Offering a few thoughts on the off day

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles are supposed to be off today. It says so on their spring training schedule. However, manager Buck Showalter arranged for the Triple-A and Double-A games against Minnesota to be moved from Twin Lakes Park to two fields at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.

It's being done to provide work for pitchers Brian Matusz, Kevin Gausman and Steve Johnson, whose games yesterday were canceled due to heavy rain and the threat of ark construction.

Matusz really wanted to bat yesterday, but the Phillies allowed the Orioles to use a designated hitter. And then the storm arrived. He had no shot.

Showalter told Matusz that he could swing the lumber today. It's the least his manager can do after taking away his off day.

Alexi Casilla will be allowed to play, unless the Orioles trick him into boarding a bus and then remove him from it.

Too soon?

The complex is closed to the public and to the media. We're ordered to stay away. No one is putting up a fight.

I toyed with the idea of stopping by Twin Lakes Park, but the Single-A games are being played in Fort Myers. The place will be empty. So, unless I'm searching for a quiet place to gather my thoughts, it's pointless to go there.

Tommy Hunter pitched two innings at the minor league complex on Sunday, though he wasn't required to get six outs. He allowed four singles and recorded four outs.

"I was actually just trying to figure out how to throw a fastball down and away," Hunter said. "I did that pretty well for the most part in the second inning, and that was it. Throw 15 pitches and then go sit down, then come back in. It was kind of like a glorified (simulated) game.

"I threw a lot of fastballs. I think I threw 32 pitches and I think I threw four off-speed pitches. I was just trying to work on it, get a little idea of how to get the ball down."

It's nearly impossible to set up young hitters because they'll pretty much chase anything.

"They were swinging. They swung quite a bit," Hunter said, confirming my theory.

"They liked fastballs. I think after the first six or seven pitches, they kind of figured out that fastballs were coming and they were going to be away from them. It was pretty interesting. I had a couple balls come right back over my face. I ducked out of the way a couple times. One of them was the ninth fastball away that the guy saw.

"We were actually laughing about it watching it on video, just waiting for it to happen. And I'll be damned. Guess what? It happened."

We're less than two weeks away from opening day and Hunter remains the leading candidate to replace closer Jim Johnson. He's allowed two runs in four innings - both on Will Middlebrooks home runs on fastballs in the middle of the plate - with no walks and three strikeouts.

"I feel good, I feel strong," he said. "Just getting innings, getting out there and throwing the ball."

It's unfortunate that David Lough has been shut down with this mysterious neck stiffness, but he's accumulated 23 at-bats and demonstrated his fine glove work and baserunning skills. He's got two triples and two stolen bases in as many attempts. The Orioles know what they're getting and they're impressed.

He just needs to get healthy.

The clock is ticking loud for Casilla. He sat at his locker yesterday and shook his head at his cursed fate. He wants to play and can't get on the field, whether it's because of his hamstring, his knee or ... wait for it ... the weather.

Casilla made the bus ride to Clearwater yesterday and rode back without an at-bat. He's 0-for-5 this spring, and he's beyond frustrated.

Manny Machado doesn't have an at-bat, but he's in better spirits. He's not trying to make the team as a non-roster invitee, and he's not panicked over his delayed appointment with Dr. Neal ElAttrache, whose name I finally learned to spell without a Google search.

N-E-A-L.

Machado may leave camp on Wednesday and finally have his appointment the following day. That's the tentative plan. It shouldn't be any later than Monday.

It seems unfathomable that Machado will be ready on opening day, but as Showalter pointed out, he could get lots of at-bats in a short span over at Twin Lakes. We'll see.

If Machado isn't at third base, don't look for Rule 5 pick Michael Almanzar to keep the position warm for him. The Orioles don't seem to project him as a potential replacement. And if that's the case, I'm not sure how he makes the team as an extra right-handed bat. He's grabbed a few innings at first base, but he'd pretty much have to serve as a right-handed designated hitter, and the Orioles are already loaded with them.

Almanzar is 6-for-28 with three doubles and a home run, and his seven RBIs are tied for second on the club behind Chris Davis (eight).

Showalter still is considering a 13-man pitching staff on opening day. That's unusual, given the off days in April, but he'll do it if he believes that an extra pitcher will be more useful than a fourth bench player.

Showalter knows that most of his regulars will play every day. Not a lot of substituting and platooning in that lineup.

Let's assume that the rotation consists of Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris, and that's not official. Five bullpen spots could go to Hunter, Matusz, Darren O'Day, Ryan Webb and Zach Britton.

Britton is out of options and on a reliever's schedule. His role seems to be determined unless he's traded. And it would have to be quite an offer now that he's allowed only one run and struck out eight in eight innings.

The Orioles love Alfredo Aceves' arm and versatility, and could overlook the five runs, 11 hits and three home runs over eight innings. He tossed three scoreless innings Sunday in Dunedin.

That leaves two spots, and Evan Meek is seizing his opportunity by posting the following line: 4 games, 5 innings, 0 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 5 strikeouts, 2 saves.

Pretty good, right?

He's got a track record, too, having made the National League All-Star team in 2010.

Josh Stinson is out of options and seizing his opportunity by posting the following line: 4 games, 6 innings, 3 hits, 1 run, 0 earned runs, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts.

Pretty good, right?

That comes out to eight relievers by my math, but it's worth noting that Brad Brach has struck out seven batters in 5 1/3 innings, and Johnson has allowed only two runs and three hits in seven innings, with six strikeouts. T.J. McFarland has allowed three runs and struck out eight in 6 2/3 innings, but he's also walked five. The Orioles want him starting at Triple-A Norfolk at some point.

Nothing wrong with a Triple-A rotation of Gausman, Johnson, McFarland, Suk-min Yoon and Mike Wright. Or a Double-A rotation that includes Eduardo Rodriguez, Tim Berry, Eddie Gamboa and, eventually, Dylan Bundy.

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