Let the intrasquad games begin

SARASOTA, Fla. - If you woke up this morning and your heart was racing, it wasn't the three desserts you ate before bed. The Orioles are playing their first intrasquad game today.

It's like Christmas in March.

Jake Arrieta will oppose Jason Hammel, but I'm not sure which one is on the "orange" team and which is on the "black."

Other pitchers will include Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstrom, Brian Matusz, Alfredo Simon, Dana Eveland, Darren O'Day, Pedro Strop, Zach Phillips, Brad Bergesen, Troy Patton and Miguel Socolovich. Nobody will throw more than one inning.

If Gregg goes to a 2-0 count on the first batter, I'm leaving.

Seriously, though, I sense that he's not happy with the media coverage over the winter. He firmly believes that he's still the closer, and that's exactly how he should approach the spring. Don't concede anything. Force manager Buck Showalter into a difficult decision.

Lindstrom has been bringing the heat in bullpen sessions and live batting practice. He's almost destroyed a few catchers mitts. Now let's see how he looks in game conditions.

If Strop throws like he did in September, I'll question again why the Orioles added so many late-inning relievers. He's out of options. I'd like to see him on this team.

He'll have to earn it. I think he will.

Matusz has a bigger assignment in his future - Monday night's split-squad exhibition opener against the Pirates at Ed Smith Stadium. It's not opening day at Camden Yards, but it's good stuff.

"I'm excited to have the ball for the opening night start of the spring," he said. "I'm excited to get things going and start this spring, get out there and start getting in my groove. I'm real excited about that opportunity."

I asked Matusz if he reads anything into this assignment. What does it mean that Showalter is giving him the ball?

"That it's just my day to throw. That's about it," he replied.

"Like I said, I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to be the guy to go out there and start the first night here at home. The first day of spring is always special to everyone, the fans here in Sarasota, the fans back in Baltimore and the whole team. So I'm fired up about it."

You can only tell so much from side sessions and live batting practice, but Matusz has looked sharp. Teammates are noticing.

"I feel like I'm on a great track right now," he said. "Each and every time I go out there and throw, it just gets a little bit better - picking up on new things and making adjustments along the way. I'm real excited how things are going so far, and I'm looking forward to getting things going this spring."

Matusz is constantly asked about his winter workout sessions with Brady Anderson. I credit him for remaining patient. It's not exactly a fresh angle to a story, but he willingly rattles off the benefits of those days spent in Irvine.

"Being able to build strength and endurance and just put myself in a physical position to go out there and be strong and compete to my fullest potential," he said. "It's just a matter of maintaining it through the season and get better each and every day."

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