BRADENTON, Fla. — Orioles Manager Buck Showalter is considering starting the season with a short bench in order to keep a 13th pitcher on the 25-man opening day roster.
“This time of year, you’re considering everything,” Showalter said before the Orioles’ Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. “You say, ‘What really impacts your team when you’ve got seven or eight guys who play every day? Is it the 13th pitcher or the fourth bench player who doesn’t play much?’ ”
First baseman Chris Davis, center fielder Adam Jones and right fielder Nick Markakis all played in 160 games, and third baseman Manny Machado played in all 156 games before his season ended with a left knee injury. Shortstop J.J. Hardy appeared in 159 games.
Showalter has said this spring that he’s not taking that durability for granted and has lauded the club’s depth at various positions. But it’s the deep pitching that might make Showalter keep an extra pitcher at the start of the regular season.
Much will depend on Machado’s recovery. If he hasn’t recovered fully from offseason knee surgery in time for opening day, Ryan Flaherty — who is the leading candidate for the starting second base job — would likely shift to third base and Jemile Weeks would then become the favorite to play second base.
If Flaherty and Weeks are both everyday players in Machado’s absence, the club would still need a utility infielder. Top position player prospect Jonathan Schoop has had a spectacular spring — he is 9 for 17 with three doubles, one home run and five RBI — and is giving the Orioles a difficult decision.
“He might be continuing to make it an easy decision,” Showalter said. “There’s a lot of ways to look at that. We came in here completely wide open there. It still is.”
It also would create a tough decision among outfielders. With Jones, Markakis, David Lough and Nelson Cruz entrenched, there is just one spot left between Steve Pearce, Nolan Reimold, Delmon Young and Henry Urrutia.
But with 11 pitchers out of options, including left-hander Zach Britton and right-hander Josh Stinson, having 13 pitchers would allow the Orioles to keep an extra player in the bullpen without risking losing him on waivers.
Michael Almanzar, the club’s Rule 5 selection, had just one hit in his first nine at-bats this spring, but he seems to be getting comfortable at the plate.
The 23-year-old infielder hit his first major league spring training home run Monday, a two-run blast in the seventh inning of the Orioles’ 7-6 comeback win over the Pirates.
Down three runs at the time, Almanzar hit a 2-1 fastball from Pirates right-hander Duke Welker over the right-field fence to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to one run. He was 2 for 3 with a double in the game. Over his past two starts, Almanzar is 4 for 8 with two doubles, a home run and five RBI.
“He can hit a fastball,” Showalter said. “You can project what that body is going to look like in a couple years, too. . . . I think it took him about a week to calm down. He was a little excited to be here and get the opportunity. That’s the way you want him to be, but he’s starting to settle down a bit and show us why we like him.”
The Orioles selected Almanzar, who hasn’t played above AA, from the Boston Red Sox in December. As a Rule 5 selection, he must remain on the big league roster for the entire season or the Orioles have to offer him back to Boston.
Left-hander Tim Berry was among the latest round of cuts Monday — he was optioned to AA Bowie and will report to minor league camp at Twin Lakes Park — but he said he learned a lot from his first big league camp.
“It was more the experience more than anything, being in the environment every day,” Berry said. “It makes you better being around good players, and it was a good experience. I want to get back as soon as possible. … I didn’t want to come in and do too much. I wanted to do my thing and watch other people, and that’s what I did. I didn’t want to get too involved and step on each other’s toes.”
Berry, who was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, was a 50th-round pick in 2009, but he has developed into the club’s second-best left-handed pitching prospect behind Eduardo Rodriguez. He followed a strong season at High-A Frederick (11-7, 3.85 ERA) with a solid performance in the Arizona Fall League (2-0, 1.84 ERA, 142 / 3 IP).
“He’s been impressive,” Showalter said. “I can see why we protected him, and he carried over from a good fall league, and he’ll be one of the five starters in Bowie.”
Berry allowed one run over three spring innings, including two perfect innings Saturday against Boston.
“I was kidding him, and I said, ‘You know you’re leaving here on a really bad outing so hang in there, you’ll figure it out,’ ” Showalter joked. “He was really sharp last time out. He leaves here confident, and he’s throwing the ball well. He’s very intriguing in what the future might hold for him.”
The Orioles also optioned catcher Michael Ohlman to AA Bowie and reassigned catcher Brian Ward to minor league camp. Showalter said two or three more cuts could come Tuesday.
Infielder Alexi Casilla hopes to return from a right hamstring injury in Tuesday’s exhibition game against the Red Sox, and Showalter said Monday that is a “possibility.”
Casilla said he planned to run at 100 percent for the first time Monday after testing the hamstring at 80 percent Sunday.
The 29-year-old Casilla, who was re-signed to a minor league deal this offseason, has yet to play in a game this spring after injuring the hamstring during the first few days of workouts.
“At the beginning, I thought it would be maybe five days, maybe a week, and it’s been two weeks already,” Casilla said. “I’ve hurt my hamstring before, and I know the work it takes in coming back. You think it’s not a big deal, and then it takes a long time to get better. I have hope and confidence in what I can do.”
Casilla entered camp with a good chance to make the opening day roster as a utility player, especially since it is unclear whether Machado will be ready to play by opening day.
“Even if I’ve been missing a lot of games, I know when I start playing, I’m going to do good,” Casilla said. “I know I have a short time to improve. But I’m going to go out there tomorrow, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be in there tomorrow. Just be smart.”
Eddie Gamboa retired the Pirates in order in the ninth Monday to earn the save, using his knuckleball to strike out former Orioles infielder Robert Andino. . . . Xavier Paul was scheduled to get X-rays on his right hand after he was hit by a pitch Monday. . . . Catchers Steve Clevenger and Johnny Monell combined to go 3 for 3 with three runs and two RBI on Monday, but Showalter emphasized again that the backup catcher spot will be won on defense. . . . Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman are scheduled to pitch in Thursday’s road game against the New York Yankees in Tampa. . . . Minor league camp begins Wednesday at the Twin Lakes complex. . . . Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is expected to play in Tuesday’s afternoon home game, then fly back to Baltimore for the birth of his first child. . . . On Monday, the Orioles announced this season’s promotions. The club will have three bobblehead giveaways — Machado on June 7, Jones on Sept. 1, and the fans’ choice on Sept. 21. Several promotions to recognize the 60th anniversary season are also planned, including a three-quarter sleeve T-shirt on Aug. 1.
— Baltimore Sun