SARASOTA, Fla. - And down the stretch we come, with no more road trips left before the Orioles break camp and only three Grapefruit League games remaining on the schedule.
The Orioles will play back-to-back night games against the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. Two division rivals. Quick, hide the starters!
Jair Jurrens takes the ball tonight after moving up to replace Steve Johnson. The Orioles should be thrilled with the progress he's made physically and with his command since the first day of camp. If he continues with this progression, he's going to be an absolute steal. But he's still got much to prove.
Jurrjens tossed five scoreless innings in relief on Friday against the Rays, allowing two hits, walking none and striking out three. He really opened some eyes that day.
Jason Hammel will pitch at noon on one of the back fields, building up his innings and pitch count and getting the proper amount of "ups," as they say. Another minor league game will be played on another field.
The Orioles will host the State College of Florida at 2 p.m. Friday, and I'd expect most of the regulars to be excused after the two night games. Manager Buck Showalter may empty Twin Lakes Park for this one.
Finally, the Orioles will play the New York Mets at noon Saturday, and no one is quite sure why the visitors pushed for this game. The Mets wanted it and the Orioles accepted the offer.
Unless Port St. Lucie shifted after one of the state's heavy rains, it's going to be an extremely long trip for the Mets. Here's hoping that the Orioles don't feel obligated to return the favor next spring.
Maybe the Mets will spend Friday night in Sarasota. Maybe they just like the airport and will fly out of there.
At least somebody can do it.
The Orioles still have to eliminate 12 players from camp. Wilson Betemit will go on the disabled list. Tsuyoshi Wada may also be placed on the DL. He's definitely not making the team. Showalter won't carry three catchers, so Chris Robinson's days are numbered.
Kevin Gausman has gotten everything possible out of his first major league camp. If someone made a more favorable impression down here, please point him out to me. I'm not talking purely statistics. It goes beyond them.
Gausman made jaws drop when he pitched - the Orioles, opponents, scouts, plate umpires.
Ryan Flaherty would seem to be a lock to make the club after Betemit suffered a Grade 2/3 tear in his right PCL. He hits from the left side, where Betemit is most effective. His versatility is invaluable. And if you decided to point out someone who made a more favorable impression than Gausman, you should have chosen him.
Does the other bench job go to Steve Pearce, who drove in another run yesterday? He can play first base and the outfield. He bats from the right side. That works. Then again, so does Conor Jackson, who remains in camp.
Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold apparently will avoid the disabled list, but Chris Tillman is cloaked in intrigue. His abdominal soreness no longer is an issue, but he may not break camp with the team. It may be the most interesting decision still pending for the Orioles, especially since it could directly impact Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland.
Shelve Tillman, and McFarland has a place on the team. Maybe Brian Matusz wins a spot in the rotation, at least temporarily. So many moving parts, as Showalter likes to say, and they're making heads spin in the press box.
McFarland also could break camp with the Orioles if they swing a trade that creates room for him in the bullpen. That's pretty much what Showalter was saying yesterday when he told reporters, "I just don't know if we're going to be able to take him. It's going to be close. We're going to have to get some help, probably, from another organization to do it. I don't know."