3/10/2013 5:04 P.M. ET
Flaherty's versatility may land him roster spot
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Ryan Flaherty homered for the second time this spring on Sunday afternoon, as the 26-year-old continues an impressive spring fighting for one of the Orioles' final roster spots.
"He's doing the things to put himself in the position to make it," manager Buck Showalter said of Flaherty, the organization's Rule 5 Draft pick last year. "You guys can tell he's got a little different sureness to his step. He knows the level and what's expected and he's playing like a very confident player right now, I think defensively and everything he's doing.
"He's not a Rule 5 guy that we didn't know that walked into camp. He did well last year. Whether he was a Rule 5 Draft pick or not, last year he would have made our club. So, we will see where it takes us. Proud of the way he came in, I think winter ball, it was good for him."
Flaherty played in the Dominican Winter League, following a solid finish for the Orioles down the stretch, and is batting .286/.375/.667 in 11 spring games.
"The time you're kind of down there, you don't realize it, but coming to camp, you feel a little more comfortable at the plate," he said of the extra at-bats. "It's definitely helped."
Flaherty -- who platooned at second base in the playoffs last year -- is in one of the more interesting camp battles because he could make the team even with a healthy Brian Roberts and Alexi Casilla slated for a bench spot. A left-handed hitter who can play the corner outfield and every infield spot, Flaherty -- the team's emergency catcher -- could back up first baseman Chris Davis and be a fifth outfielder, which assumes that Nolan Reimold, dealing with right shoulder soreness, is able to play defense.
Given that he's been in the organization for a year, Flaherty has options remaining and could also be sent down to the Minor Leagues without having to go on waivers,
"Ryan can be an everyday player at some point. I'm not going to use his versatility against him," Showalter said. "It's an asset. An asset for us as a team, but also he's a guy that can man down a position for us or somebody for a long time."
Tillman scratched with soreness in left side
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman was scratched from Sunday's start due to soreness in his left side. However, the 24-year-old expects be pushed back just a few days and to pitch later in the week.
"It's just a precautionary thing in my side, it kind of flared up the other day," Tillman said. "I think just to be safe, I just want to take it easy for now. Nothing big, but I'm not going to downplay it either. Nothing I'm really worried about, just want to be safe."
Tillman said he wasn't sure if he would have made Sunday's start had it been during the regular season, acknowledging that it would be the team's -- and not his -- decision in that scenario. Projected to be one of Baltimore's starting five after going 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 games last year, Tillman said the issue isn't in his oblique, which is a very good thing, and the hope is some rest will calm down the area.
"It's my left side," Tillman said. "I had it early in camp, and the more I threw the better it got. [Saturday] it just kind of was nagging me a little bit. And I'm thinking more risk and reward right now. What am I really going to gain from me going out there throwing, and what am I really going to lose from not throwing? Do I like it? No. But is it the best decision? Probably."
Miguel Gonzalez, who was originally scheduled to follow Tillman, started Sunday's game against the Pirates.
Markakis slated to undergo MRI on neck Monday
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Nick Markakis, who confirmed he will get an MRI on his neck Monday, said he isn't that concerned about the injury because of how he feels and the reassurance from team doctors that don't believe there's any structural damage.
"I think it's just some muscle tightness, but we'll definitely find out tomorrow," said Markakis who last played on March 1 and was scratched from Sunday's lineup after coming in with a neck spasm.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said before Saturday's game that he's also optimistic the MRI is more precautionary, although Markakis isn't improving as quickly as the team had hoped.
"I can't pinpoint exactly what it was because I didn't feel anything [right away]," Markakis said of how the injury occurred. I thought about what it could be. Maybe dehydration and working out and straining a muscle, or even sleeping on it or something along those lines, but I don't know. We'll see tomorrow, though."
The neck issue is the latest in an unfortunate injury bout for Markakis, one of the team's toughest players, who had three surgeries (abdominal, right wrist and left thumb) in 2012. Slated to be the team's starting right fielder, Markakis has played in at least 160 games in three of the last four years. He's played in four games this spring, going 3-for-12 with an RBI and two strikeouts.
Showalter not worried about Gonzalez's command
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, making the start with Chris Tillman being scratched, struggled with his command in a two-inning outing in Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Pirates.
"I felt great in the 'pen. Just one of those days," said Gonzalez who allowed four runs (one earned). "Things weren't working when I went on the field. Offspeed wasn't there, my fastball was up."
Gonzalez wasn't helped by an error in left field by Nate McLouth, who fell trying to catch Brad Hawpe's fly ball that changed directions due to the wind, and the Pirates followed up the second-inning miscue with four hits.
"We counted five outs he got that the conditions changed," manager Buck Showalter said of Gonzalez, who is projected to be one of the O's starters this year. "You know, a couple foul balls that would have been caught that [were] blown out. I don't think anybody that was here today would have caught the ball that Nate tried to catch.
"[Gonzalez] was off from what he spoiled us with. But I'm OK with him. Arm feels good, you can tell. I think the ball is coming out of his hand pretty good."
Gonzalez, who pitched two scoreless innings in his first Grapefruit League appearance, struck out two Sunday and allowed four hits and a pair of walks. He pitched around a leadoff walk to Russell Martin and was uncharacteristically wild in the 46-pitch outing, admitting he's getting some of the rust off early in camp.
"I think he's throwing the ball good," Showalter said of Gonzalez, who is in his first Major League Spring Training. " I'm really happy with Miguel. Can tell he's had a good offseason. Looks stronger. Looks pretty fresh. Ball is coming out of his hand good."
• Jonathan Schoop went 0-for-2 with a fielding error in the Netherlands' loss to Japan in the World Baseball Classic. The Orioles top position player prospect, Schoop is batting .375 in the Classic, including a pair of homers.
• Showalter said of Saturday night's altercation between Team Canada and Team Mexico, "First time I saw it, I wasn't paying attention to what was going on. I was looking for [Chris] Robinson." Robinson is in Orioles camp this spring, and with Canada playing Team USA on Sunday for a spot in the second round of the World Baseball Classic, the Orioles will get a player back shortly in either Robinson or Team USA center fielder Adam Jones.
• The O's intrasquad game on Tuesday will be at 10:30 a.m. ET on a field to be determined. Brian Matusz will start Wednesday's game opposite Twins righty Kevin Correia.
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.