SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles manager Buck Showalter and his staff spend the spring breaking down the game into increments of 90 feet – the distance between the basepaths.
But one ninth-inning mistake in Thursday’s Grapefruit League game against the Tampa Bay Rays -- a catcher’s interference call on Luis Exposito that allowed the eventual winning run to score -- cost the Orioles a 4-3 decision in front of a record-setting announced 8,797 at Ed Smith Stadium.
Rays top prospect Wil Myers laced a leadoff double to left-center off Orioles top prospect Dylan Bundy in the ninth, and he moved to third on a wild pitch by Bundy.
Then, with former No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham batting, home plate umpire John Hirschbeck called catcher’s interference on Exposito for picking up the ball with his mask, awarding Myers home plate and giving the Rays a 4-3 lead.
The run might have scored anyway, because Beckham later singled up the middle off Bundy, but it still proved to be the decisive run.
The Orioles trailed 3-0 before catcher Matt Wieters hit his second homer of the spring, a towering three-run shot to center field off Juan Sandoval in the sixth inning that tied the game. Wieters’ 10 RBIs this spring are second on the Orioles, one behind Steve Pearce.
Both of the team’s top two prospects – right-handers Bundy and Kevin Gausman – pitched in the game, with Gausman getting his first big-league spring start.
While Gausman overcame early control issues – he walked the first two batters he faced – Bundy allowed the winning run in the last of his three innings. He allowed two hits, walked two and struck out one.
Gausman – who dazzled in his last outing in Fort Myers against the Red Sox, throwing 97 mph consistently – sat at 91-92 on Thursday. But he mixed his pitches well and didn't allow a run until Evan Longoria's RBI double on the final batter he faced with two outs in the third inning.
Another run was charged to Gausman when Mike Belfiore gave up Luke Scott's two-run homer, giving the Rays a 3-0 lead.
Asked if Bundy and Gausman would see another outing in major league camp, Showalter said both can still benefit from remaining with the team.
“There are still some others things they can get,” Showalter said. “There are still things, especially when they keep getting feedback and keep filing information away that they get. It’s invaluable. There are still things here they will get that they won’t get at [minor league camp in] Twin Lakes.”
Around the horn
The Orioles reassigned catcher Jose Gil and infielder Nuiman Romero to minor league camp on Thursday. The moves leave 51 players in big league camp, 14 of them non-roster invitees. Romero was 4-for-11 with an RBI and a walk in 12 Grapefruit League games. Gil was 0-for-10 with five strikeouts in seven spring games. … Showalter confirmed that Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro is visiting the Orioles’ minor league camp and working with a knuckleballer there. … After an 0-for-3 afternoon, shortstop J.J. Hardy has just one hit in 18 Grapefruit League at-bats. … The Orioles signed second baseman Tucker Nathans to a minor league deal, according to Baseball America. Nathans hit .307 with the Newark Bears of the Can-Am independent league.