Pearce nearing return to lineup (updated)

First baseman Steve Pearce is hoping to get back into the Orioles lineup for Saturday afternoon's game against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Pearce was scheduled to hit off a tee today and take batting practice on Friday.

Manager Buck Showalter confirmed that Pearce could be "a player" by Saturday.

pearce-at-bat-white-sidebar.jpgReliever Andrew Miller remains day-to-day after tweaking his left leg in the eighth inning of Monday's game against the Twins.

Miller's condition is improving and he's slated to throw off flat ground today during batting practice. He most likely will need to throw a bullpen session before receiving clearance to pitch.

Showalter said head athletic trainer Richie Bancells is "upbeat" about catcher Matt Wieters' progress following ligament-reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.

Wieters is regaining full range of motion. However, Showalter isn't sure whether his catcher will have a full spring training.

"It's a possibility," Showalter said.

The Orioles may have a better idea during the January mini-camp in Sarasota.

Showalter said the plastic on-deck circles won't be used again at Camden Yards. He had them removed last night after catcher Caleb Joseph slipped while chasing a foul ball and took a hard fall on his backside.

Major League Baseball requires that teams use some type of circle. The Orioles may create one out of chalk.

Ultimately, Showalter wants a turf-covered circle to provide better traction on metal and plastic spikes.

The Orioles and Tides announced that the two clubs have agreed on a four-year player development contract extension that runs through the end of the 2018 season.

"We are extremely excited to continue our partnership with the Baltimore Orioles" said Tides president Ken Young. "We've had a great relationship with the Orioles over our eight-year affiliation, and they've become such a valuable figure in the Hampton Roads community. They are obviously having a very successful season, and we are thrilled to know that several of their key players played here in Norfolk before experiencing success at the Major League level."

"We are really excited to extend our player development Contract with the Norfolk Tides," said Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette. "We have been very pleased with the improvements made at Harbor Park over the years and are excited for the future with them continuing as our top affiliate. The Seven Cities area has a great baseball tradition and we look forward to entertaining more Orioles fans in the years to come."

Norfolk has served as the top affiliate of the Orioles since the beginning of the 2007 season. Over that time, a total of 139 players have suited up for both Norfolk and Baltimore, with 19 of the 33 players currently on the Orioles' active roster being former Tides.

Update: The Orioles announced that they signed four-year agreements through the 2018 season with Norfolk, Double-A Bowie and Single-A Frederick, and two-year agreements through the 2016 season with Single-A Delmarva and short-season Single-A Aberdeen.

"We have been very pleased with our arrangements with these clubs over the years and look forward to continuing those relationships," Duquette said. "We have a unique situation with our affiliates being so close to Baltimore, and it is important to us to maintain good relationships in those areas and allow our fans an opportunity to see the Orioles' stars of tomorrow in their own backyard."

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