The final days of spring training bring anxious moments for players on the Opening Day roster bubble, and Trey Mancini went into the Orioles' final day in Florida not knowing whether his strong spring training would reward him with his first jog down the orange carpet Monday afternoon at Camden Yards or a ticket back to Triple-A Norfolk.
As the Orioles packed their belongings into a tractor trailer for the team's move north to Baltimore, Mancini finally learned that he made his first Opening Day roster.
"It's tough not knowing exactly where you're going, and a lot's at stake," said Mancini, who received several congratulatory handshakes from teammates inside the Orioles clubhouse following the team's 7-3 loss to Detroit. "It was really relieving to hear. … I knew coming in it that it was going to be a tough, tough, uphill battle to get a roster spot on the team."
Despite a spring in which he led the Orioles in extra-base hits and made a quick transition to right field, Mancini's addition to the Opening Day roster answered one of the biggest roster questions remaining. There was no doubt he earned a spot with his play, but there was question whether he was best suited playing every day in the minors instead of going into the season in a part-time role with the big league team.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said outfielder Joey Rickard — who was in a similar situation — also made the club. The team is still attempting to carry non-roster outfielder Craig Gentry, another spring training darling, but the Orioles must first open a 40-man roster spot for him, and that might not come available until Rule 5 pick Aneury Tavarez clears outright waivers in the next two days.
The team will also place left-hander Wade Miley on the disabled list to start the season, citing an upper respiratory infection that forced him to miss two starts. His stint on the new 10-day DL should be brief. He is scheduled to return April 9 and possibly will start that day.
The move — combined with a schedule that includes two off days in the first four days of the season — allows the Orioles to carry just three starting pitchers on Opening Day.
The Orioles ended their spring in Florida having trimmed their roster to 31 players. Three of those players will open the season on the DL (Miley, right-hander Chris Tillman and Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander). And Tavarez's removal from the 40-man roster is pending.
That leaves the Orioles with three pitchers (Oliver Drake, Gabriel Ynoa and Jayson Aquino) for one available roster spot.
"Considering all the challenges we had with the WBC and people moving around, it was a logistical challenge but we got through it," Showalter said about spring training. "For the most part, we're healthy and we've identified some solid depth pieces, and a lot of things that we thought would kind of happen materialized, so to speak. A lot of things we thought could present themselves for us have. We're able to at the most part go forward with those pieces."
Among Thursday's seven post-game roster cuts, Pedro Alvarez — who was signed to a minor-league deal in mid-March — was reassigned to minor league camp and will open the season in Triple-A Norfolk, where he will continue his transition to the outfield.
Showalter said the roster will likely consist of 11 pitchers —including eight relievers — and 14 position players to start the season.
Right-hander Tyler Wilson and left-hander Vidal Nuno are likely to earn long-relief roles, barring the Orioles acquiring additional arms off the waiver wire and through trades as other clubs shore up their Opening Day rosters.
"That's the plan now," Showalter said about Wilson and Nuno. "It could change between now and Sunday. The waiver wire is hopping, different stuff going on. I really feel for the guys this time of year, because I'd love to tell them something that I know. But I'm very careful about this time of year, not telling them something that's not going to come to pass. But they've got families and cars and lives and moms and dads, and you really want to try to get it out there.
"We look at this so much with a sense of finality, and it really isn't," he added.
As for Mancini, he made just his fifth spring start in right field in Thursday's Grapefruit League finale and flipped innings with first baseman Mark Trumbo throughout the game. He did enough this spring to show he could potentially play the new position regularly.
"Especially once games started, if you told me that, I probably wouldn't have believed that," Mancini said of making the team as an outfielder. "... But I feel like I did a good job of learning it. ... Playing a capable right field, at least, and them having the confidence in me to do it at the major league levels is really, really big."
Showalter said Mancini's work on the back fields in Sarasota with outfield coach Wayne Kirby, vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson and Gulf Coast League manager Carlos Tosca has paid off, adding that he could see Mancini contributing at either corner outfield spot regularly.
"I think he has that [potential]," Showalter said. "I wasn't sure about it coming into spring — I really hadn't seen much of it, but after the things he's gone through out of people's eyesight, he's been working about every other day since he got here … with the exception of the first week. It's been something he's been working on for a while."
The Orioles will travel to Triple-A Norfolk on Friday morning still needing to make a few roster decisions. Inclement weather could threaten an exhibition game with the Tides.
It still makes for some uneasy final days for players such as Gentry, who know they've done what they can to earn a roster spot and now can do nothing more than wait to be told their fate.
"It's definitely been a long spring training, and it can be a little anxious when you're waiting to see and you don't know what's going to happen," Gentry said. "But I don't know, I guess right now I'm at peace with it because I've come in here and put together a pretty solid spring training and I feel pretty good about it. It's whatever happens happens. A lot of it's out of my control, but yeah, it's definitely a little nerve-racking toward the end when you don't know what the future holds."