … Right fielder Nick Markakis (neck) planned on speaking to his spine specialist Thursday about whether he can begin baseball activities, but the two hadn't connected as of Thursday afternoon. … Brian Roberts was in the Orioles lineup Thursday after fouling a ball off his right ankle in the sixth inning Wednesday. … Nolan Reimold (shoulder) played his second consecutive game in left field, something he has to prove he can do physically to be on the active roster for Opening Day. … Infielder Jonathan Schoop, who played for The Netherlands in the WBC, is expected to start at either second base or shortstop Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte. … Bullpen coach Bill Castro, who was the Dominican Republic's pitching coach in the WBC, also returned to the Orioles on Thursday. … Reliever Mark Hendrickson's wife, Cortney, gave birth to a daughter, Sophia Joy, on Wednesday morning. … Before Thursday's game, Orioles closer Jim Johnson presented a $40,000 check to the Miracle League of Manasota on behalf of the club and OriolesREACH, which hosted the third annual Birdland Golf Classic in February. … An Ed Smith Stadium worker was sent to the hospital when she was struck by a home run ball during batting practice. … Longtime Orioles fan and TV game show host Pat Sajak was on the field before Thursday's game.

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