SARASOTA, Fla. - Orioles manager Buck Showalter estimated that five or six pitchers threw bullpen sessions today, though none of them with maximum effort in the middle of January.
Showalter appreciated that left-hander Mike Belfiore came to Sarasota on his own.
"That's pretty impressive," Showalter said.
Belfiore, 25, drew an audience that included Showalter, pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti.
"They told us to take it easy," Belfiore said. "Effort level was probably around 60-70 percent, kind of coasting through it and feeling the mound, get your bearings right. I've been long-tossing and getting my arm ready. I've been living out in California, so the weather's been great. It makes a big difference."
Belfiore posted a 3.18 ERA in 37 appearances with Triple-A Norfolk last season. His major league debut came on Sept. 27 against the Red Sox, when he allowed two runs and three hits in 1 1/3 innings. The Orioles recalled him on May 12 and optioned him the following day. They recalled him again on June 7 and optioned him after the game.
It took a while for Belfiore to get his chance.
"It was an experience I'll never forget in my life, my major league debut," said Belfiore, who served up home runs to Jonny Gomes and David Ortiz. "Now, I come into this year where, obviously, I'll still be a rookie, but I've had the experience of going to big league camp. I want to make this team now. It's not about getting that experience anymore. I want to have an impact. That's the way I see it more going into this year."
The Orioles may need another left-handed reliever on their opening day roster, with Troy Patton serving a 25-game suspension.
"There's definitely an open spot now, I guess you could say, but Troy was a great guy to me," Belfiore said. "Troy helped me out a lot. He helped me when I got up there and he was the nicest guy in the world. He's a guy in this clubhouse that you're going to miss because he's that fun character in here. It's tough to lose him for a little bit."
In other mini-camp news, Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez showed up at the complex this morning and worked out.
Henry Urrutia, who reported yesterday, looks like he's been spending quality time in the weight room. He's started to fill out and his arms are more muscular.
"It looks like he has more definition," Showalter said. "He came over here and people thought he was going to put on all this weight. He had a big adjustment to the food. He actually lost a little weight when he got here. Now, he's got a good look on his face. You can tell he's pretty happy. He loves baseball. He loves being around everything. He's got a smile.
"He's come out here three times and said, 'Hey jefe, how you doing?' His English is getting better, too. He's an educated guy. If you look at his background, this guy's been through some higher education."
Showalter isn't ready to anoint Tommy Hunter as the Orioles' closer or the leading candidate to replace Jim Johnson. Hunter is simply in the running - though he's widely regarded as the favorite.
Does Showalter think Hunter is ready?
"Potentially," he replied. "Tommy's pitched well for us in a variety of roles. There's a process there doing that, too. If you look back through the process with some of the better relievers, they didn't just go from Point A to Point B overnight. It was start, it was long relief, it was set-up, it was whatever. There's a process there with guys.
"He's followed a very similar path as good closers and good relievers do. What does that mean? And just about every one of them had a problem with some form of the game, whether it's left-handers or whatever, and they evolved. But there are some things we may do between now and then. He's a candidate. I'm not going to go any further than that right now. He's a candidate. I'm not getting into handicapping it. You guys can do that and you'd probably be as accurate as I would be. I'll let you do it."
OK, I'm saying Hunter is the favorite and is expected to be the closer on opening day.
"That would be fun," Hunter said. "I'm up for a challenge, but it's really not up to the players at this point, so you wait and see and you get the ball and you go. I think it would be a pretty cool position to fill and pretty big shoes. Jim had 101 saves in two years. Not too many people do that, but I'm up for a challenge and I'd love for it to come through. If it doesn't, I'll probably fill in another role somewhere at the end of the bullpen.
"I'm really not concerned with it. I'm going to play baseball next year and we're going to let it eat."
Hunter's spring preparation won't change even if his role does.
"I'm not going to try to be somebody I'm not," he said. "I'm not going to go in there and squat 8 million pounds just because I've got a chance to do something. I think I was pretty good last year. I think I put together a solid year. Definitely could get better. Don't get me wrong. But if I do what I did last year, I think we're going to be OK.
"I like what I did last year and I'm just going to improve on what I did and hopefully it gets better."
What about filling the void left by Johnson's trade to the Athletics? He was a leader of the group and his departure wasn't met favorably in the clubhouse.
"Everybody in baseball goes through change," Hunter said. "There's going to be new faces. OD (Darren O'Day) is a big fixture, too. He's a pretty smart guy. He knows how to handle everybody. I think we'll be all right in that regard. Granted, we lost a guy with 101 saves, so we lost our captain of our bullpen. There's going to be a hiccup here, a hiccup there, but I think everybody's mature enough to handle the situation, especially being in the big leagues."
Ryan Webb still isn't regarded as a candidate to close.
Showalter said pitcher Steve Johnson "looks good" at mini-camp.
"That's the best I've seen him look," Showalter added. "He's physically in good shape."
Single-A Frederick catcher Michael Ohlman certainly has caught Showalter's eye.
"That's a big ol' boy," Showalter said. "He takes BP like the big, big boys take it, whatever that means.
"I got two or three calls from scouts in the Arizona Fall League saying, 'Hey, tell me about Ohlman.'"
That's why the Orioles protected him in the Rule 5 draft.
Single-A Delmarva pitcher Parker Bridwell, 22, also continues to impress Showalter, and he has the same effect on other teams that keep inquiring about him in trade talks.
Bridwell was 8-9 with a 4.73 ERA in 26 starts with the Shorebirds last season. He struck out 144 batters in 142 2/3 innings. He's just been lacking consistency, unable to build on some extremely impressive outings.
"Parker Bridwell, that's what they look like," Showalter said. "He was a real good quarterback. He's got all the background you look for when you read a bio.
"About four games a year, it's nine innings, it's two hits, it's 13 strikeouts. They go, 'Could have pitched anywhere tonight.' And then all of a sudden some other guy shows up for 10 outings and you go, 'What's going on here?' I'm really curious to hear what Dave and Dom say."