Tonight will not have the pomp and circumstance of April 6th. It won’t even come close to be honest, and when April 6th does come around nobody will even remember this day. Yet tonight’s game is an important one in the not-so-grand scheme of things, as the O’s get set to open up Grapefruit League play against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. The good news for fans is that this isn’t just another “hollow” exhibition game where they’ll have to read the box score; tonight’s game will be shown live on MASN starting at 7 PM!
Brian Matusz will get the starting assignment tonight against Pittsburgh. Try as I might through various internet searches, I’ve been unable to unearth the identity of Pittsburgh’s starter for tonight. I’ll update this page when/if I can with that information, however we might just have to wait for the game to start to find out. That aside, the question for Brian Matusz this spring is whether or not he can regain the command he had of the strike zone in 2009-10. Tonight’s start is hardly going to decide that, however it will give us a brief look at Matusz. The thing that always struck me about him was the late movement in the strike zone. If you’re able to get the ball to move at the final instant before getting to the batter, you’re good as gold. Matusz had that capability at one time, and perhaps we’ll see tonight whether or not he’s starting to get it back.
Keep in mind that this is also a split squad day for the O’s; the “B-team” will play at Tampa this afternoon with Alfredo Simon starting. (Simon will be followed by Brad Bergesen, Zach Phillips, Miguel Socolovich, and Pedro Strop.) Most of the “A-list” players will be on the field tonight in Sarasota. Aside from Brian Matusz, there are a few other positions that I’ll personally be keeping my eye on as well this spring starting with tonight:
- First Base – Many folks (myself included) think that Chris Davis will turn into a decent power-hitting first baseman down the road. He’ll of course need to prove that he’s worth of that distinction, and that starts tonight. Granted he might only get a couple of at-bats in the games for the foreseeable future, however he needs to flash the leather in the field and swing the stick at the plate in order to solidify himself as the Orioles’ first baseman for the time being.
- Third Base – One of the stories thus far in camp has been Mark Reynolds having lost approximately 17 pounds in the off season. (Note to self: find out what he did!) In the two inter-squad scrimmages Reynolds looked a little quicker and more nimble down at the hot corner. I’d like to see him tested early this spring (tonight for that matter) and get a screamer or perhaps a swinging bunt down the line. Many people wonder if he’ll still have the power to slug 30-plus HR”s, however Reynolds says that shouldn’t be a problem. Time will tell.
- Right Field – The Orioles say that Nick Markakis will be ready for Opening Day, however they also need to have a contingency plan. I suspect that we’ll see a platoon of Jai Miller and Endy Chavez in right field throughout the early spring until Markakis can play after abdominal surgery. For my money I’d like to see more of Miller given that the Orioles traded for him this off season and it would behoove them to immediately try to find out if he can play at this level.
Matusz will probably see about two innings of work from what I understand, and he’ll be followed in the game by Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstrom, Troy Patton, Darren O’Day, and Oscar Villarreal. (If Matusz has two 1-2-3 innings I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s sent out there for a third inning just to get to a certain pitch count, but that’s just me talking.) Gregg and Lindstrom interest me the most because Gregg of course is coming off of a pretty poor season, and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds in his first work of the spring. Lindstrom obviously is new to the Birds, as he was part of the Guthrie trade a few weeks ago. He’ll want to make a good impression on his new ‘mates and skipper in his inaugural work of 2012.
One thing to keep in mind is that while the players will certainly be giving their all to win and to play well tonight, the final score isn’t anywhere near as important as the overall game story. If Matusz looks good and the Oriole starters are able to get on base consistently (and perhaps put up a couple of runs) but the Birds lose it late, fans shouldn’t lose too much sleep. Obviously you never want to lose and all, however how they look and the overall game story is more important than the score…for now. I’ll be “live-tweeting” during tonight’s game, and for those who don’t already follow me on twitter, feel free to do so by clicking here. PLAY BALL!
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Update (2 PM): Jo-Jo Reyes will start for Pittsburgh tonight; he’s the same guy that was picked up by the Birds last August and non-tendered. For a sneak peak at tonight’s lineup, take a look at Roch Kubatko’s article on masnsports.com. I find the concept of Nolan Reimold batting lead off really interesting. Add that to my list of things to watch tonight!