SARASOTA, Fla. - Orioles pitcher T.J. McFarland tweaked his right knee about three weeks ago while working out. He had the knee examined today and appears to be fine, though he had it wrapped at the mini-camp at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
Manager Buck Showalter said McFarland was sent to a doctor today “as a precaution.”
Hunter Harvey’s father, former major league closer Bryan Harvey, is at the mini-camp and attended today’s meeting.
Former Orioles bullpen catcher Ronnie Deck has been hired by the club as a full-time scout in Oklahoma. The Orioles are in the process of finding a replacement who also can throw batting practice.
Jack Cust will remain at the complex for the next few days while the Orioles decide whether to sign him to a minor league contract. They already have 12 outfielders scheduled to attend spring training, which could limit the number of available at-bats.
“I want to be sure I have the numbers to give guys a look,” said manager Buck Showalter. “He asked to come in and work out. I know Jack. He’s a professional hitter. He’s got a long track record. You’ve got an idea what you’re going to get. You compare it to what you have and what you may potentially have. We’ll know in the next few days.”
Cust took batting practice in the indoor cage today for about 20 minutes and also hit off a tee and soft toss. He headed to one of the practice fields after it stopped raining and took grounders, shagged fly balls and threw.
“It felt real good,” Cust said. “I’ve been working out hard. Just more of the same. A lot of baseball work. Taking a lot of ground balls and stuff, hitting a lot. Been doing it since the summer. I feel good.”
Cust didn’t play last year after the Rays released him in March, choosing instead to stay home in New Jersey.
“I didn’t want to go to independent ball,” he said. “I probably could have gone, but I wanted to stay on the East Coast and didn’t really find an opportunity with any of the teams in the International League and I just didn’t want to go do that travel in the PCL that I’ve done for many years before. Just couldn’t see myself doing that with the travel out there. International League travel is a lot better. Those plane flights in the PCL get rough. Couldn’t find a job in the International League with any of those teams at that time, and I just decided to go home.
“I’ve been working out. We’ve got a baseball school there and I’ve been hitting a lot, taking a lot of ground balls. Took a lot of ground balls in the summer, just trying to get back to playing a little bit of first base, which I hadn’t done in a while, and still taking fly balls in the outfield. Running. That’s about it. A lot of baseball stuff.”
Cust’s agent contacted the Orioles last winter and found no interest. He tried again last month and told Cust there was a chance.
“They showed some interest and wanted me to come down,” Cust said. “I’m trying to get back in the game and I’m willing to do anything it takes. They said come down and we’ll take a look at you. I said, ‘Great.’ That’s about it. Nothing crazy really.”
Now comes the wait and the uncertainty.
“I don’t know,” Cust said. “I just came in and worked out. I was in the cage because it rained, but I got to go outside and do some ground balls and throw a little bit on the field. The field drains really well. It rained pretty hard there and I guess it rained last night, but I felt good doing everything. My body feels good and strong.
“I got out there and took some fly balls, too. Get out in the sun and sky, it’s a little different than being caged up back in Jersey. It’s a lot different when you come down here. It’s nice. It feels good on the body instead of taking two hours to warm up after getting out of your car back home. It’s been cold back there. We had negatives a couple days and I’ve never seen that in my life, I don’t think. It gets in the teens, but not negative.
“I just want to play. The year before, I was just looking for a shot to help a team. I know I can still hit. I know I can still drive the ball. The swing feels great, my bat speed feels great. I’m just looking to help out and play baseball again. It’s a good opportunity.”
Cust appeared in 27 games with the Orioles in 2003 and had one at-bat in 2004, striking out as a pinch-hitter. Much has changed in the ensuing years - with Cust and the franchise.
“It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but 10 years. It’s kind of cool,” Cust said. “This is where I got my first shot to play in the big leagues for a little bit and it’s just nice. It’s a lot different here than Fort Lauderdale. It’s beautiful. I pulled up today, my wife was with me, and she said, ‘This doesn’t look like the field in Fort Lauderdale.’ I was like, ‘No, this is awesome.’ I texted my dad when I came into the clubhouse. I was like, man, this place is like a new big league clubhouse. It’s a lot different. It’s cool.
“Buck was the manager in Arizona, kind of got things started there and to this day, it was probably the best organization I played for. It was just good baseball people. Learned a lot of baseball and I just feel like it’s come full circle with him being at the helm and myself coming back to the Orioles where I kind of got my first shot to play a little bit and contribute a little bit. It’s cool. It feels good. I’m just going to go out and do what I do.”