Gentry: “I love playing here. It just worked out perfectly”

SARASOTA, Fla. - Nothing much has changed for Craig Gentry since the Orioles signed veteran outfielder Colby Rasmus to a minor league deal this week and invited him to camp.

Gentry is working under a similar contract and could be used in a platoon with Rasmus. The Orioles have been searching for plus defenders for the outfield who bat from the left side, capable of playing center to provide rest for Adam Jones, and Rasmus doesn’t present a direct challenge to Gentry.

What I’m saying here is there’s room for both of them.

The competition for the 34-year-old Gentry involves Austin Hays, one of the top prospects in the organization who tripled and singled in yesterday’s intrasquad game, and Joey Rickard, the former Rule 5 pick who’s appeared in 196 games with the Orioles in two seasons and showed some improvement defensively in 2017.

Gentry made it clear to the Orioles that he was open to another minor league deal after appearing in 77 games last summer, batting .257/.333/.386 and giving manager Buck Showalter a late-inning baserunning option and defensive replacement that he trusted. The Orioles reached agreement with him earlier this month.

Craig-Gentry-at-bat-orange-spring-sidebar.jpg“You understand and you see how the free agent stuff has been going this offseason from top to bottom, but I’m glad that there was a desire on their part to bring me part and there’s definitely a desire on my part,” Gentry said.

“I even told them at the end of the season, ‘This is where I want to be next year. It would be great if we could make it happen and if not, I understand.’ Just the fact that they kind of stayed in contact throughout the entire offseason, it meant the world to me, obviously, and I’m just happy that this opportunity was there and I could come back to a place that’s familiar to me, it’s familiar for them, and I have the trust of the staff. And I love playing here. It just worked out perfectly.

“I know the staff, I know Buck, I really like him as a person, as a manager and I have a lot of respect for him. I have a lot of respect for our staff and I know the guys in the locker room. The core guys are the same guys returning and I have a good relationship with all of them and it’s just familiar. That plays a big role, especially at my age when you want to win and you want to enjoy it while you’re doing it and I feel like this is a great opportunity not only for myself but just for us as a team.

“I think we’re kind of being overlooked like we always are. I know last year was tough, but I think we still have a great opportunity ahead of us and I want to be a part of it.”

Gentry has a legitimate chance, especially if the Orioles decide that Hays would benefit from regular at-bats at Triple-A Norfolk. Gentry did his homework before signing to determine whether there might be a spot for him.

“That’s a big part of it,” he said. “That’s the beauty of being a free agent is you can look at the roster and look at where teams are going and different things, and I just thought this would be a great fit for me. Like I said, it was familiar. This staff knew me, Buck knows me and I got to be there and prove myself last year and glad to get the opportunity to try to do that again.”

* Mike Wright is starting today’s exhibition opener against the Rays at Ed Smith Stadium. Tampa Bay, playing split-squad games, is sending right-hander Yonny Chirinos to the mound.

Former Orioles left-hander Vidal Nuño is starting for the Rays in their home game against the Pirates.

Chirinos, 24, was a combined 13-5 with a 2.73 ERA and 0.974 WHIP last summer in 27 games between Triple-A Durham (23) and Double-A Montgomery (four). He’s 36-17 with a 2.75 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in five minor league seasons.

* I wrote in December that Luke Scott showed up at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and expressed an interest in making a comeback at age 39. He’s serious about it.

Scott is counted among the players attending the free agent camp in Bradenton, Fla. I’ve heard that he’s created a buzz, but mostly due to his, shall we say, strong opinions.

The guy hasn’t changed. Bless his heart. He doesn’t mince words, they come out in large chunks.

The Orioles could use another left-handed bat, but they won’t be calling on Scott.

Scott hit 23, 25 and 27 home runs in his first three seasons with the Orioles and registered a .342 on-base percentage during his tenure. He owns a career .340 on-base percentage in nine seasons, but he hasn’t played in the majors since 2013 with the Rays. He’s made stops in Korea in 2014 and Mexico in 2015.

* I’ve heard that Baltimore native and former Orioles catcher Steve Clevenger has made a favorable impression at the camp and could land a minor league deal.

No team would touch Clevenger last winter after a series of offensive tweets - he later apologized - and he signed with the Lancaster Barnstormers in the independent Atlantic League. He batted .293/.357/.366 in 55 games.

The Orioles aren’t one of the clubs considering him this spring, but a few have been checking him out.

* The Orioles began the winter with 10 free agents and half of them have found jobs.

Gentry and Chris Tillman returned to the club. Welington Castillo (White Sox), Wade Miley (Brewers) and Ryan Flaherty (Phillies) are gone.

J.J. Hardy, Ubaldo Jiménez, Jeremy Hellickson, Seth Smith and Pedro Álvarez remain on the market. Álvarez has sparked a little bit of their interest because we’re approaching March and it’s become a tradition, but Mark Trumbo is the primary designated hitter and Álvarez doesn’t have a position. No more talk of making him an outfielder.

The need for a left-handed hitting outfielder didn’t lead them back to Smith. Hardy isn’t a utility infielder and Manny Machado has inherited his spot at shortstop, making a return seem improbable. There’s been zero interest in re-signing Jiménez and Hellickson despite holes in the rotation.

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