02/23/2013 5:00 PM ET
Birds' rotation battle off to a flying start
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles' rotation competition, which will likely go down to the wire in Spring Training, officially kicked off Saturday with six candidates throwing an inning each in Baltimore's Grapefruit League opening 5-3 win against the Minnesota Twins.
Lefty starter Zach Britton had a scoreless spring debut Saturday afternoon, facing five batters in a 19-pitch first inning, while right-hander Jake Arrieta followed with an 11-pitch second.
"I haven't pitched in Spring Training in a whole year," said Britton, who started last year on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury. "It's nice to get out there. I felt pretty good. You build off this one and go get 'em the next time."
With the World Baseball Classic changing the typical camp schedule and pushing up games, the starters each pitched only one inning. Arrieta threw extra pitches in the bullpen when he was through, getting his pitch count up to around 30.
"A lot of guys have got to get innings," said Arrieta, who is focused this spring on keeping his fastball down in the zone and not worrying about being so fine working in and out. "You just have to go out there and take advantage, and get your work in and get people out. That's what it's about."
Tommy Hunter, who could also be a bullpen candidate, allowed a two-run homer to Josh Willingham in the third inning, while Steve Johnson pitched around a two-out walk in the fourth. Top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy, one of a dozen rotation candidates, worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning.
"Yeah, they affect me," Bundy said of having a less-than-perfect outing. "I expect better than that from myself. But no runs, that walk kind of gets to me a little bit. I'll have two or three days off before I get in another game."
A power arm, Bundy struck out two -- and his fastball was routinely 93-94 mph according to the stadium's radar gun.
"[The velocity] was pretty good," said Bundy. "Can't expect a whole lot your first outing -- [I] don't expect 98, 99, 100 miles an hour yet. But that fastball felt good -- for the most part it was low in the zone. I think I threw a couple up, but in and out was really where I was missing."
Rule 5 Draft pick T.J. McFarland allowed a pair of singles and a walk in the sixth, but managed to get out with only one run allowed, thanks to a double play.
"[We've] got a long, long, long way to go," manager Buck Showalter said of his initial reaction following Saturday's game. "Coming out here today, we are still a week away from getting out of February.
"The challenge for us, as much as them, is to kind of don't get ahead of ourselves and get that overly positive or negative feeding frenzy this time of year as it goes on. It's a challenge for us as coaches. You say one thing, don't do another."
Versatility could be key for Flaherty
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Ryan Flaherty has what manager Buck Showalter likes to call "a different look this spring," as the former Rule 5 Draft pick presents an interesting option in camp given his versatility.
The Orioles have a roster spot open behind first baseman Chris Davis, with at least five others -- Russ Canzler, Steve Pearce, Travis Ishikawa, Connor Jackson and Danny Valencia -- expected to see time at first this spring. Flaherty, who will play corner outfield this spring along with the group just mentioned, could also see time at first base, and has gotten reps at shortstop, second and third.
"Flaherty is going to make it [tough]," Showalter said. "You can tell [he has] a little different look to him this spring. After getting through last year, he's not feeling his way around anymore. He's a real confident guy. He thinks he can do this and help us. I think he might be right."
Flaherty has options remaining that can be used now that he's no longer in his Rule 5 year. While some of his fate is tied to the health of second baseman Brian Roberts, Showalter has acknowledged that there is a scenario where Roberts, Alexi Casilla and Flaherty are all on the Opening Day roster. That's a testament to Flaherty's defensive flexibility and also how well he played for the team late last season.
"I feel like, for me, it's always going to be that way," said Flaherty, who hit .216/.258/.359 in 77 games last year, of fighting for a spot. "That's always the mentality I am going to have ... you have to win a job, and just control what you can control and the rest is out of your hands.
"I think playing down the stretch last year was a great experience -- individually, as a team, everything. So you can always take that and build off it. It's a great confidence builder, as far as it can be -- and then after that, it's a new year, it's a new everything."
With Nate McLouth and Nolan Reimold both projected to make the roster, the Orioles have a crowded outfield picture in camp, with 16 players capable -- to varying degrees -- of playing the outfield. The real separator figures to be who is the best fit to slot in behind Davis at first for one of the team's bench spots.
Ishikawa is considered a premium defender at first base, with Valencia scheduled to get in Sunday's game at first. Jackson, who has been slowed by a sore back, will go through a full day's workout on Saturday. If all goes well, he will also travel to Dunedin on Sunday.
Flaherty, who played winter ball this offseason to get more at-bats, hit .273 (3-for-11) in four postseason games. He said his approach this season is simple: to get better at learning from past mistakes.
"Nobody looks at him as a Rule 5 anymore," Showalter said. "There was a lot of [unknowns] about him going into the spring. Taking him was a total leap of faith, especially in the American League East, taking that Rule 5 guy. … A Rule 5 guy started in the American League Division [Series] playoff [for us]."
O's closely tracking Bundy, Gausman
SARASOTA, Fla. -- It's been widely speculated that top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman could reach the Major Leagues at some point this season. The pair of youngsters -- who are both in camp -- will be closely monitored this spring to ensure they will be options to the help the Orioles down the stretch.
"[Bundy will] have a longer rope early," manager Buck Showalter said of Bundy getting 30-35 innings more than last year. "He's excited about that. Gausman will be similar. When you look at the innings he pitched at LSU and what he did in instructional league, he's got a little different plan.
"They're going to have a minicamp that allows them to do whatever we allow them to do in August, September and October for the Major League club if they're in the mix -- provided they don't make the club [out of camp]."
It's a long shot Bundy or Gausman break camp with the Orioles, given the organization's pitching depth and their relative inexperience in professional baseball -- although they have been impressive early and acclimated well to the laid-back nature of the O's clubhouse. Bundy threw in Saturday's Grapefuit League opener, while Gausman is scheduled to make his first official spring appearance on Sunday afternoon against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.
Bundy worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning in his spring debut. Bundy struck out Darin Mastroianni on three pitches to start things off and allowed a broken-bat single to Eduardo Escobar and a right-field hit to Brandon Boggs. Brian Dinkleman worked a two-out walk on a full-count before Bundy fanned Chris Colabello on a called strike three. Bundy's fastball was routinely in the 93-94-mph range according to the stadium's radar gun.
Last year, the Orioles gave Bundy extra days of rest, and gradually built up the length of his outings in order to avoid shutting him down early. They will adopt a similar approach with both pitchers in 2013.
"I have a sheet on my desk that has every pitcher in the organization [and] where they're going to go with the innings they're going to pitch this year," Showalter said. "We're going to get there so that they have innings left for the Major League team in September and October. I think they're a possibility."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.