And down the stretch we come ... (updated)

SARASOTA, Fla. - I always know we’re nearing the end of spring training when I buy a case of bottled waters and immediately stress over the possibility that I won’t have enough time to drink all of it before boarding my flight to Baltimore.

Two days and 17 bottles left.

Unless I’m confronted with a major thirst, I don’t like my chances.

The four Myoplex french vanilla protein shakes, the two yogurts, the one bag of frozen Brussels sprouts and the half an avocado are going down. Just not at the same time.

Not sure what to say about the half bottle of Absolut in my freezer, except it’s not mine. Honest. A friend brought it over after his wife flew back home (she drinks, he doesn’t.)

But enough about my food and liquid issues.

The Orioles have completed the Grapefruit League phase of their spring schedule. They’ve got three games remaining, tonight against Florida Southern, tomorrow afternoon against the State College of Florida and Wednesday afternoon at Triple-A Norfolk.

I’ve got a 6:45 a.m. flight to Baltimore on Wednesday - I’m staying in a hotel that’s a mile from the Sarasota airport but I’m flying out of Tampa, and I don’t know why - so Steve Melewski will handle the Tides game and whatever final roster decisions are made. I’ll probably be drooling on my pillow.

The clubhouse doesn’t open to the media today until 2 p.m., so check back later for the lineup. I’ll be curious to see who’s in it. I already know that relievers will handle the pitching chores.

This will be a controlled-environment game, which means innings can end early if a pitcher reaches a certain count or tip-off for Kentucky-Kansas is fast approaching.

Are we really waiting until Tuesday to learn the identity of the opening day starter? I was certain that it would be Jake Arrieta, but Tommy Hunter is lingering in the shadows.

As for the 12-man pitching staff, it’s still possible that the Orioles acquire an arm in a late trade or waiver transaction. Manager Buck Showalter keeps dropping hints and leaving himself wiggle room when pressed for answers about his rotation. It may not happen, but the Orioles most certainly are interested in finding another starter before breaking camp.

I’d feel a lot better about this rotation if Arrieta and Wei-Yin Chen had been dealing in their final starts, and if I’d actually seen Hunter, who threw yesterday in a minor league intrasquad game at Twin Lakes Park.

Not exactly the New York Yankees.

Hunter pitched in two Grapefruit League games this spring. The rest were minor league and simulated games. But I’ll hold onto the image of Hunter limiting the Pirates to one hit in six scoreless innings March 26.

The best pitcher I’ve seen this spring is reliever Pat Neshek, and I’ll probably have to go to Norfolk to see him again after I leave Sarasota. Showalter would love to keep him, but that’s going to be a tricky proposition without a trade.

Zach Phillips has quietly put together an outstanding spring, with only two runs and four hits allowed in 13 1/3 innings. He also is a beast against left-handed hitters. He’s got an option left, but let’s not hold that against him.

Biggest disappointments so far? Zach Britton not pitching in a single game. Taylor Teagarden playing in two games. Nolan Reimold batting .179 with two RBIs - both on home runs. Jim Johnson not throwing 100 mph on every pitch. The Orioles failing to tie every game. Me being the only person in camp without a lower back, groin or hamstring injury.

The camp leader in innings pitched? That would be Brian Matusz with 24 2/3. He’s competing with Tsuyoshi Wada for the fifth spot in the rotation. Wada’s thrown five Grapefruit League innings.

What’s the debate here?

Stu Pomeranz has pitched in eight games this spring. He’s not even on the camp roster.

He gave up one run in 8 1/3 innings. Maybe he should have been on the camp roster.

Update: In a pairing of 1992 opening day battery mates, former Orioles pitcher Rick Sutcliffe will throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Orioles Hall of Fame catcher Chris Hoiles. Sutcliffe was the first pitcher to take the mound at Camden Yards in 1992, throwing a five-hit shutout in a 2-0 Orioles’ win over the Cleveland Indians. Hoiles went 1-for-3 with an RBI double in the game.

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