Notes: Markakis survives final cut
Rookie outfielder earns spot with hot spring; Chavez joins club
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles made their final cuts on Saturday and elected to keep Nick Markakis on board, a decision that crowds the outfield and thins out the pitching staff. Baltimore will start the season with six outfielders and 11 pitchers, making things interesting for manager Sam Perlozzo.
"They weren't saying much. They just left me out there, playing hard every day," said Markakis, who had three hits on Saturday. "Good things happen when you do that."
Markakis was one of the team's hottest hitters all spring, notching a .333 batting average with a .427 on-base mark. Despite his success, his lack of upper-level experience was a constant talking point. The former first-round pick has only played 33 games at the Double-A level, but Perlozzo said his knowledge of the strike zone is as good as anyone on the roster.
"Every organization, at one time or another, brings somebody out of the Minor Leagues that hasn't played a whole lot. They're special people, and I think Nick's a special person," said Perlozzo. "He forced our hand. I was impressed with everything he did out there. He's a quick learner [and] he handles the bat. ... I think he's going to be a great asset to this ballclub."
The manager also said that Markakis isn't coming to the big leagues to sit on the bench. He'll play often, which means that everyone in the outfield -- Corey Patterson, Luis Matos, Kevin Millar and Jay Gibbons -- will be pressed to play their best.
"It's going to be up to me to get everybody playing time. Anything can happen," said Perlozzo. "I foresee a lot of bouncing around. Everyone's going to have a chance to stay out there every day."
Baltimore optioned catcher Eli Whiteside to Triple-A Ottawa and reassigned six players to its Minor League camp. The only surprise in that list was veteran John Halama, who was expected to stick around as a swingman. The team will stay with six relievers for now, but Perlozzo didn't know how long they'd go with that arrangement.
"I'm not sure how comfortable we are with it right now," he said. "We'll see how it goes."
Masked man: Raul Chavez joined the Orioles on Saturday and was assigned No. 9 -- the old number of Geronimo Gil, his predecessor on Baltimore's bench. He'll serve as a third catcher and virtual insurance policy, allowing Perlozzo to pinch-run or pinch-hit for either of his backstops without worrying about late-game repercussions.
"Our evaluators thought he was an upgrade for us as a catch-and-throw catcher," said Jim Duquette, Baltimore's vice president of baseball operations. "He was good enough to be a defensive catcher on the National League champions with the Astros.
"He can shut down the running game, if there's a team like Tampa Bay. Whether this is going to be a long-term move or not, I can't predict."
Here's a sample scenario: If Lopez was starting at designated hitter and Hernandez got hurt, the O's would have to switch Lopez to catcher and lose their DH for the rest of the game. That wasn't as much of a concern a week or two ago, when it appeared that Lopez would start at first base. That's why Gil seemed expendable.
"Everything changed like two days later," said Perlozzo. "Since we had already let [Gil] go, we wanted to bring Raul in. We'll let you know how it's going to go down."
On the block: The Orioles have been linked to several trade rumors this spring, but Baltimore isn't likely to make any further transactions before the season starts. Duquette said that he's made plenty of phone calls in the last few days, but he's not optimistic that any of them will result in a trade.
"There's a lot of conversation -- more listening than anything else," he said. "Teams are trying to set their rosters. It seems like there's more of a willingness to go with what they have right now than make a deal. It's not uncommon at this time of year. The type of deals you can make are mostly for guys that are out of options or aren't going to make the club."
"We're a pretty versatile ballclub," said Perlozzo. "We've got a bunch of people that can play a bunch of different places. If we pitch a little bit -- if our bullpen pitches a little bit -- I think people are going to be looking at us."
Back in action: Gibbons shook off a sore back to return to the lineup on Friday and was also healthy enough to play on Saturday. Baltimore's right fielder said he expected to be ready for Opening Day, and he credited a chiropractic adjustment for getting him back in playing shape.
Gibbons said he'll likely see the chiropractor once per homestand after the season starts, a proactive measure to keep his back healthy.
"I have another one tomorrow morning and maybe even Monday," said Gibbons, who blamed a bad bed in Fort Lauderdale for his recent woes. "I've done it my whole life. My back can get a little out of whack, and that's why they have chiropractors."
Home and home: The Orioles played against the Washington Nationals in RFK Stadium on Friday and closed up their exhibition schedule with a home game against the Nationals on Saturday. Perlozzo was asked about the nascent rivalry between the two teams, and he said it should grow over time.
"There should be a rivalry. And you don't have to make it out to be a bad thing. It's a good thing," he said. "It's baseball in two close cities [and] two different sets of fans living in the same area. How much better can it be? Those kinds of things in sports are everywhere. All we do is pack the house three more times -- in both areas."
Quotable: "It's a fluid process. You can make a comment now and five hours from now it's an obsolete comment. That's why we've tried to limit what we say and how much we say." -- Duquette discussing Melvin Mora's proposed contract extension.
Coming up: The Orioles have a workout day Sunday and begin the regular season at Camden Yards against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Monday at 3:05 p.m. ET. Rodrigo Lopez will start on Opening Day, and he'll be matched up with Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.