SARASOTA, Fla. — Although the Orioles aren't making any proclamations about their rotation with Opening Day looming in less than two weeks, Zach Britton's chances of going north with the club seemingly took a hit Wednesday as he failed to get out of the second inning in a Grapefruit League start against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The 25-year-old lefty allowed five runs on seven hits and two walks while retiring only four batters, pushing his spring ERA to 6.10 and likely damaging his standing in a battle with Jake Arrieta, Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz and others for the fifth rotation spot.
Britton hopes that isn't the case.
"Obviously you don't want to have a game like this at all, whether it's the season or spring training. But I think there's other stuff they are looking at," he said. "I feel healthy. My stuff has been pretty good. ... You don't want it in their mind at all like you had a bad one. You want to put a good foot forward."
Britton said he was working on trying to throw his fastball inside to right-handers, the pitchers were up and "they just beat me with it."
"Sometimes it's more important that you work on [things] and if you do have bad outings, it's spring training," said Britton, who threw only 36 of his 59 pitches for strikes. "But I don't have the luxury of having an outing like that when you're competing for a spot."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said all of his pitchers are working on things, and that has to be considered during any outing. He also said he won't dismiss Britton's body of work this spring; he had allowed two earned runs in four official Grapefruit League outings.
"He pitched well the last two or three times out," Showalter said of Britton. "Today was a little bit of a challenge for him but he has pitched well for the most part. He's had a couple, less-than-what-he's-capable-of outings, but the rest of them have been really good."
Orioles top infield prospect Jonathan Schoop returned Wednesday after helping an upstart Netherlands team reach the World Baseball Classic semifinals before losing to eventual champions, the Dominican Republic.
"I was happy. We did a good job. We showed the world that we could play baseball, compete at a high level," said Schoop, who is from the island of Curacao, a constituent country of the Netherlands.
Schoop, 21, batted .214 with a .313 on-base percentage in eight games. He had two homers, including a three-run shot in his club's upset of Cuba.
"I think I grew a lot as a player because a lot of fans were there, a lot of pressure, the excitement from the game," he said. "[There were] more good pitchers. I think it was a good experience for me."
There was a downside, too, he said. He was away from his own team for nearly three weeks — which would have allowed him to work with the big league coaching staff and the Orioles players.
"I missed a lot of games and maybe they can't watch me over here, but it was good," he said.
Orioles cut three
Exposito, who is on the 40-man roster, batted .381 with a .481 on-base percentage in 14 spring games. But the 26-year-old had struggled defensively. He will compete for the starting job at Norfolk.
Schlereth, a lefty, posted a 12.00 ERA in six games. He allowed 10 hits, three walks and eight earned runs in six innings. Russell, a right-hander, was 1-0 with a 7.71 ERA in eight appearances. He allowed 10 hits, four walks and six runs in seven innings. They'll compete for bullpen spots at Norfolk. The Orioles have 45 players in camp, including 12 non-roster players.
Orioles hit 5 homers, win 6-5
Left fielder Nolan Reimold, who was playing in the field for the first time since experiencing shoulder tightness on March 1, had two of the Orioles' five solo homers in a 6-5 victory against the Blue Jays on Wednesday.
J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis and Nate McLouth also homered after the Orioles were trailing 5-0. Brian Roberts' RBI single in the third broke the 5-5 tie. Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland threw three scoreless innings for the Orioles and hasn't given up a run in his last eight innings pitched.
Reimold didn't have to test his arm Wednesday, but he said he feels good and should have no problem playing the field going forward.
"We've got two more weeks. I already feel pretty good," Reimold said. "Progressing and getting better every game. So I'll be all right."
Roberts fouled a ball off his right ankle in the sixth inning, stayed in the game and then was taken out — as scheduled — before the top of the seventh. He said afterward that he'd be OK.
"It will be fine. It's sore, but no big deal," Roberts said. "It was going to be my last at-bat either way. Able to end the game with a bang, why not?"
The Orioles improved to 15-6-2 in Grapefruit League action.
Still looking for catching
The Orioles remain interested in adding catching depth — the ideal fit would be a defensive-minded catcher with minor league options remaining — to act as insurance for oft-injured backup Taylor Teagarden. But there's not much on the market and several teams are looking for the same thing.
One possibility, Chris Snyder, who was released by the Washington Nationals and signed with the Los Angeles Angels this week, was not viewed as a good fit.
One player who could be a match is Minnesota's Drew Butera, a light-hitting 29-year-old who has an option remaining. Several teams would have interest in Butera if he's made available by the Twins, an industry source said. But the Orioles do not appear overly motivated to make a run at Butera if he ends up on the trade block.
Instead, it's becoming more likely that the Orioles may have to stick with what they have in the system, hoping Norfolk catchers Chris Robinson, Exposito or Luis Martinez can fill that role if Teagarden is sidelined.
Around the horn
Showalter, executive vice president Dan Duquette and other Orioles officials will meet before Thursday night's game to discuss the 25-man roster. Opening Day is April 2. … Reliever Pedro Strop is expected to return to the club Thursday but won't pitch until Saturday at the earliest, Showalter said. Strop was a key in the Dominican Republic's World Baseball Classic championship, going 3-0 with just three hits and no walks allowed in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out seven and picked up two holds. … Alexi Casilla and Wilson Betemit draped a Dominican flag above their two lockers to celebrate their home country's victory. The flag had been in a hallway at the Ed Smith complex. … Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez pitched five innings in a minor league game at Twin Lakes Park on Wednesday. Showalter said the reports were good. ... Showalter said Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen each could pitch in minor league afternoon games at Ed Smith Stadium before the club's night games on Wednesday and Thursday next week. The big league games are against the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, and Showalter doesn't want his starting pitchers to face American League East rivals this late in the spring. … Center fielder Adam Jones played his first game since returning from the WBC on Wednesday. He was hitless in two at-bats.