MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

O's spring record not a precursor for season

O's spring record not a precursor for season

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Let's frame this as delicately as possible. This has been a tough spring for the Baltimore Orioles.

"Oh, so spring standings count now?" center fielder Adam Jones asked.

Good point. On the other hand, a 2-11-2 record tends to raise eyebrows.

"I think when the lights turn on, we're going to have a pretty good season," Jones said. "At the same time, me saying that means nothing. We have to go do it."

Spring Training: Schedule | Tickets | Info

When the record is brought up to Orioles manager Buck Showalter, he responds: "I know we've won two intrasquad games and a 'B' game."

And maybe the O's are getting hot at the right time. On Monday afternoon, they rallied for three runs in the eighth to beat the Phillies, 8-7.

Does it matter? That's the most important point to make. In the end, it just doesn't.

"There's a bigger mission," shortstop J.J. Hardy said.

Hardy's triple to center

Dan Duquette, the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations, recalled a slice of brilliance from late Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver: "No one's gonna give a damn in July if you lost a game in March."

Spring records might be especially irrelevant for the Orioles, who use the games to get a handle on their organizational depth. So do other teams, but maybe not to the extent the O's do.

"I've had some of our guys [battling for jobs] tell us they've never gotten so many at-bats in Spring Training [with other clubs]," Showalter said.

In fact, that's one of Showalter's selling points in convincing free agents to sign with the Orioles. He promises players a legitimate opportunity to make the club.

"If I wanted to have an unbelievable Spring Training record, I would have J.J. play all the games," Showalter said. "I'd have Adam go to Dunedin [to play Toronto]. We'll get to that. That's why we designed the schedule the way we did -- to be tough early.

"We knew we were going to get a lot of looks. That's why I think we've gotten pretty good at this over the last four years. We've established our what-ifs and tried to make good decisions on them. We've got a lot of things we have to find out about people. You'd like to win every game. I don't like walking off the field losing."

Dan Duquette on potent Orioles

Ah, the past four years. These are the four in which Showalter and Duquette resurrected baseball in Charm City. In that time, the O's have won more regular-season games (355) than any other American League team and have been to the postseason twice (2012 and '14).

Plenty of that core group from the 2012 team is still around: Jones, Hardy, catcher Matt Wieters, first baseman Chris Davis, third baseman Manny Machado and an assortment of pitchers.

Nothing is guaranteed, but this group of players -- and this manager -- long ago proved they've got the right stuff.

"I think we've learned how to win," Jones said. "We're a little older, a little more seasoned. We understand things a little more. Now, it's still a challenge, and you still have to put in the work and prepare."

Showalter put it another way: "It might be different if we didn't have people with the track record of winning. It's very important to them. There's a lot of pride in it. We also know the reality of how Spring Training works. Sometimes, it's how good are your six-year free agents? How good are the guys you're bringing over from the Minor League games? That has a lot to do with it, too."

All that said, these are nervous times. Wieters is sidelined indefinitely with a sore right elbow, and the starting pitchers have been hit hard. Last season, Baltimore's rotation had a 4.53 ERA -- 14th among 15 AL teams. This spring, it's dead last among the 30 MLB teams at 10.97.

Wieters exits with soreness

Wei-Yin Chen, who led the Orioles in innings (191 1/3) and ERA (3.34) in 2015, departed for the Marlins via free agency and was replaced by free agent Yovani Gallardo, who has comparable numbers in recent years. He was hit hard on Monday, allowing the Phillies five earned runs in 2 1/3 innings.

However, Gallardo had a late start on Spring Training and took the day as another step in the process.

"You gotta remember it's spring, and there's a long way to go," Gallardo said. "It's about preparing for the year. You're not going to win anything in Spring Training."

Meanwhile, the remainder of the rotation is the same. The O's are hoping that Kevin Gausman, the fourth overall pick of the 2012 Draft, will emerge as an impact pitcher in his first full season in the rotation and that Chris Tillman, a former All-Star, will bounce back from a tough season. Top prospects Hunter Harvey and Dylan Bundy are on track as well.

And while spring records don't matter, Opening Day is three weeks away. Spring records may not count, but a good vibe is important, too. After Monday, the Orioles' winning streak is at 1.

"At some point, after you take a look at everybody, you've got to get your guys ready to play," Duquette said. "This is the American League East. This is a tough division. These guys will knock your block off if you're not ready to play ball. We've got some more work to do to get our team ready. But we've got a lot of veteran players, and they know what it takes to compete in our division."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.