BRADENTON, Fla. – In a challenging spring training for the Orioles, Joey Rickard has been a delightful surprise.
Rickard was an unknown when he was taken in the Rule 5 draft from Tampa Bay last December, and the Orioles hoped that he could fill in defensively at all three outfield positions and perhaps be a pinch runner.
But, what they didn’t know is the Rickard could hit, too. Rickard ran his Grapefruit League average to .375 with two more hits and an RBI in the Orioles 6-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates before 8,100 at McKechnie Field on Wednesday.
Rickard has the most hits on the Orioles this spring, 18 and has six RBIs, and has clearly shown enough to make the team’s Opening Day roster.
If he makes it, Rickard will be the fourth Rule 5 draft pick to start the season with the Orioles in the last five years.
“That’s always a possibility. That’s what I’m hoping for, but in this game, this business, you really don’t think too far ahead. You don’t want to get your hopes too up or too down. There’s definitely a possibility, and there’s a possibility it doesn’t happen. I’m trying to be prepared for either way,” Rickard said.
His levelheadedness has impressed manager Buck Showalter, who is always looking for intangibles in players, and Rickard has that.
“It’s yet to be seen if he can do it at the major league level, but he’s down it well down here in some very difficult outfield situations,”
“As the pitchers have started to step up their stuff a little bit, he’s hasn’t taken a back seat.”
Rickard can play all three outfield positions, and while he hasn’t played as much left field as center or right, the need could be greatest in left.
Adam Jones will play center and Mark Trumbo should play right. South Korean Hyun Soo Kim has started to play well in recent days, and perhaps the right-handed hitting Rickard could complement the left-handed hitting Kim.
“I think he’s got some pop that you haven’t seen a whole lot of,” Showalter said. “He fits a lot of criteria. We’ve played the heck out of him to see if we can find some dents to show up. I don’t care how you do here, there’ll be a different scope at the next level.”
At worst, Rickard should stick as a late-inning defensive replacement, and pinch runner. At best, he’ll be a great surprise offensively.
“The little thing that you look for, he seems to be good at, and those things don’t usually go away. He’s got a feel for the game. He seems to play with a good head, and an intelligence,” Showalter said.
“What else do you want him to do?”
Miguel Gonzalez allowed four runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings including home runs to Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco. He’s given up five homers in 15 1/3 innings and has a spring ERA of 12.56.
“I’m a fly ball pitcher. We all know that. When we get those ground balls it definitely helps. We have the defense for it. Let ‘em hit it. Let ‘em hit it. We’ll get them for sure,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said he felt strong.
“There’s only two pitches I’d like to have back. The two homers. Everything else was good,” Gonzalez said.
Showalter wasn’t terribly pleased with what he saw from Gonzalez.
“OK, not as good as we need him to be, but OK,” Showalter said.
“Command’s not where not what he has shown in the past. I think he’s a little frustrated with that.”
Offensively, the star of the game was Paul Janish, who had a double, home run and single in three at-bats. Janish, who hasn’t hit a major league home run since Sep. 3, 2010, hit a pitch from Pittsburgh starter Jeff Locke into the left field bleachers.
Janish is hitting .324 this spring.
“Paulie’s trying to make the club. Paul’s taken advantage of opportunity,” Showalter said.
It would likely take an injury for Janish, a favorite of Showalter who’s not on the major league roster, to go north with the Orioles.
Janish is a superlative defensive shortstop who has shown better than expected offensive skills since his arrival with the Orioles late last August.
Darren O’Day allowed a two-run home run to Starling Marte. Vance Worley pitched two scoreless innings, and Zach Britton a scoreless eight for the Orioles, who fell to 5-14-4.
Caleb Joseph was the designated hitter, and he had two hits. Chris Davis, who asked to play here because he needed more at-bats was 1-for-4.
NOTES: Matt Wieters will be the designated hitter on Thursday. … Tyler Wilson pitches against the Pirates’ Jonathon Niese in Sarasota.