Orioles spring into action with familiar roster

Same cast, different attitude.

The Baltimore Orioles won’t waste much time with introductions
Wednesday in Sarasota, Fla., before pitchers, catchers and selected
veterans take the field for the team’s first scheduled spring
training workout. Although executive vice president Dan Duquette
did some minor tinkering with the roster, the Orioles haven’t
changed much since last October.

Baltimore lost free agent first baseman Mark Reynolds to
Cleveland, traded Robert Andino to Seattle, re-signed outfielder
Nate McLouth and added infielders Alex Casilla, Danny Valencia and
Travis Ishikawa.

”I think our fans understand that we have all of our core
players returning from a very good ballclub,” Duquette said. ”The
fact of the matter is that we had the best record of any major
league team from Aug. 1 on.”

And that is why, despite the lack of action during the
offseason, these aren’t the same Orioles of a year ago. Last
February, they reported to camp looking to end a run of 14 straight
losing seasons and searching for a small measure of
respectability.

Baltimore improved from 69-93 to 93-69 and earned its first
postseason berth since 1997. The Orioles beat the defending AL
champion Texas Rangers in the wild-card game, then lost to the New
York Yankees in a five-game division series extended to the
maximum.

There will be an air of confidence at camp as Baltimore prepares
for what figures to be an even more competitive AL East.

”We’ve got a lot of the same guys back and the best thing I’m
excited about is the chemistry we got going last year,” All-Star
catcher Matt Wieters said. ”We feel like we can keep that going
into 2013. We’re using last year as a starting point. We want to
keep improving off that. That sort of set the bar for us and,
hopefully, everybody comes back ready to go, and we can improve on
it.”

Nick Markakis is back from a broken left thumb that ended his
season on Sept. 8.

”You can tell the change not only in the atmosphere of our
team, but the atmosphere in the city and the community and the
state itself,” he said. ”It’s awesome. We’re bringing back
baseball not quite where it used to be, but we’re on our way. We’re
getting close. It’s going to be fun and it’s going to be a fun
ride.”

There won’t be many questions to answer this spring. Jason
Hammel, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Chris Tillman are
favorites to top the starting rotation, leaving manager Buck
Showalter with only the one spot to fill from among Steve Johnson,
Jake Arrietta, Tommy Hunter, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz.

Chris Davis has been pegged to replace Reynolds at first base,
although Ishikawa could receive playing time if Davis becomes a
liability in the field.

There’s also the matter of filling the leadoff spot. Markakis
and McLouth both performed well last season in place of the injured
Brian Roberts, whose health remains one of the Orioles’
unknowns.

A two-time All-Star second baseman, Roberts has missed most of
the past three seasons with injuries. After he returned from a
concussion last year, Roberts played in only 17 games, had
season-ending hip surgery in August and another operation for a
sports hernia in December.

”I’m really looking forward to being on the field the first
day, doing what everyone else is doing and being a normal guy
again, hopefully,” the 35-year-old Roberts said. ”It’s been a
long journey to get to this point. I’m trying not to take it for
granted, trying to enjoy the process and just praying for the
best.”

Roberts spent his entire career waiting to be part of a playoff
team, and when the Orioles finally made it to the postseason he
could do nothing more than watch. His motivation this winter was to
contribute to the cause.

”I’ve done more in January than I have my entire career. I have
some things I want to get better at,” he said. ”I’m excited just
to play. I never played for what people thought. I play because I
love this game and I feel like I can still help out this
organization. I feel like I can help win games. Only time will tell
if that’s true or not.”

Roberts and the rest of the Orioles were excited about getting
started.

”I used to talk to the players about what the city could be and
what it was like when we win,” manager Showalter said last month.
”For them to be able see it, they might actually think I know I
what I was talking about. A lot of times this time of year,
everybody is saying I wish I had another week off, another week
off, but I’m not getting that from any of these guys. They’re all,
like, `Let’s go.”’