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Orioles shrug off early losses in spring training

SARASOTA, FLA. — For all practical Orioles purposes, the Grapefruit League exhibition season begins this week.

It's not that anyone is going to forget that they got pounded at almost every turn during the first seven spring games. It's just that the first week was so heavily loaded with road games — and unrepresentative Orioles road lineups and pitching staffs — that there's really very little of use to take away from it.

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That's about to change. The Orioles play four of their next six games at Ed Smith Stadium, which means that the players who are most likely to be in the starting lineup come Opening Day are going to be in the lineup on a much more regular basis.

"Believe me, I don't ever like walking off the field when somebody scored more runs than us," manager Buck Showalter said. "I think some of the guys we know are going to be on the club are looking forward to Monday and Tuesday and Thursday and [Saturday] and being out there a little."

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There really is no reason to look in the rear-view mirror after a first week in which the Orioles did not win a game and which featured a lot of big crooked numbers on the wrong side of the scoreboard, but in this age of social media it doesn't take much for discontent to gain a foothold in the fan base.

"So, are some fans down on us because we lost some spring training games?" Adam Jones said Sunday. "I didn't know you could win the World Series in spring training. The success of spring training is always documented by how healthy your team is going into Opening Day."

That's the general idea, which is why there often is an inverse relationship between spring training won-loss records and the actual quality of the teams that produce them.

If it makes anyone feel better, the defending World Champion Kansas City Royals also took the field on Sunday looking for their first exhibition victory.

"We'll start playing a little more consistently on a more regular basis, but I've felt we've had good work over the last 10 days," first baseman Chris Davis said. "We've done some positive things in the games. Obviously, we haven't had the outcome that we want, but if you look back there have been some good things that have gone on. You might have to look a little harder than the average person, but we'll get it going."

Frustrated fans have to understand that — with the exception of rocky starts by Ubaldo Jimenez and Miguel Gonzalez — the Orioles' team ERA has been fashioned by auditioning relief pitchers who are unlikely to make the team. Showalter also has been evaluating a lot of young position players on the early road trips, which is one reason why the Orioles have not put up a big offensive performance yet.

"We're taking this time to get to know a lot of people that we don't know," Showalter said. "These opportunities to make good decisions on players for the Orioles and our fans, they (disappear) in a week or so, so we have to take advantage of these opportunities. Sometimes it doesn't lead to the results you'd like."

Showalter expects to see a more consistent offensive attack this week, but some of the veteran hitters say that it's still too early to worry about the results. They're still focused on getting into a competitive routine after spending the months leading up to spring training working on strength and conditioning.

"Right now, it's more getting shape at this point," shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "The ultimate goal is to be healthy and ready to go on April 4 and I think we're right on pace. Buck's been doing this for a long time and he knows what we need, and we've been doing this a long time and we know what we need."

The way the Orioles schedule is constructed this spring, there is a very high concentration of home games at the end, which will allow the regulars to get into rhythm before Opening Day. The four home games in the next six days should also help in that regard, but with a 162-game season ahead, the regular off days in between exhibition games remain important.

"It's a long spring training and we've got to take advantage of some of these days where you get to stay back and work on things," catcher Matt Wieters said, "because once you get rolling you don't have time to step back and work on some of the things that we can work on now."

"What's the date today," Hardy said. "At the end of our schedule we have a lot of home games. I think that's planned. I think Buck has always thought 50 at-bats for the spring is about right and I'm sure they'll be there and it's nice to have those home games at the end of the spring to get that consistency."

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Davis pointed out the obvious fact that sometimes gets lost in the nuts-and-bolts conversation about the importance of side work, fundamentals and conditioning during the spring. Players like to play. That's why they got into this business.

"I think guys are anxious to get back out there," Davis said. "I know I am. The first game, I had some positive things to take away from it, then I didn't play for a week. So, we always try to work as hard as we can when we stay back and make as much as we can of the opportunity to get some work in, but it's time for us to get in games and get it going."

They also like to win, but there is a time and place for getting caught up in the results.

"You can't win a championship if you have a good spring training record," Jones said. "That doesn't mean anything. We've got veterans here who understand what they need. When the lights come on April 4, we'll be ready."

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