In their first spring meeting with the New York Yankees, the Orioles didn’t exactly face the 1927 Bronx Bombers in a 5-1 win in Sarasota on Monday afternoon.
New York right-hander Vidal Nuno made the start while Brett Gardner, Jayson Nix, Juan Rivera, and Francisco Cervelli were the most recognizable names in the Yankees’ batting order against left-hander Brian Matusz. The Orioles starter pitched two shutout innings to collect the victory while primarily using his fastball against an underwhelming lineup of hitters.
It’s only a snapshot, but here were five thoughts taken away from the Orioles’ first televised spring training contest:
1. You want to knock on wood when you say it — or pinch yourself because you assume you’re dreaming — but healthy versions of Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold at the top of the order would do wonders for this offense. Roberts was the more impressive of the two Monday as he doubled from each side of the plate while hitting in the No. 2 spot in the order behind Reimold. The second baseman is also no longer wearing the double-flapped batting helmet he sported last season, another indication that his concussion-related symptoms might be behind him once and for all. Reimold was 0-for-2 against the Yankees after going 0-for-3 in his spring debut on Sunday, but he continues to build strength and confidence after being declared ready to go at the start of the spring.
Manager Buck Showalter has stated his preference to lower J.J. Hardy in the order after the shortstop was miscast as a top-of-the-lineup hitter in his first two seasons with the Orioles, and Roberts’ .351 career on-base percentage and Reimold’s .338 mark would fit nicely at the top of the lineup as long as you continue to see no health concerns for either player this spring. It would be a welcome change for a lineup that included low on-base percentage options such as Hardy and the departed Robert Andino at the top of the order before Nick Markakis and Nate McLouth moved into those roles out of necessity in the second half of last season.
It feels like a long shot to be able to count on a 35-year-old Roberts — who is trying to bounce back from season-ending hip surgery as well as offseason sports hernia surgery — after three injury-plagued seasons in a row, but the 29-year-old Reimold could still have plenty of good baseball in front of him if he can finally stay on the field.
2. The case of right-hander Tommy Hunter will be one to follow this spring as he is out of options. Hunter allowed two hits and struck out two in a scoreless inning of work on Monday, and it appears the 26-year-old will be eyed as a relief option this spring.
Hunter has made 75 career starts in the big leagues between Texas and Baltimore, but his stuff has never screamed starting pitcher as he’s averaged only 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and has a career 4.77 earned run average. In 12 2/3 innings pitched out of the bullpen last September, Hunter allowed one earned run and struck out 12 and featured fastball velocity in the upper 90s.
This becomes more interesting when considering Hunter would need to clear waivers to be sent to Triple-A Norfolk at the end of the spring. Other fringe starters such as Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, and Steve Johnson all have at least one option remaining, making it possible that Hunter could be viewed in a more favorable light in starting the season as the long reliever out of the bullpen while at least some of the others could find themselves pitching with the Tides to start the year.
Showalter has said the club won’t make roster decisions based on option years, but it would appear Hunter would have the inside track on a bullpen role if he has a reasonably strong spring. On the other hand, a poor performance from the right-hander would also mean he’s more likely to pass through waivers unclaimed.
3. If you’re looking for this year’s version of Lew Ford or Steve Pearce, keep an eye on Russ Canzler. The 26-year-old is capable of playing first base and the corner outfield spots and hit 61 combined home runs in his last three minor-league seasons split between Double A and Triple A.
It was a crazy offseason for Canzler, who was selected off waivers four different times with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette finally nabbing him from the Yankees on Feb. 5. The right-handed hitter drove in a run with a single in Monday’s 5-1 win and was strongly endorsed by Norfolk manager Ron Johnson prior to the Orioles acquiring him this winter.
It would be an upset to see Canzler break camp as a member of the 25-man roster — he also has two option years remaining — but his .819 on-base plus slugging percentage over nine minor-league seasons is the type of statistic that intrigues Duquette when searching for bargain-basement deals. Canzler was selected in the 30th round of the 2004 draft as an 18-year-old by the Chicago Cubs and spent seven years in that organization before spending a season each with Tampa Bay and Cleveland.
It’s a long shot, of course, that we’ll see Canzler making any tangible contribution to the 2013 Orioles, but no one expected Ford or Pearce to contribute to the Orioles’ first playoff team in 15 years at the start of the season, either.