02/24/2013 6:14 PM ET
Utility candidates trying out at multiple positions
By Adam Berry / MLB.com
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Presented with a number of players competing for a utility spot on the Orioles' Opening Day roster, manager Buck Showalter won't hesitate to move them all over the field this spring to get a sense of how well they can acquit themselves at several different positions.
Showalter proved that Sunday by starting Danny Valencia at first base, where he last played as a Minor Leaguer in 2008, and putting Russ Canzler in right field and third base while also giving time to Steve Pearce (left and right field) and Travis Ishikawa (first base).
All of those players, plus infielder Ryan Flaherty (who looked excellent Sunday at shortstop) and Conor Jackson (Sunday's designated hitter) and a few others, are gunning for one spot that will require a great deal of defensive versatility.
"We're going to keep moving guys around. We've got plenty of games. It's not making decisions on Feb. 24," Showalter said before Sunday's game. "It's one of the benefits of the WBC, is playing more games, getting some more looks. We're going to move some guys around today as the game progresses. It's important what goes on after we make some changes, too. ... We're going to get a lot of good looks at guys at first base."
It's always worth noting this time of year that these position battles are won over the long haul, and a few Grapefruit League games don't represent how a player will hold up over the course of a long Major League season. But Flaherty is off to a hot start, and Showalter was obviously pleased with him again Sunday, commenting on how the former Rule 5 Draft pick looks like he belongs in the big leagues.
It's been Flaherty's defense that has particularly caught Showalter's eye. Flaherty made another impressive play Sunday, backhanding a ball deep in the hole and flinging it to first base as he was moving toward third base to record the out.
"He's a guy who looks like he played in the big leagues last year," Showalter said. "Last year, he would've let that ball go as soon as it hit his glove. It was a chopper that he stayed back on. ... He's had some good at-bats. You can tell he feels like he can do this and belongs. Nothing like starting a couple playoff games -- helps that a little, too."
Optimistic Reimold easing his way back into action
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Orioles manager Buck Showalter could tell Nolan Reimold was almost back to normal Sunday for one reason: The outfielder was more upset with how he played than how he felt.
Reimold made his Spring Training debut in Sunday's 5-4 win over the Blue Jays and had his first at-bat since April 30, the last game he played in 2012 before undergoing surgery on his neck June 25. Reimold had four pieces of a ruptured disk in his neck removed and the vertebrae fused back together in that operation, but he was clearly eager to get back on the field with the Orioles.
"I worked really hard this offseason to be able to play this Spring Training, so, first game is kind of a milestone," Reimold said. "My goal is to be out there during the regular season."
"Not nervous. More excited. Happy to step in the box again. It's been a long 10 months, I think it's been, since I had an at-bat. I just felt good to have it behind me."
Reimold started in left field and went 0-for-3 with a strikeout. He admitted he'll need to see more pitches and take a few more swings early on before he feels comfortable in the batter's box again, but he said he is able to take the field as often as Showalter will let him.
"I want to play whenever he puts me in there. I think the plan is to take me a little bit slow but gradually progressing, but that's what he does with everybody," Reimold said. "If he did put me in there every game, I would be able to do it, physically, but I don't think that's the plan."
Showalter agreed that he won't even start thinking about whether Reimold is prepared for the regular season -- in terms of his performance, not his health -- until the last week of Spring Training, as Reimold is still working his way back into baseball shape after a long and grueling rehabilitation.
"He's just kind of getting out of that mode of thinking about every time he swings, 'Is this going to hurt?'" Showalter said. "Every little step he takes, if you look at the number of days he missed, he's kind of just getting back into baseball activities as much as working with that new procedure that took care of his problem, we hope."
Jurrjens delighted to light up radar gun
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Jair Jurrjens said he was happy, not surprised, to see the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium radar gun light up at 93 mph in the first inning of his Spring Training debut Sunday afternoon, but you couldn't have blamed him for feeling both emotions.
Jurrjens gave up one run on two hits and a walk in two innings against the Blue Jays, and he came out throwing harder than he has in recent years. Jurrjens' fastball consistently hit 91 mph on the scoreboard in the first inning. Orioles manager Buck Showalter was impressed with the life and sink on Jurrjens' fastball, especially against a quality lineup like Toronto's.
According to FanGraphs.com, Jurrjens' fastball maxed out at 91.8 mph last season and clocked in at an average of 88.6 mph. He didn't throw much harder in 2011, with an average fastball of 89.1 mph.
"It shows how hard I worked this offseason," Jurrjens said. "I think last year, I can count how many times I hit 93 in the whole season. For the first game in Spring Training, to go out and throw 93 the first game, for me it was a really big [accomplishment].
"It just shows that when you really dedicate and put some time into your work in the offseason, it pays off. And it's paying off so far."
While Jurrjens and Showalter were both pleased with the right-hander's fastball, his breaking pitches were a bit sloppy toward the end of his outing. Jurrjens felt like he was rushing his delivery and couldn't get his timing right, something Showalter said is normal for any pitcher this time of year.
With a spot in Baltimore's starting rotation on the line, however, Jurrjens is looking to get that sorted out sooner rather than later.
"My situation's a little bit different this time. When you have a job, you just come in and try to get in shape. Now, when you're competing for a job, you need to try to get in shape as quick as possible," Jurrjens said. "Losing my timing in Spring Training is usually something that happens to me all the time. The more and more I get on the mound, the more comfortable I get and I think the more I start feeling where I need to release the ball. I can feel my timing coming back."
• Right-hander Chris Tillman will start for the Orioles on Tuesday against the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla.
• Jurrjens said he was prepared to pitch two innings Sunday, even after Saturday starter Zach Britton tossed just one frame. Showalter said after Sunday's game that, from here on out, each game's starting pitcher will be throwing at least two innings.
• Showalter said right-handers Jim Johnson and Darren O'Day, both of whom are being brought along slowly this spring, threw side sessions in the bullpen back at the Orioles' Spring Training complex.
• The Blue Jays played a split-squad matchup Sunday, and manager John Gibbons joined one half of his club against the Yankees in Tampa. That left DeMarlo Hale, Toronto's bench coach, to manage the squad facing Baltimore at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Hale served as the Orioles' third-base coach last season.