Reflecting on the opener

The Orioles win their first game of the season and now they're off?

Who planned this schedule?

OK, it's pretty typical in the majors. I guess teams get exhausted after that first game. Or fans need 48 hours to find their way back to the ballpark.

cruz-dugout.jpgAs I reflect on the 2-1 win on opening day, my thoughts keep returning to Ryan Flaherty's play at third base. He easily could be overshadowed, but he played a critical role in the outcome.

Flaherty isn't Manny Machado. He isn't trying to be Manny Machado. But he won't get burned at the hot corner and there's no reason to move him off it.
How about the way he charged and barehanded a ball and fired to first for the out? Or how he tracked the wind-blown pop-up in the ninth and made the catch at the mound.

He handled one smash as if it were an underhanded toss and made the throw across the diamond. It goes down as 5-3 on your scorecard, but that doesn't accurately reflect the degree of difficulty.

Zach Britton recorded six outs in two innings and they all came on ground balls. That sinker is downright nasty. It's filthy. It should be rated NC-17.

I'm curious how manager Buck Showalter will use Britton this season. He isn't stretched out enough to jump into the rotation and there's no room for him at the moment, but I'd like to see him get a start later in the season.

He was prepped this spring to be a one-inning guy, or maybe a lefty specialist, but he easily could have gone more than two innings yesterday after throwing only eight pitches in the seventh.

"It's nice to get out of there the first day and get that over with and just kind of fall into a routine," Britton said. "The adrenaline was pumping. Definitely had some nervous energy."

Britton is still adapting to a relief role, having pitched out of the bullpen only twice before yesterday.

"I'm picking everyone's ears on that one," said Britton, who earned his first win since June 29, 2013 against the Yankees. "I'm probably getting annoying for everyone. But hey should I get warmed up now? I'm looking at pitch counts, they're looking at who's coming up in the lineup, where we are in the game. These are things that I'm learning. And Dom (Chiti) and Dave (Wallace) told me it is going to be a six-month process for me.

"It's a new gig. You've got to kind of feel your way out. How many pitches you need when you warm up, when you're ready, when you're not, stuff like that."

Brian Matusz faced one batter in the eighth, retiring A.J. Pierzynski on a bouncer to the mound to strand two runners. He's now stranded 48 of 53 inherited runners dating to 2012.

The Orioles stretched out Matusz in spring training, but mostly with the intent of letting him work on his changeup and balance out his splits. He wasn't going to crack the rotation without an injury or a trade.

I'd also like to see Matusz receive a start down the road, just to see whether he could get back to the role envisioned by the Orioles while making him the fourth-overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.

What I most take away from the opener was all the love bestowed upon former public relations director Monica Pence Barlow, who passed away Feb. 28. The jacket hanging on her chair in the press box. The announcement that her seat would remain empty for the 2014 season. The orange bracelets with her name worn by the Orioles and their staff.

The pregame tribute was moving - eyes were moist in the press box - and I didn't realize until MASN's Jim Hunter pointed it out last night on Twitter that players stayed in the dugout instead of heading to the bullpen for introductions so they could watch it on the video board. Lots of love and respect for Monica.

I'm typing this blog entry while wearing the bracelet. A few of us in the press box debated yesterday whether it should go on the left or right wrist.
I chose the left.

Closer to the heart.

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