SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles have two split-squad games again today. They might be approaching a spring training record.
I’m skipping the 1:05 p.m. game against the Braves in Orlando, because the clubhouse at the Ed Smith Stadium complex opens to the media at 2 p.m. Also, the Orioles figure to play most of their “regulars” in the 7:05 p.m. game against the Yankees that airs on MASN.
Jason Hammel and Tsuyoshi Wada will pitch against the Braves, who will start left-hander Mike Minor. Alfredo Simon will start game against the Yankees, who will counter with Ivan Nova.
The Orioles considered holding back Wada for Monday’s minor league game at Twin Lakes Park, but he wanted to pitch today. It’s interesting that the Orioles are sending him to Orlando instead of unveiling him in front of the home crowd and MASN viewers.
Buck Showalter will manage both games, but he might have to leave Orlando a little early to beat the traffic. Otherwise, he’ll make sure that he’s covered back in Sarasota. He has enough coaches to make it work.
Taking another look at the bench situation, we can pencil in the backup catcher - and I’ll be surprised if Taylor Teagarden is ready for opening day - and outfielder Endy Chavez. That’s assuming Nolan Reimold is the starting left fielder.
Nick Johnson should make the team if he stays healthy. He had two more hits yesterday, raising his average to .286. He could share first base with Chris Davis and be worked into the DH rotation.
I’m making Wilson Betemit the primary DH in this scenario, which eliminates him from my bench list. But he’ll be used in a variety of roles.
(For the readers who predict that Betemit won’t break camp with the team, the Orioles signed him to a two-year, $3.25 million contract with a vesting option for 2014. He’s headed to Baltimore next month.)
That leaves one spot, and the assumption here is that Ryan Flaherty has the best chance to seize it because he’s a Rule 5 pick. Steve Tolleson and Matt Antonelli can be sent to Triple-A Norfolk. And Flahery has played left field the past two days.
Don’t look now, but Tolleson is batting .353 after his two-out, RBI single tied yesterday’s game in the ninth inning.
OK, you can look.
“He’s had some big at-bats in pressure situations for us down here already,” Showalter said. “I liked our chances with him there.”
Showalter was torn yesterday morning between monitoring Jason Berken’s half-mound session and staying on the main field to watch some young prospects take batting practice - especially 2011 draft picks Nick Delmonico, Jason Esposito and Johnny Ruettiger.
Delmonico and Ruettiger each had a hit yesterday, and Esposito made a diving stop and throw at third base to record an out.
Showalter was impressed on Friday by catcher Gabriel Lino, who moved behind the plate against the Twins in Fort Myers.
“He’s got strong hands,” Showalter said. “You see how he sticks pitches away? A lot of guys, young players, you look for strength in their hands, the catchers. A lot of guys catch that ball (tailing away) and carry it out of the strike zone. He carries it this way (toward the plate.) He’s really strong. He’s impressive.”
Lino spent last season with the Gulf Coast League team, batting .282/.371/.462 with six doubles, one triple, two homers and 11 RBIs in 28 games.
If you think about it, watch J.J. Hardy the next time he fields a short hop at second base and slaps the tag on a runner. Everyone else scoops the ball in an upward motion, but as Showalter pointed out, Hardy fields it in a downward motion, with the back of his glove pointed to the plate (I hope I’m painting a clear picture for you.)
Hardy does it this way so he can apply the tag much quicker. His glove already is headed toward the dirt instead of away from it.
Why doesn’t every infielder do it that way? Try it sometime.
It’s been fun to watch Wei-Yin Chen adapt to a major league environment. He blends so easily in the clubhouse, as if he’s been in the U.S. for years. He jokes with teammates, slapping them on the backside and laughing at their quips. One pitcher was explaining the NCAA basketball tournament bracket to him, and I got the sense that he was willing to participate in the pool despite having never heard of Murray State.
Chen walks through the clubhouse with an air of confidence. He doesn’t come across as timid or out of his element, and he doesn’t stay attached to his interpreter. He just ... blends.
Remember when Dylan Bundy faced the Red Sox in Fort Myers? It was a positive outing except for the four-pitch walk to Dustin Pedroia.
Pedroia stood at first base with Joe Mahoney and wanted to know more about Bundy.
“He said how (Bundy) was really bringing it,” Mahoney said. “I told him the story about how he was our first pick last year, and he said, ‘Well, I’m pulling for him. I like guys like that who work hard.’
“I told him he was a good kid who works hard and has a good makeup, doesn’t act like a 19 year old around here.’ I think he was happy that he got to face him early on.”
Pedroia apparently was surprised to hear that Bundy was only 19.
“He said when he was 19, he was out at Arizona State learning how to hit,” Mahoney said. “He’s right. Where was I when I was 19? I was a sophomore in college.”
Bundy faced Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez that day.
“They said he was bringing it,” Mahoney said. “He didn’t get to throw any of his other pitches. I know he was kind of amped up, but he’s going to be special.”
Here’s the Orioles’ lineup for the early game against the Braves in Orlando:
Matt Antonelli 2B
Steve Tolleson 3B
Nick Johnson DH
Wilson Betemit 1B
Ronny Paulino C
Scott Beerer RF
Jai Miller CF
LJ Hoes LF
Manny Machado SS
Jason Hammel RHP