Hunter passes the first test, Britton on new role and Machado on Schoop

In baseball, you can’t hide. If you have a poor defender playing shortstop or right field, you can almost count on the ball getting hit there often.

If you are on the spot and under scrutiny in your new role as Orioles closer, you don’t get to ease into your season.

So it was for Tommy Hunter. How the O’s do in the ninth inning figures to have a lot to say about their one-run record and their overall record for this season.

In 2012, they were a remarkable 29-9 in one-run games and made the playoffs. Last year, at 20-31 in one-run games, they missed the postseason. That was just a .391 win percentage in those games.

Hunter threw some nasty fastballs and cutters against the Red Sox yesterday. It looked like Dustin Pedroia went too far on a checked swing for a strikeout, but Hunter didn’t get the call and instead faced David Ortiz with two on and one out in the ninth.

He didn’t flinch and he then got the next two outs and passed his first test as the O’s closer. There will be many more ahead. But make no mistake, Hunter is not timid and he wants the ball. He’s going to get it and what happens then will be a big key for the O’s this season.

Zach Britton sure looked sharp in getting six groundball outs during a 21-pitch, two-inning stint. Has the lefty finally found a place where he can thrive - the bullpen?

He said he is still working on a comfort level as a ‘pen pitcher.

“It’s an ongoing adjustment,” Britton said. “Controlling yourself in a major league is a lot different than in a spring training game. That is something that me, Dom (Chiti) and Dave (Wallace) have talked about. It’s going to be a six-month process for me, but so far, so good.”

One of the nice pregame quotes before the opener came from Manny Machado. This time he wasn’t talking about his knee or his rehab. He was talking about his good friend Jonathan Schoop. They played together a lot in the minors and formed the doubple-play duo on the 2011 Single-A Carolina League champion Frederick Keys.

In this case, one kid, Manny, said he was so happy that the other, Schoop, made the big league roster and was going to start on opening day.

“It’s awesome,” Machado said. “I’m glad I’m here to see it. We came up together through every level of the system. To see all the hard work he put into it to get here and now he is going to experience it. It can’t get better than this - Camden Yards, opening day. It’s a moment he will always remember.”

I think we saw an opening day that will be long remembered. Great crowd, great game and for an O’s team that has high hopes for this year, it was a great start to a new season.

Minors matters: David Hall, who covers the O’s Triple-A affiliate for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, talked to Tides manager Ron Johnson yesterday about his season-opening pitching rotation. Johnson said it would go this way: Kevin Gausman getting the opening night start Thursday, followed by Steve Johnson, T.J, McFarland, Suk-min Yoon and Mike Wright.

Meanwhile, some fans asked me if any of the players released this spring from the O’s minor leagues had signed with any other teams yet. Pitcher Zach Fowler has. He has signed to pitch for the Kansas City T-Bones of the independent American Association.

The 24-year-old Fowler spent three seasons in the O’s organization after being drafted in round 34 of 2011 out of Texas Tech. For Frederick last season, he was 3-4 with a 2.57 ERA. I’ll pass along any other news I see on released O’s minor leaguers and any of you that know of any news on a player feel free to pass it on.

The Keys will have their media day later today at Harry Grove Stadium. I’ll be covering that this afternoon and have some notes from Frederick later today.

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