Last day to camp out

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles are off today. The complex is closed and players are told to stay away from it. Half of the remaining beat writers are flying home, with the other half vacating on Saturday.

Spring training is drawing to a close. If you blinked, you missed ... nothing. It didn't go by that quickly.

I should probably start packing my bags while wondering why I bought all those bags of frozen vegetables.

It's a spring tradition. I stock up the freezer and never empty it before my checkout date. And it always seems like a good idea at the time.

The Orioles probably will work out Saturday morning in Sarasota before boarding their flight to Baltimore. Their exhibition game against Norfolk isn't likely to be played due to the weather.

I don't see a window when there's 100 percent chance of rain.

The biggest surprise in camp had to be Steve Clevenger. Not because he won the backup job, since he was the favorite. He went 17-for-36 with two doubles, two homers and seven RBIs.

Did not see that coming.

I saw Clevenger throw out a runner trying to steal in one game, and almost nab another who got a big jump. He made a perfect throw.

Jonathan Schoop really showed me something at the plate, going 15-for-39 with five doubles, two homers and eight RBIs. He filled out his lanky frame and the ball just exploded off his bat.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette apparently dropped some strong hints on WBAL Radio last night that Schoop made the team, which most likely pushes Jemile Weeks to Norfolk.

And speaking of surprises, Zach Britton allowed one earned run and struck out 11 in 10 2/3 innings. He did exactly what the Orioles wanted, exactly what they needed. No one was more impressive.

The other surprise involving Britton was the way manager Buck Showalter used him. I predicted that he'd go to the bullpen, but I envisioned him as this year's version of T.J. McFarland, working in long relief and perhaps getting an occasional start. Instead, he's looking like a late-inning weapon.

The sinker is nasty and the velocity on his fastball has increased. Could he evolve into a closer?

Another surprise for me is a 25-man roster without Alexi Casilla and Alfredo Aceves. Casilla was the frontrunner for a utility job, but he was hurt much of the time, went 4-for-22 and looked a bit shaky in the field. Aceves figured to fill a variety of roles, and the club was intrigued by his arm, but he gave up five runs and 11 hits in 10 innings. And though he threw better late in camp, it wasn't enough to win a job.

Also, Aceves has an odd personality, to say the least. I'm not sure how comfortably he would have blended over a 162-game season.

The biggest disappointment for me is the lack of a contract extension for shortstop J.J. Hardy. And the lack of substantial talks - or any talks beyond a casual meeting between agent Mike Seal and club executives Brady Anderson and Tripp Norton.

If other conversations have been held, Hardy isn't privy to them. As far as he knows, there's been only the sounds of silence, which leaves him puzzled.

Join the club.

We were led to believe that the Orioles wanted him signed to an extension before opening day. Now, Hardy must be wondering if they've decided to go in another direction.

Duquette recently stopped by the press box in Port Charlotte and marveled at Hardy's ability to make every play, just as the shortstop was charging a slow roller and recording the out.

Told in a joking manner that someone should consider signing Hardy to an extension, Duquette grinned and said he agreed.

That little quip could have backfired, but Duquette fielded it as cleanly as Hardy on a slow roller.

Chris Davis batted .405 with three doubles, four homers and 13 RBIs in 13 games. He hit the ball to all fields. He also made a handful of plays at first base worthy of a Gold Glove finalist.

He's ready. And that's no surprise.

Nick Markakis looks like he's poised for a big bounce back season. That's good.

Nelson Cruz didn't hit a home run in 39 at-bats. That's a surprise. But he did tie for the team lead with six doubles, and he can take a curveball to the head with the best of them.

I assumed that Delmon Young would be the primary right-handed designated hitter after the Orioles signed him during their mini-camp in January. I assumed that he'd be squeezed off the roster after the Orioles signed Cruz. Now, it appears that Young will break camp with the team and be the primary right-handed designated hitter while Cruz plays left field against southpaws.

Ryan Flaherty hit .294 with six doubles, two homers and seven RBIs in 19 games. Give him a shot at third base until Manny Machado returns.

Machado may qualify as a disappointment if you had your heart set on him playing on opening day, but that probably wasn't a realistic expectation.

I didn't see how the Orioles could keep Rule 5 pick Michael Almanzar. I didn't consider the disabled list.

Silly sportswriter.

This spring training has been like no other in my 18 years on the beat. Three press conferences in one week, plus the Johan Santana signing. The constant rumors of other deals in the works. Four rainouts and four ties. The devastating loss of a dear friend and highly respected public relations director, Monica Barlow, which led to my first flight on a team charter.

I've always had my share of laughs in spring training. Never before have I shed so many tears.

It's time to go home.

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