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Orioles set for spring training

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The Baltimore Orioles are ready to get into the swing of things with the start of spring training as the club hopes to get back to the playoffs after a disappointing 2012 season.

It should be an interesting camp because the O's decided to load up on a bunch of players cast aside by other clubs in the offseason, meaning there will be a real fight for the final few spots on the Opening Day roster.

The position battles that will be most interesting are second base, the final spot or two in the starting rotation, closer, left field and DH, along with the final couple of bench spots.

Ryan Flaherty appears to be the leading candidate at second base, but his versatility in the field and inconsistency at the plate makes him a perfect fit in a utility role. The O's like the pop in his bat, but he needs to hit on a consistent basis. Jemile Weeks, Alexi Casilla and Jonathan Schoop will also figure into the position battle. The club would love to see Schoop break out and grab the job, which would allow them to use Flaherty in the utility role, but it's more likely that he will head to Triple-A for more seasoning after missing extensive time last year with a back injury.

The Orioles replaced Nate McLouth with David Lough, which fans took as a sign that the club would go after a significant free agent or trade for a quality left-fielder. That didn't happen, leaving the O's with Lough, a younger, cheaper, less established version of McLouth. The club also signed Delmon Young, who is more likely competing for time as a DH than a left fielder. Nolan Reimold is once again an option, but playing him in the outfield would make him more likely to get injured and he can never stay healthy in the first place.

The DH battle is once again looking more like a right-left platoon in an effort to save money and optimize the matchups, though the plan turned into a disaster in 2012. Young, Reimold, and a host of others will battle for time against southpaws while it remains to be seen who will fight for plate appearances against right-handed pitchers.

As for other position battles, it appears like Tommy Hunter will get first crack at taking over for Jim Johnson as the team's closer. The Orioles are also in need of a fifth starter. Kevin Gausman is the favorite to land the job, but Zach Britton is out of options and in the mix. Brian Matusz will also get another opportunity to start in spring training, but he just seems better suited for a relief role. Suk-min Yoon is also in the mix, and it remains to be seen who else the team will sign.

The other major story in spring training will be the health of Manny Machado, who is said to be almost two months ahead of schedule in his recovery from knee surgery. Given that encouraging news, the O's have to be at least somewhat optimistic that Machado will be in the lineup on Opening Day, or at least not long thereafter. The Orioles will certainly be ultra-conservative with their prized third baseman, but if he's ready to play, he will be in the lineup.

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