SARASOTA, Fla. – On the day that the Orioles said a sad goodbye to Miguel Gonzalez, they had something to celebrate.
For the fourth time in five years, a Rule 5 draft pick has made the team.
In a camp full of challenges and disappointments, Joey Rickard, the 24-year-old outfielder from Las Vegas, has sparkled.
Rickard, who has hit .390, spent the entire month impressing the Orioles and opponents.
After Wednesday night’s game, Norfolk manager Ron Johnson walked over to Rickard and the two walked to manager Buck Showalter’s office where he was told to make plans to be in Baltimore for Monday’s Opening Day.
“I’m pretty excited. I’ve got a lot of phone calls to make,” Rickard said with a huge grin.
“I just walked in there, they turned on the lights and all the staff was in there and they told me congratulations. It was pretty special,” Rickard said.
Rickard was drafted from the Tampa Bay organization in December. The Orioles hoped he could be an extra outfielder. Now, with South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim in limbo, Rickard could be the starting left fielder on Monday.
“It’s been a rollercoaster really, but i couldn't ask for anything more. The guys that I’ve played with and the coaches that have prepared me for this. It’s happening really fast but I’m trying to enjoy every minute of it,” Rickard said.
Most of his family is on the West Coast, and they’ll have to make quick plans for a long, happy trip.
“I've got a pretty big family. Most of them are far away but I’m sure they will do what they can to make it,” Rickard said.
While Rickard celebrated, Gonzalez, whose release has not yet officially been announced by the organization, was still processing the shocking news that his Orioles career had ended suddenly.
Gonzalez, one of the most popular of all the Orioles, was revered for never complaining, and even though he had a horrible spring, the news that the team had let him go moved him to tears and stunned his many friends in the clubhouse.
Chris Tillman, one of his closest friends, who trained with him in Sarasota over the winter, didn’t want to talk about it after his start.
He labored through his final spring training start. Eager for March to end and the genuine games to begin, Tillman took the mound a few hours after Gonzalez had departed.
Gonzalez and Tillman were the only two starters who’d been with the Orioles for the past four seasons and experienced two postseasons, but now, Tillman will be without his buddy.
Tillman pitched only four innings, allowing one run in the Orioles’ 2-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers before 8,163 at Ed Smith Stadium on Wednesday night.
“I think we’ve had enough of this down here. I think everyone is ready to go and looking forward to get this thing going when the bell rings,” Tillman said.
Showalter spent a long time with Gonzalez, and was relieved to talk about Tillman and Rickard.
“He had good stuff today. When he gets the command down…Tough day for him. It’s cut day. These guys, sometimes we forget they’re not robots,” Showalter said.
“That’s why I like the first two weeks of spring. Nobody’s being cut, nothing’s going on. It’s a lot of fun. These last few days, every time I come out of my office with the door closed, it’s not a whole lot of fun for me, and I know especially for them, but Chris, stuff’s been crisp probably since the second outing. That’s been good to see. It hopefully bodes well for him.”
MORE ORIOLES: Orioles surprisingly release Miguel Gonzalez
No decision has yet been made about Hyun Soo Kim, who was again with the team, but idle. The Orioles are hoping Kim will consent to an assignment with Triple-A Norfolk.
Matt Wieters, whose return to catching went well on Tuesday night, was the DH and had two bunt singles.
Manny Machado was the final of nine strikeout victims by Detroit starter Shane Greene. When minor league umpire Joey Amaral called him out, Machado showed Amaral where he thought the pitch was, and the umpire, who lives in Baltimore, threw him out of the game.
“He did something they usually throw guys out for,” Showalter said.
The Orioles leave Sarasota Friday morning. They have one more game to play here, and with a record of 10-15-5, the spring hasn’t been terribly fun, and the team is eager to leave.
“We all are. Spring training, it’s that time, about a week too long,” Showalter said.
NOTES: Yovani Gallardo starts in Thursday’s Florida finale against former Oriole Bud Norris, who’s pitching for Atlanta. … Vance Worley pitches in Philadelphia on Friday.