ST. PETERSBURG — To Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, the Rays team Baltimore is trying to beat is also one it would like to emulate.
MacPhail saw how Tampa Bay developed homegrown talent and focused on areas of run prevention to get in the American League East mix despite a low payroll.
And though the Orioles lost 98 games a year ago, they hope to build around young stars, too, such as CF Adam Jones and RF Nick Markakis while integrating recent high draft picks such as C Matt Wieters, OF Nolan Reimold and tonight’s starter, LHP Brian Matusz.
“(The Rays) provide a great road map for us to follow in terms of how they did it,” MacPhail said. “They really improved their pitching and defense, and that catapulted them from 90-something losses to the World Series.”
DIFFERENT GUY: RHP Jeff Niemann enters his first start tonight as a much different pitcher than his opening outing last year against the O’s. Niemann, coming off a strong rookie season when he won a staff-high 13 games, learned a lot about being able to control his emotions and “slow things down.”
“I grew a lot last year as a pitcher and really just kind of changed,” he said. “I figured out what works and what doesn’t work from trial and error, learned from my mistakes.”
SWITCH IT UP: 1B Carlos Pena, who beat the Orioles’ defensive shift with a bunt down the third-base line Tuesday, said he’ll try that tactic on occasion when “the situation calls for it.”
“Obviously, I’m here to swing the bat,” said Pena, who tied for the AL lead with 39 homers last season. “Once in a while, as long as it doesn’t take me out of my game, my element … I’m gonna lay it down.”
MINOR MATTERS: Several Rays minor-league affiliates begin play today, with starters as follows: RH Jeremy Hellickson for Durham, LH Alex Torres for Montgomery, LH Matt Moore for Charlotte and RH Alex Colome for Bowling Green. The Durham rotation also includes LH Heath Phillips, RH Jeff Bennett, RH Virgil Vasquez and LH Carlos Hernandez.
MISCELLANY: RHP James Shields was with his wife, Ryane, as doctors induced labor Wednesday for the couple’s second daughter. … OF Matt Joyce (elbow strain) begins a rehab assignment with Durham today. … Gabe Kapler will start tonight in rightfield.
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