SARASOTA, Fla. - As the Orioles file into the Ed Smith Stadium complex this morning and head to the dining area for breakfast, I fully expect Conor Jackson and Steve Pearce to arm wrestle for the last Pop-Tart. Two out of three falls to determine who gets turkey bacon and who gets the regular stuff.
Jackson and Pearce aren’t the only players in camp competing for a bench spot, but they’ve started to separate themselves from the reserve pack.
Jackson is 8-for-19 with three homers, six RBIs and seven runs scored. Pearce is 6-for-11 with three homers and nine RBIs. They both bat from the right side. They both play first base and the outfield, which brings tremendous appeal to manager Buck Showalter.
It’s gotten to the point where the media can’t mention one without the other. They’re being paired off as if Noah has been credentialed to cover this team.
They both homered yesterday in Dunedin. Pearce had to show off and homer twice. Jackson tried to trump him by going 3-for-3.
Today, they will take turns curing a disease and substituting rice cakes for mini-powdered donuts at Kevin Gausman’s locker. Miracle workers. Both of them.
I’ve been asked by a few fans whether there’s a scenario where Jackson and Pearce break camp with the team. I can’t see it happening without an injury.
It’s going to be a four-man bench and it’s going to include a backup catcher - Taylor Teagarden if his lower back stops barking like the neighbor’s dog - and either Nolan Reimold or Nate McLouth, depending on which one is starting in left field.
If Brian Roberts is the starting second baseman, Alexi Casilla figures to be the utility infielder. If Roberts is on the disabled list, the odds improve that Casilla and Ryan Flaherty both make the team, with one of them starting and one of them serving in a utility role.
That leaves one more spot on the 25-man roster. And let’s not dismiss Russ Canzler, Danny Valencia and the rest of the crew - many of them outfielders - who are in the hunt.
Remember when the Rochester Red Wings were the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate and they complained about the lack of talent filtering down to their roster? The Norfolk Tides could probably sweep the Houston Astros this season. Heck, they might take the second wild card.
Each time Jackson and Pearce have a big game, at least one fan on the blog or Twitter brings up Jake Fox’s name. Yes, he belongs in the Grapefruit League Hall of Fame. A perfect example of why managers warn reporters and fans not to fall in love with spring training numbers.
I must point out, however, that Jackson is a former first-round pick who might be an All-Star if he hadn’t contracted Valley Fever.
(I contacted a Valley Girl once, but that’s so not the same thing.)
Jackson could fade. He could be a product of spring training pitching and gusting Florida winds that carry baseballs over left field fences and through toll plazas. Same with Pearce.
Let’s see how this plays out. It should be very, very interesting.