SARASOTA, Fla. - We’ve moved past the intrasquad games, at least for now, but we’re still a month away from opening day in Baltimore. The next step in our baseball progression is the start of the Grapefruit League schedule.
The Orioles are taking the Ernie Banks approach by playing two. Manager Buck Showalter isn’t thrilled with the idea of a spring doubleheader, but there’s no way to avoid it.
Alfredo Simon gets the start in Port Charlotte today against the Tampa Bay Rays. I can’t make that trip because the clubhouse at Ed Smith Stadium opens to the media at 2 p.m., and I still haven’t figured how to be in two places at once. I will, however, provide an update on Simon and anything else of significance.
Most of the “regulars” will stay back in Sarasota for tonight’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, which can be seen on MASN. Left-hander Brian Matusz is slated to pitch the first two innings.
Temperatures are supposed to dip into the 40s tonight. Matusz won’t break a sweat.
So what did we learn about the Orioles over the first few weeks of camp?
Well, they’ve been challenged to keep their pitchers healthy, but they’ve apparently dodged the serious stuff. Jim Johnson (back), Zach Britton (shoulder), Tsuyoshi Wada (elbow), Tommy Hunter (back), Jason Berken (hamstring) and Willie Eyre (groin) are progressing in a satisfactory manner.
The only real disappointment is that Hunter couldn’t come up with something original. “Back” was already taken, Tommy.
Nick Markakis (abdomen) is pushing to accelerate his program, but the Orioles will continue to take it slow with him. I’m more convinced than ever that he’ll be ready on April 6. Fortunately, he doesn’t need a lot of at-bats.
The right fielder keeps asking Showalter when the club will let him debut in an exhibition game. Showalter keeps pretending that he doesn’t hear Markakis.
We also learned that the Orioles haven’t given up on Brian Roberts (concussion), but they continue to prepare for life without him. Showalter is encouraged by Roberts’ progress, but he’s still making contingency plans at second base and atop the order.
We found out that, yes, Dylan Bundy looks like the real deal. He comes as advertised. And unlike a few hot-shot pitching prospects in past years, Bundy hasn’t alienated the veterans and made them want to cram him in a locker. They genuinely like and respect him. They marvel at his skills and his attitude.
He still isn’t breaking camp with the team. Sorry.
It’s obvious that Nick Johnson still has that sweet swing and those soft hands at first base. If only he can stay healthy.
Ryan Flaherty seems to have the early edge for a utility job, mostly because he’s a Rule 5 pick and can’t be sent to the minors without being offered back to the Chicago Cubs. Showalter will give him every chance to make the club. He just needs to show that he can play shortstop, which is a requirement for the job.
We also learned that Wei-Yin Chen does, indeed, need to make some adjustments outside of Japan. The mound is different here. The size of the baseball is different here. I wouldn’t judge him too harshly off his first appearance.
If he’s still laboring in late March, I’ll judge him harshly.
It’s also fairly obvious that Johnson is the leading candidate to close this season. Showalter has been waiting for him to get healthy before running with the idea.
Johnson no longer is receiving treatment on his lower back. Now it’s just a matter of getting a feel for his pitches and getting into a game.
I’ll stop here because I need to figure out why I can no longer access the e-mails on my iPhone. The screen froze up last night. Everything else works - texts, Facebook, Twitter - but I can’t open my e-mails.
We’ve also learned that I have no luck with laptops and phones.