Backup catchers carry Orioles to seventh straight Grapefruit League victory

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The competition for the reserve catcher role may not be the most compelling story in spring training for the Orioles, but it was very much on display in Monday’s 7-6 victory over the host Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field.

Steve Clevenger got the hot-hitting Orioles offense started in the second inning with a leadoff home run, and Johnny Monell entered later and delivered the game-winning single in the eighth to give the Orioles their seventh straight Grapefruit League victory.

How hot are they hitting? The offense has scored a total of 62 runs in 49 innings over the past six games and has featured big performances from all over the roster.

The two biggest blows came from Steve Pearce, who hit a long two-run home run off the top of the batting eye in the fourth inning, and Rule 5 draft pick Michael Almanzar, who had a two-run shot that helped to key a three-run rally in the seventh. Almanzar is 4-for-8 in his last two starts with a home run, two doubles and five RBIs.

Right-hander Chris Tillman made his third start of the spring and allowed a pair of runs in each of his first two innings. He hit the first batter he faced and gave up three straight singles in the first inning, but allowed only one ball out of the infield.

Tillman allowed a two-out single to infielder Michael Martinez in the second and gave up a two-run homer to Russell Martin. He also was charged with a run after giving up a leadoff double in the fourth to Josh Harrison -- one of two batters he faced in the inning before being replaced by left-hander T.J. McFarland.

The pitching line wasn’t pretty. Tillman worked 3 1/3 innings and gave up five runs and six hits, but he said he wasn’t overly concerned about the results.

“Overall, physically I felt good,’’ he said. “I’m working on command. Two areas where I’d like to have been better are first-pitch and two-strike approach. I left the ball up with two strikes. Two hits on the first pitch. Could have been better.”

Though he pitched with some bad luck in the first inning, Tillman wasn’t cursing the fates after an early March exhibition start.

“No, I’ve just got to get myself ready,’’ he said. “I’m going based off feel right now. As long as I feel I executed the pitch well and physically I felt well, that’s all that really matters to me.”

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