Notes: Albers enjoys opening act
Orioles fifth-starter candidate impressive in two-inning stint
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Matt Albers and Garrett Olson fired the opening salvos in the battle for the fifth spot in Baltimore's rotation on Tuesday, when the Orioles played their first intrasquad game of the spring season. Olson faced a tougher lineup and struggled, but Albers turned in an impressive two-inning stint at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.
Albers retired six of the eight batters he faced, and four of his six outs came on ground balls. Albers made first baseman Kevin Millar foul off several pitches before allowing his only blemish, a solo home run in the second inning. Backup catcher Guillermo Quiroz singled off Albers, but the youngster threw 20 of his 26 pitches for strikes.
"I liked Albers," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "He worked fast, kept the ball down and throws strikes. He gave up the home run and came right back at the next guy. ... That was a heck of a job of pitching there in that situation."
Albers, who came over in the offseason trade with the Astros for Miguel Tejada, is regarded as a darkhorse possibility for the fifth-starter job and a decent candidate to secure a long relief role. He said Tuesday that he has no preference, and that he simply wants to pitch to the best of his abilities this spring and make the parent club find a spot for him.
"If I was still with the Astros right now, I'd be trying to do the same thing," Albers said. "I'm just trying to keep the ball down, throw strikes and keep it simple. You can start out-thinking yourself a little bit."
Albers struck out utility man Freddie Bynum and got groundouts from prospect Matt Wieters and outfielders Jay Payton, Chris Roberson and Tike Redman. Albers went on to say that his sinker will be a key pitch for him this year and that he expects to throw strikes and go right after hitters no matter what role he ends up filling for the Orioles.
"I think that will really play well coming out of the bullpen," Albers said. "You get your pitch counts down and get guys swinging early in counts. You keep the defense moving. That's one thing I've really been trying to work on and stick with."
Pitchouts: Olson went right back to being wild on Tuesday, contradicting the scouting reports that label him as a command-and-control southpaw. Olson walked one batter and hit two -- catcher Ramon Hernandez and reserve infielder Scott Moore -- but managed to work out of trouble in each of his two intrasquad innings.
"He pitched down, but his command wasn't where it needs to be," said Trembley. "He needs to show he can command his pitches in order for him to be successful. ... If you take a positive spin on it, that's better than what I saw last year when he got called up. He's still got a ways to go, and for his first time out, there's room for improvement."
Olson, who finished third in ERA in the Triple-A International League last season, has been billed as one of the front-runners for the final rotation slot. In order for that to happen, though, he knows he has to do what he does best.
"I think I just sped it up on myself a little bit and rushed to the plate a few times. Just minor things, but overall I feel pretty good," Olson said Tuesday. "Looking back on last year, this was completely different. I felt like the first time last year was another story of going out there and not feeling confident at all."
Olson wasn't the only highly touted player that struggled Tuesday. Adam Jones, the centerpiece of the Erik Bedard trade, got turned around on a ball to center field and watched it fall in for a triple by catcher Ben Davis. The former first-round Draft pick also got doubled off base in the fifth and final inning.
"It's going to be a learning experience for him," said Trembley. "He's not a finished product by any means. He's a guy that's going to get better and he's enough of an athlete that when it comes, it's going to come in a hurry."
Diaper debut: Wieters, the fifth overall pick in last June's First-Year Player Draft, went 1-for-2 in the intrasquad game. He served as the designated hitter and grounded out on the first pitch in his first at-bat, but he came back in the fourth inning and rifled a game-tying single through the right side.
"Wieters has looked that way since the day he walked into camp," Trembley said. "He looks like he's been here before. He's going to catch tomorrow, so we'll be anxious to see how he looks behind the plate. I've gone on record saying that Wieters looks pretty polished for a guy who doesn't have a lot of experience professionally."
Wieters is expected to be farmed out to Minor League training camp sometime during the next two weeks.
Odds and ends: George Sherrill experienced no pain in his right hamstring Tuesday and is expected to throw off the mound Wednesday. If he's successful, he'd need one more side session before pitching in a game.
Moore, who played both infield corner spots last year and may be considered as a reserve at both outfield corners this season, has added another position. He played second base Tuesday, and Trembley said he plays it well enough to be there again.
"Moore's opportunity comes with how versatile he can be," Trembley said. "We're going to keep him around a while and see what he can do."
Quotable: "The guys were joking about not peaking too soon. I've got to peak. Last Spring Training, I didn't peak at all, so I'd rather peak early than not peak at all." -- Millar, on homering in his first spring at-bat
Coming up: The Orioles will play one more intrasquad game Wednesday in advance of their Grapefruit League season starting Thursday. Brian Burres and Hayden Penn, two more candidates for the fifth-starter job, will pitch Wednesday.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.