BALTIMORE (AP) — Five things to know about the Baltimore Orioles as they start spring training camp:
WHO’S CLOSING?: The biggest question heading into camp is who will handle the job of closer, an opening created by Executive Vice President Dan Duquette’s decision to trade Jim Johnson to Oakland rather than pay the right-hander top dollar as the reigning AL saves leader.
“Jim is going to be missed,” setup man Darren O’Day said. “He made us a better team on and off the field.”
The Orioles reached agreement with Grant Belfour to fill the void, but he failed a physical and the contract was discarded. Now, the Orioles appear ready to stay in-house to find Johnson’s replacement.
Tommy Hunter, O’Day and newcomers Ryan Webb and Alfredo Aceves are among the candidates.
WHO’S STARTING?: During what turned out to be a very quiet offseason, Duquette tried to find a veteran to anchor the rotation. As the Orioles prepare for their first workout Friday, the hole has not been filled.
There are plenty of arms capable of pitching into the late innings, but none have done it over the long haul at the major league level.
Chris Tillman (16-7 in 2013) is coming off a career year, Miguel Gonzalez (11-8) started 30 games, and Wei-Yin Chen (7-7) and Bud Norris (4-3) are decent. But there isn’t much depth there, and it’s uncertain whether youngsters Zach Britton or Kevin Gausman are ready to pitch every fifth day in the majors. Brian Matusz, banished to the bullpen in 2012, hopes to return to the rotation.
WHO’S ON SECOND?: The defection of longtime Orioles Brian Roberts to the New York Yankees leaves the second base job up from grabs.
Jemile Weeks, obtained in the Johnson trade, will compete against light-hitting Ryan Flaherty. Prospect Jonathan Schoop, who played five games with Baltimore last season, is a long shot.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy believes Flaherty has the potential to be the man — if he can do something about his .221 career batting average.
“Defensively, there’s been no question that he can play second base,” Hardy said.
WAITING FOR MANNY: After undergoing offseason surgery on his left knee, All Star third baseman Manny Machado is uncertain if he will be ready for opening day.
His progress will be monitored closely in February and March.
“Rome wasn’t built in one day,” Machado said. “That’s how it is. It’s a process. Once I get out there playing, once I’m cleared to play, then let’s see how I feel when I’m sliding into second base, trying to take out the second baseman, how I feel the next day.”
CRUSH DAVIS: Major league home run king Chris Davis will use spring training to get ready for another 50-home run season, but he will need help from his teammates.
“There’s a reason why I hit 53 home runs,” he said. “It wasn’t cause guys were just laying it up there. Guys were getting on base, putting pressure on pitchers, really making it harder on them.
“Will I be able to? I don’t know,” he added. “Obviously I have the power to do it, but it just depends.”
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)