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Birds' rotation battle off to a flying start

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles' rotation competition, which will likely go down to the wire in Spring Training, officially kicked off Saturday with six candidates throwing an inning each in Baltimore's Grapefruit League opening 5-3 win against the Minnesota Twins.

Lefty starter Zach Britton had a scoreless spring debut Saturday afternoon, facing five batters in a 19-pitch first inning, while right-hander Jake Arrieta followed with an 11-pitch second.

"I haven't pitched in Spring Training in a whole year," said Britton, who started last year on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury. "It's nice to get out there. I felt pretty good. You build off this one and go get 'em the next time."

With the World Baseball Classic changing the typical camp schedule and pushing up games, the starters each pitched only one inning. Arrieta threw extra pitches in the bullpen when he was through, getting his pitch count up to around 30.

"A lot of guys have got to get innings," said Arrieta, who is focused this spring on keeping his fastball down in the zone and not worrying about being so fine working in and out. "You just have to go out there and take advantage, and get your work in and get people out. That's what it's about."

Tommy Hunter, who could also be a bullpen candidate, allowed a two-run homer to Josh Willingham in the third inning, while Steve Johnson pitched around a two-out walk in the fourth. Top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy, one of a dozen rotation candidates, worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning.

"Yeah, they affect me," Bundy said of having a less-than-perfect outing. "I expect better than that from myself. But no runs, that walk kind of gets to me a little bit. I'll have two or three days off before I get in another game."

A power arm, Bundy struck out two -- and his fastball was routinely 93-94 mph according to the stadium's radar gun.

"[The velocity] was pretty good," said Bundy. "Can't expect a whole lot your first outing -- [I] don't expect 98, 99, 100 miles an hour yet. But that fastball felt good -- for the most part it was low in the zone. I think I threw a couple up, but in and out was really where I was missing."

Rule 5 Draft pick T.J. McFarland allowed a pair of singles and a walk in the sixth, but managed to get out with only one run allowed, thanks to a double play.

"[We've] got a long, long, long way to go," manager Buck Showalter said of his initial reaction following Saturday's game. "Coming out here today, we are still a week away from getting out of February.

"The challenge for us, as much as them, is to kind of don't get ahead of ourselves and get that overly positive or negative feeding frenzy this time of year as it goes on. It's a challenge for us as coaches. You say one thing, don't do another."

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