Despite having yet to throw a Grapefruit League game pitch this spring, Orioles right-hander Tommy Hunter came out of his four-inning Single-A minor league game Friday confident he will be healthy and ready for Opening Day.
Hunter, who entered the spring as a top-of-the-rotation candidate, threw 60 pitches and said he threw all four of his pitches for strikes.
"I'm ready to go," Hunter said. "I'm good to go right now. You could throw me out there for five innings and I'll be all right."
He's slated to make his Grapefruit League debut Wednesday at home in Sarasota, Fla., against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Hunter, who is looking to rebound from a season in which he missed the first three months and was 3-3 with a 5.06 ERA in 12 games after joining the Orioles from the Rangers at the trade deadline, said he's feeling more comfortable this spring than he has in the past three years.
"A lot more," he said. "Just with what I have right now, how I feel. I feel a lot better. We're just going to take one day at a time. Just more relaxed, I guess. I know I'm getting my work in, and I know what I'm doing. I'm comfortable with that.
"I think I'm right around where you should be on pitch count. The way I feel, the way the ball's coming out of my hand, feels great. It can only get better from there."
First start for Machado
Top hitting prospect Manny Machado made his first start in an exhibition game Saturday in Fort Myers in a split-squad contest against the Boston Red Sox, batting ninth and playing shortstop. The 19-year-old was even more excited when he found out he would be facing right-hander Josh Beckett, who was a star with the Florida Marlins while Machado was growing up in Miami.
"At first, it's great to see this guy pitch. I have seen him since I was a little kid," said Machado, who was the Orioles' first-round pick (third overall) in 2010. "And now to be facing him at a young age, it's a great pleasure. And hopefully I'll keep seeing him down the road."
Machado faced Beckett just once, grounding out to shortstop on five pitches.
"He kind of fooled me on the first pitch," Machado said. "He threw me a changeup, and I was thinking fastball. After that, I was just going up there and seeing the ball and hitting it."
Machado walked in his next two plate appearances against Ross Ohlendorf and Junichi Tazawa. He has one hit in eight at-bats this spring training.
"Great experience," Machado said. "I felt good out there, and I thought I had some good quality at-bats."
Beckett laughed when he was told that Machado grew up watching him pitch.
"Really? That means I'm getting old," Beckett, 31, joked. "I guess he wasn't a Josh Beckett fan because he was sure taking some hard swings."
Chen tough despite long ball
Orioles manager Buck Showalter called left-hander Wei-Yin Chen's five-inning, three-run performance against the Red Sox split-squad team in Sarasota one of team's "better outings this spring."
"We gave up a wind-aided fly ball, and other than that, he has five shutout innings," Showalter said of Chen. "He threw real well. He was sharp with his command. I like where he is right now. He's getting a little better every time out. He's starting to get more comfortable."
Chen, who allowed six hits, struck out three and walked one, made one mistake, a high pitch to Orioles 2003 fifth-round pick Nate Spears, who took it over the right-field fence for a three-run homer in the fifth.
Chen also made two inning-ending pickoff moves at first — nabbing Pedro Ciriaco in the second and catching Adrian Gonzalez in the fourth. He also nearly picked Ryan Lavarnway off second base in the fifth just before Spears' homer.
Showalter said Chen has been working with pitching coach Rick Adair on his pickoff move.
"I'm surprised myself, too," Chen said through translator Tim Lin. "In Japan, I didn't pick off a lot. Here, that's a new experience for me. Those are things I'm still learning."
The Orioles and Red Sox tied at 3 after 10 innings.
Markakis gets first hits
Nick Markakis, coming back from offseason abdominal surgery, made his second Grapefruit League start at designated hitter and was 2-for-3 in Sarasota. He hit a check-swing, opposite-field single over the shortstop in the fourth and stroked a double down the right-field line in the sixth.
One of Markakis' big keys Saturday was being able to run the bases. On his double, he nearly missed first base but came into second base standing up.
"He was smiling," Showalter said. "He was pretty happy to get that out of the way. He's certainly not looking in the dugout for a pinch-runner."
Markakis will make his first start in right field Tuesday at home against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Around the horn
Adam Jones and Nick Johnson each had two hits in in Sarasota. … Kevin Gregg, Jim Johnson, Matt Lindstrom, Pedro Strop and Zach Phillips each threw scoreless innings in that game. … In Fort Myers, right-hander Armando Galarraga, who is hoping to make the club after missing much of last season because of injury, tired after a solid early performance and ended up allowing four runs in four innings at JetBlue Park. … In Fort Myers, the Orioles scored one run — on Wilson Betemit's RBI single — in five innings against Beckett. They added three runs in the eighth on RBI singles by Cory Aldridge and Matt Antonelli and a sacrifice fly by Xavier Avery. … Right-hander Darren O'Day (groin) threw a bullpen session off a half-mound. … Right-hander Jason Berken (hamstring) threw a bullpen session from a full mound and said he will have one more before getting into a game.
Encina reported from Sarasota. Connolly reported from Fort Myers.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times