After some tweaks to his pitches, T.J. McFarland is battling for an O’s roster spot

SARASOTA, Fla. - When I interviewed pitcher T.J. McFarland on Saturday morning in the Orioles clubhouse, I asked the left-hander a question. And I pretty much knew what answer I would get.

I asked McFarland if he would rather pitch out of the bullpen for the Orioles or get starter innings at Triple-A Norfolk?

“That’s an easy one,” he said. “I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t think anyone does right now. Just want to keep throwing well and have them make a tough decision. But yeah, I would want to make the big league team, that’s my goal.”

McFarland is among a pretty sizable list of pitchers still here at camp throwing well and battling for a very limited number of roster spots. In four games over 6 2/3 innings, he’s allowed six hits and three runs. He pitched three scoreless innings Friday against Minnesota in his most recent outing.

McFarland was 4-1 with a 4.22 ERA for the Orioles in 74 2/3 innings last year. He had to stay on the roster all year after being selected from Cleveland in the December 2012 Rule 5 draft.

Now he can be optioned to the minors. But he’s trying to keep that from happening. Along those lines, he pitched in the Venezuelan winter league in October and November, going 1-2 with a 2.97 ERA. He went there to add innings (and he pitched 39 1/3) and work on his game.

He’s made some changes since last season ended.

“I tweaked my secondary pitches a little bit,” McFarland said. “My time that I spent in winter ball was specifically for that. I sharpened up my slider a bit. It’s a little harder, a little harder break and it plays more off my sinker now than it did before. And I continue to work and progress with my changeup.”

Did he tweak those pitches on his own or at the suggestion of the club?

“Little bit of both,” he said. “Just looking at what my slider did last year and how hitters reacted to it, tweaking it a bit definitely was necessary and I was able to accomplish that since the end of the season, so happy with how that is going.”

Having spent 162 games on the roster last season, he is more known to manager Buck Showalter than some other pitchers in camp trying to make this team. That might give McFarland a small edge in the competition.

“I think it does,” he said. “The experience I have in the big leagues now, it’s not much, but it’s enough to let people know what I’m capable of. We’ll see. We have a bunch of great guys competing for very few spots. It’s been a great spring training, a very competitive spring training.”

It could be that McFarland begins the 2014 season at Triple-A. The innings he added in Venezuela gave him a total of 114 last year and that sets him up to be a starter this year if the O’s chose to use him that way.

Last year, he made it all season as a Rule 5 pick and now he’s trying to make it at a time when he can be optioned out. If he is sent out, though, he’ll certainly be in the mix to help the club at some point during the upcoming season.

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