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Orioles' spring reserves keeping standards high in difficult late-game assignments

SARASOTA, FLA. — Taking every road trip and playing the last few innings of every spring game as a nonroster free agent isn't the most glamorous life. But the group of infielders occupying that role for the Orioles has proceeded into the last full week of camp unimpeded by those tough assignments.

Long after the big names leave the game during the early stages of spring training, the likes of Jace Peterson, Jack Reinheimer and Christopher Bostick have been busy playing all over the diamond, keeping comebacks alive and making the Orioles coaches take notice.

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Alex Cobb struck out the first four batters he faced — one apiece on a fastball, curveball and split-change in the first inning — and didn't allow any of his four hits until the Blue Jays’ three-run fifth inning in an eventual 4-3 Orioles win at Dunedin Stadium. 

"We still have a big number here, so I think that guys are still continuing to see opportunity," manager Brandon Hyde said. "They're continuing to get opportunity in games, so it's not like that situation where the position players — usually, after about two weeks, they're kind of ready to go."

For many, it's a familiar role they're thriving in, even if there isn’t a major league roster spot waiting for them at the end of camp. Reinheimer, who was claimed off waivers from the Texas Rangers in January and then was outrighted off the roster early in spring training, has 10 hits in 24 at-bats over 18 games. Only six players have more hits, and all have at least nine more plate appearances than Reinheimer, 26.

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Peterson, 28, has eight hits, including a home run Thursday, in 27 at-bats. Bostick, 25, has played five different positions and been part of a number of Orioles rallies.

Each has been through this experience before to some extent, and had major league experience with it in the National League during the regular season. But that doesn't make it easier to do.

"Coming off the bench in any situation, especially in the big leagues or any professional sport, is tough," Peterson said. "It's not easy to be able to be on the bench, be cold for a couple hours, and then come in and do your job. It's something that takes a lot of patience, it takes a lot of — you've got to really go out there and be aggressive. Be under control, but you've got to be confident.”

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said the team has had discussions about using an opener to begin games as opposed to a traditional starter, but there's too much undecided on the team to determine that at this point.

"It's something that I think is just part of your game, and something we kind of take pride in, because we know that it's a tough thing to do and not many people can do it," Bostick said. “It's an important role, and it needs to be embraced by whoever has it.”

Peterson said there's a camaraderie growing among those players, all of whom are in camp as minor league invitees and represent what could be a new-look infield at Triple-A Norfolk. It's not lost on them that Tides manager Gary Kendall is making most of the road trips with the team, so he's getting a chance to learn the players, and they're getting a chance to show off a bit. Between coaches and opposing scouts who could see something they like, those nonroster players never know where they could end up.

“That's kind of the rule of thumb for all of baseball — you could be on the other team in a week,” said Bostick, a minor league free agent who has been with four organizations since 2016. “You want to put your best out there and show everybody who you are and what you're worth."

Peterson, who spent most of last season with the Orioles after he was acquired off waivers from the New York Yankees, said he believes there's an example being set in camp that has carried over to the lower reaches of the depth chart, which the team frequently pulls from to fill out game-day rosters.

"I think we've done a good job of setting the tone here early," Peterson said. "I think the guys who really want to learn, and the guys who really want to learn, you don't have to tell them much. They see what's going on, and they know the standard, and they're following it and doing it, having great camps and working hard. It's good to see everybody pulling the same rope."

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