SARASOTA, FLA. — — There aren't a whole lot of roster questions revolving around the Orioles' 25-man roster, but one of the more intriguing ones is whether Ryan Flaherty will go north for the second consecutive year.
Flaherty, an infielder/outfielder who was selected from the Chicago Cubs' organization in the 2011 Rule 5 draft, had to stay in the majors all of last season to become Orioles property.
He did, and he also ended up homering in the playoffs against the New York Yankees.
Now Flaherty, 26, can be sent to the minors this year, but he is doing everything he can to stay in the big leagues. On Sunday, he hit a two-run homer against the Pittsburgh Pirates' top prospect, Gerrit Cole, in a 5-2 Grapefruit League loss. It was his second home run in four days.
"I feel pretty good at the plate right now," said Flaherty, who is 6-for-21 (.286 average) in 11 games. "Obviously, there's a lot of good players here in camp, a lot of competition, which is good for the team. All these games mean something, so that's definitely good."
Flaherty's inclusion on the roster has as much to do with the health of other players as it does Flaherty's performance. If Brian Roberts is healthy, he would be the starting second baseman and Alexi Casilla would likely be the utility infielder.
That would mean the club would have to be confident Flaherty can play outfield for him to fit on the roster. And there is plenty of outfield competition in this camp. If outfielder/designated hitter Nolan Reimold isn't healthy for Opening Day, that would create another roster spot, but it might go to someone who is a more seasoned outfielder. A middle infielder for much of his life, Flaherty played 24 of his 77 big league games in the outfield last season.
"To be honest with you, it really doesn't matter where I play," Flaherty said. "I feel pretty comfortable anywhere. Maybe it just takes an extra day to take a couple extra fly balls, but it's good."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has said repeatedly that he thinks the former supplemental first-round pick out of Vanderbilt can be an everyday major leaguer. It's just uncertain whether that will happen in 2013.
"He's doing the things to put himself in the position to make [the roster], just got to continue," Showalter said of Flaherty. "You guys can tell he's got a little different sureness to his step. He knows the level and what's expected and he's playing like a very confident player right now, I think defensively and [with] everything he's doing."
Gonzalez struggles with command in loss
Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, making Sunday's start because Chris Tillman was scratched with abdomen soreness, said he felt good in the bullpen warming up, but that didn't translate into results against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He allowed four hits, two walks and four runs (one earned) in two innings in what was his second Grapefruit League game.
"I felt great in the 'pen. Just one of those days," said Gonzalez, who made 15 starts for the Orioles in 2012 and is expected to start this season in the rotation. "Things weren't working when I went on the field. Off-speed wasn't there, my fastball was up."
Gonzalez's outing turned ugly in the second after left fielder Nate McLouth failed to catch a wind-aided flyball that was ruled an error. Gonzalez then allowed hits to four of the next five batters and escaped the inning only when Jose Tabata was thrown out trying to advance to second base after a single.
Showalter, though, said he felt Gonzalez's line was affected by several balls that could have been outs if not for the swirling winds at Ed Smith Stadium.
"He was off from what he spoiled us with [in 2012]. But I'm OK with him," Showalter said. "Arm feels good, you can tell. I think the ball is coming out of his hand pretty good."
The Orioles managed only three hits in the game, including just two in four innings against Cole. They fell to 10-3-1 this spring.
Markakis waiting on MRI
Right fielder Nick Markakis, who will have a MRI on his ailing neck Monday, said he has spoken with team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens and doesn't believe the nagging injury is a major concern.
"Doc said they don't think it's anything too serious and that's what we're hoping for, but we just want to identify what it is," said Markakis, who hasn't played since March 1. "I think it's just some muscle tightness, but we'll definitely find out [Monday]."
Markakis said Wednesday that he could play with the spasms and stiffness in his neck if it were the regular season. But the next day the conditioned worsened, he said.
"That day I was feeling good. I woke up the next morning pretty locked up or tight or whatever you want to call it," he said. "But I'm better today than I was yesterday, so it's going in the right direction."
Tillman hopes to pitch in a few days
Tillman said he believes the muscle tightness he is feeling on his left side is a minor setback and he hopes to pitch in a few days.
"It's just a precautionary thing in my side, it kind of flared up the other day," said Tillman, who is expected to claim a rotation spot. "I think, just to be safe, I just want to take it easy for now. Nothing big, but I'm not going to downplay it either. Nothing I'm really worried about. Just want to be safe."
He said it is not the dreaded strained oblique muscle, which has a tendency to sideline players for weeks. Instead, he said it's more in "the center of my belly. Glad it's not [the] oblique, that's a good thing."
Around the horn
Catcher Taylor Teagarden, who had missed a week with a back ailment, entered Sunday's game in the seventh and caught the final three innings. He struck out in both of his at-bats. … Relievers Jim Johnson and Darren O'Day, making their second appearances of the spring, both had scoreless innings Sunday. … Veteran lefty Mark Hendrickson, who is attempting a comeback as a sidearmer, threw a perfect inning Sunday, striking out two. … Showalter said when he first saw a replay of the World Baseball Classic brawl between Canada and Mexico he was most interested in where minor league catcher Chris Robinson was. "I wasn't paying attention to what was going on, I was looking for Robinson."