BRADENTON, Fla. -- Rule 5 Draft pick T.J. McFarland will make his first spring start Monday against the Boston Red Sox and joked with reporters -- who reminded him that the game is televised nationally on ESPN -- it should be totally pressure-free.
"I'm extremely excited to get a start under my belt," said McFarland, who is trying to stick with the organization as either a starter or reliever. "It's funny because I was just kind of getting used to coming out of the 'pen, and now I'm going to start, but there is no difference to me in my mind. I'm just going to go out and do exactly what I did the previous outings."
McFarland has turned it around this spring, throwing eight scoreless innings in his past three outings after making a mechanical adjustment to face more toward the plate. His confidence has gone up, as well.
"It's a big difference," McFarland said. "Confidence plays a huge part in this game, for sure, and with me, I know if I have a good outing, I can build off that, and my confidence exponentially raises up. And that's huge for me in terms of just being around the strike zone and throwing strikes and playing into what I want to do to hitters."
The Orioles like McFarland and want to keep him, but it could be a numbers crunch. Right now, the Orioles don't have room in the bullpen for three lefties. Troy Patton has a spot, and Brian Matusz could be a second left-hander if he doesn't win the fifth rotation spot, which Jake Arrieta is the frontrunner for.
How could McFarland fit in?
If the Orioles move one of their other relievers in a trade, they could keep the 23-year-old and have him serve as the long man. McFarland could also find a spot in the event of injury, and if Chris Tillman suffers a setback in his recovery from abdominal soreness, the Orioles could backdate his disabled list date and make room for McFarland.
Matusz struggles as rotation battle nears close
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Left-hander Brian Matusz did not help his case Sunday in the Orioles' ongoing competition for a fifth starter, throwing four innings against the Pirates and allowing five earned runs on nine hits and a walk.
"Just went out there never found a rhythm and didn't pitch well," Matusz said of the start, which came against the same Pirates club that Jake Arrieta, who is also competing for a rotation spot, tossed six scoreless innings against Thursday. "I was able to get my work in, throw pitches and be able to use all four pitches, but I was just leaving the ball up in the zone and they were hitting it."
Two of the runs came off Andrew McCutchen's first-inning homer, and Pittsburgh added another pair of runs in the third with doubles from McCutchen and Gaby Sanchez. Neil Walker picked up an RBI on an infield hit that first baseman Travis Ishikawa dove to stop, but found no one covering the bag.
Matusz waited quite a while to take the mound after the Orioles plated eight runs in the top of the first inning, but didn't use that as an excuse. The 26-year-old also didn't think that the heightened competition, in which Arrieta is the frontrunner, means he has to pitch better than he normally would.
"I feel like every time I go out there I want to be the best I can be, stay within myself, and today, I didn't do that," Matusz said.
Matusz has a 4.26 ERA in six spring games -- four starts -- while Arrieta has a 1.56 ERA in five games -- four starts -- and will next pitch Tuesday in a Minor League game. Right-handers Steve Johnson and Jair Jurrjens, along with Rule 5 Draft pick T.J. McFarland, are still in the mix for the final rotation spot, and Matusz is expected to be in the bullpen if he doesn't make the starting five.
Jurrjens impresses O's with spring improvements
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jair Jurrjens threw a side session Sunday at the Orioles' spring complex, and manager Buck Showalter singled out the right-hander as someone who improved this spring, with the organization encouraged by his recent results.
"Jurrjens has come a long way with some of the strength stuff and whatever," Showalter said. "He seems to be ... he's got a little better base, he's rotating on a little more. When he first got here, his recovery was a challenge the next day. It's not much of an issue now. A lot of the stuff they are doing has done good. There's nobody in our camp that has his track record at 27 as far as wins and losses and stuff."
Jurrjens signed a Minor League deal with the Orioles after his physical caused concerns over his right knee. He allowed six earned runs in his first three outings -- a 5 2/3-innings stretch -- but allowed only one in eight innings since. He has worked hard with pitching coach Rick Adair to get back to his pre-injury mechanics.
"I'm getting more relaxed and confident on the mound every time I go out there," said Jurrjens, who threw five scoreless innings Friday against the Rays. "I'm not going to try to think about [making the team], I'm just going to go out there and do my job, and let the ones who make the decisions make the decisions."
Jurrjens has an outside shot of breaking camp with the team, but will most likely be in Triple-A Norfolk's rotation. He could certainly be an option for the big league team sooner rather than later. His opt-out clause does not kick in for a few months, and the organization has been encouraged with how he's rebounded from a shaky start this spring.
"He's been able to throw the ball down in the strike zone," executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. "He feels more comfortable in his delivery and he's thrown much better than he threw last year, for example. And he looks more like the year before."
For Jurrjens, having the peace of mind of finally being healthy has been a welcome change this spring.
"You just need to worry about throwing strikes now," he said with a smile. "You don't need to be like, 'Oh, is he going to hurt his knee?' No. Now I can just concentrate on the hitter and that's it."
Orioles swap Minor Leaguers with Phillies
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Orioles acquired right-handed pitcher Julio Rodriguez from the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday afternoon in exchange for outfielder Ronnie Welty.
Rodriguez is a 22-year-old prospect who went 7-7 with a 4.23 ERA for Double-A Reading last year, allowing 121 hits and 76 walks with 136 strikeouts over 134 innings. He is expected to start the season with Double-A Bowie.
"He has all the ingredients you look for in a young pitcher -- size, arm, stuff," executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said of Rodriguez. "And he has the results, also."
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Rodriguez pitched in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game last year and was named to the Eastern League All-Star team. He was the Phillies 17th-best prospect in 2011, according to Baseball America.
Welty, 25, hit .333 with 13 homers and 55 RBIs in 213 at-bats over four levels last year, maxing out at Double-A, where he hit .286 in 37 games.
• Trayvon Robinson exited Sunday's game against the Pirates with a lower back strain and is considered day to day. Robinson hit an RBI single, then left in favor of a pinch-runner.
• Outfielder Nick Markakis took batting practice as expected Sunday at the team's spring facility in Sarasota, Fla., as he continues to progress toward playing in games.
• Right-hander Chris Tillman, slowed this spring by abdominal soreness, threw 62 pitches over four innings Sunday in a Minor League game and received positive reports.
• The Blake High School baseball team in Montgomery County, Md., will have a No. 4 stitched into this year's hats to honor Orioles manager and Hall of Famer Earl Weaver, who passed away in January.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.