Has Orioles’ bench competition heated up? (plus WBC note)

Are these the dog days of spring training already?

The excitement of the early games is starting to wear off as we all realize there is a long way to go - almost a month - before the fun of a new season will be here.

When you see a baseball team with a record of 7-2-1 like the Orioles, you quickly realize it must be spring training or that you clicked on the NHL standings by mistake.

While the game results are not very important right now, it has been fun to track the early mashing at the plate from Conor Jackson and Steve Pearce. They may be the early clubhouse leaders to grab a job on the O’s bench.

Both have solid credentials in the majors batting against left-handed pitching. The 30-year-old Jackson is a career .283 batter with an OBP of .381 and OPS of .818 against southpaws. Pretty strong stuff and he has 44 doubles and 16 homers in 642 career at-bats. Pearce is a career .266 batter with an OBP of .343 and OPS of .807 in 237 career at-bats against the lefties. Either could give the Orioles an outfield and first base backup along with a decent right-handed bat off the bench.

Danny Valencia, by the way, has better career numbers against lefties than either Pearce or Jackson, with a batting average of .316 and OPS of .831.

Meanwhile, speaking of the Orioles bench, should Ryan Flaherty begin the season as a part of it?

I tend to think it is not a good idea. You have to wonder about Flaherty’s role come opening day. If he is not starting at second base because Brian Roberts has been both healthy and productive, maybe he should be in the minors getting everyday at-bats.

Flaherty played in just 49 Triple-A games with Iowa in 2011, the season before the Orioles selected him in the Rule 5 draft, batting .237 with five homers, 22 RBIs and an OPS of .676. He could probably still use the everyday reps with Triple-A Norfolk to continue his development as a player rather than sitting on the bench in the majors. If the O’s want him later for a bench role, he would at least have some games and at-bats under his belt.

Meanwhile, as the World Baseball Classic begins Friday for Team USA, it’s worth noting that starting pitching doesn’t play its usual role in the early games.

Unlike say baseball’s postseason in October, the WBC cannot be dominated by starting pitchers. At least certainly not in the first round, when starters are limited to 65 pitches. That makes it hard for most to even get in five full innings and increases the importance of each nation’s bullpen.

Team USA has 11 relievers among its 15-man pitching staff, and the addition of former Oriole David Hernandez, who was originally listed on the provisional roster of Mexico, should be a big help, as well. Hernandez put together one impressive 2012 season, with an ERA of 2.50, WHIP of 1.024, a strikeouts-per- nine innings mark of 12.9 and a strikeout-to-walks ratio of 4.45. All impressive numbers for a player the Orioles drafted in Round 16 in 2005 and then traded to Arizona to get Mark Reynolds in December 2010.

Do you remember him?: I remember interviewing John Mariotti when he was with the Double-A Bowie Baysox in 2009. The Orioles drafted him in 2007, but the club released him in April of 2011. Mariotti will be the starting pitcher when Italy plays its first game in the WBC on Thursday.

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