FORT MYERS, Fla. — After hitting a career-best 21 homers at age 31 last year, Steve Pearce knows critics wonder if he can do it again. That's one of the reasons he's maintaining his intensity and focus this spring, despite having a spot on the Orioles' roster.
"I don't want people to think it's a fluke. I know I can play," Pearce said Saturday after his three-run homer helped the Orioles beat the Minnesota Twins, 5-3. "It definitely would help a lot more if I started off hot."
It's fair to say Pearce's bat is smoldering right now. Saturday's homer against Minnesota starter Tommy Milone was Pearce's fourth since last Saturday — a span of five games.
"I'm not happy with bad at-bats. I don't care what time of year it is. I'm always trying to get better," said Pearce, who hit .293 in 102 games last year despite being initially released by the Orioles in April. "I have a plan at the plate and I want to get consistent at-bats so I can take it into the season."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said one of the reasons the organization likes Pearce so much is because it knew he wouldn't get comfortable after a huge raise this offseason from $850,000 to $3.7 million.
"When you've been through some of the challenges and constant trials Steve has been to constantly prove himself, I don't think he's ever going to say, 'I've got this figured out,' " Showalter said. "He's never going to take anything for granted."
Pearce is now hitting .355 with four homers and eight RBIs in 31 at-bats.
Orioles keep winning streak alive
After struggling to begin the Grapefruit League schedule, the Orioles are on a roll. The win Saturday was their fourth straight, improving their spring record to 8-12.
On Saturday, starter Miguel Gonzalez allowed six hits and two runs while striking out four in 3 2/3 innings. He threw 80 pitches, 57 for strikes.
"I felt great. I executed my pitches," Gonzalez said. "Overall, I know I didn't go five innings, but I got my work in, and that's what really matters."
Delmon Young hit his first homer of the spring and Caleb Joseph added an RBI double. Rule 5 pick Logan Verrett picked up his second save of the spring with a scoreless ninth.
Steve Johnson reassigned
In addition to optioning outfielder Henry Urrutia to Triple-A Norfolk Saturday, the Orioles reassigned pitcher Steve Johnson (St. Paul's) to minor league camp.
Johnson, who is recovering from the shaving of bone spurs in his right shoulder last year, pitched in four Grapefruit League games, allowing three earned runs in four innings (6.75 ERA).
Showalter said Johnson, who has been a starter for much of his career, could initially pitch in the bullpen at Norfolk until he builds up his arm strength.
The Orioles now have 41 players in camp, including eight non-roster invitees.
De Aza back from 99th birthday celebration
Alejandro De Aza returned Friday night from a very special trip to his homeland.
Showalter allowed De Aza to leave for two days to return to the Dominican Republic and surprise his grandfather on his 99th birthday.
"Honestly, I went in there (to Showalter) and I didn't know whether he was going to let me go or not," De Aza said. And he's like, 'You should go.' He even didn't let me say a word. He just said, 'Go.'"
Not only did De Aza surprise his grandfather Thursday — something he hasn't done, he said, since before he signed a pro contract in 2001 — he also got to celebrate his daughter's 11th birthday.
Around the horn
Pitching prospect Hunter Harvey was hit in the shin by a comebacker while pitching in a minor league game in Fort Myers, Fla. He left the game and was taken for a precautionary X-ray, Showalter said. … INF Paul Janish made his Grapefruit League debut with the Orioles on Saturday. He had missed the previous games while recovering from surgery to remove bone chips in his right elbow. He was 1-for-3. … RHP Ryan Webb (swollen left knee) pitched for the first time since March 6 and threw a scoreless inning. … RHPs Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman will pitch Thursday against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland. They'll double up because the Orioles' lost a rotation day with Monday's off day.