SARASOTA, Fla. — — Before the Orioles' Grapefruit League opener Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays at Ed Smith Stadium, manager Dave Trembley acknowledged that he was eager to get a glimpse of Josh Bell, the organization's top position prospect.
Trembley saw exactly what he was hoping to see. The young third baseman launched a home run from each side of the plate and drove in three runs as the Orioles got their exhibition season and their long-term stay in Sarasota off to a good start with a 12-2 victory.
Jeremy Guthrie, the Orioles' projected No. 2 starter, turned in two solid innings. Nick Markakis looked in midseason form with a homer and a double, and first baseman Rhyne Hughes, whom the Orioles got late last season from the Rays for veteran catcher Gregg Zaun, hit two home runs.
However, it was Bell, the 23-year-old who was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers last July in the George Sherrill trade, who garnered the most attention, and rightly so as the Orioles envision the switch-hitter as their third baseman of the future.
For one day, the future didn't look so far away.
"Sometimes you have one of those days," said Bell, who hit .289 with nine homers and 24 RBIs in 33 games for Double-A Bowie last season after the trade. "I felt good. I was trying to hit the ball hard."
Bell, hitting from the left side, drove a 2-2 fastball from Matt Garza over the right-center-field fence in the third inning. He hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning, and then, from the right side, he pounded left-hander Heath Phillips' first-pitch fastball over the left-field wall in the sixth.
"Josh Bell had a heck of a day," Trembley said. "Nice to see him do it in a game. We've seen it in batting practice. It's nice to have him in black and orange instead of blue and white [Dodgers colors]."
Trembley started most of his regulars Wednesday, including catcher Matt Wieters, shortstop Cesar Izturis, third baseman Miguel Tejada and an outfield of Adam Jones, Markakis and Luke Scott. Bell's inclusion in the lineup as the designated hitter, over Felix Pie, Ty Wigginton and Nolan Reimold, among others, was somewhat surprising.
"When I walked in and I saw my name [on the lineup card], I got amped up a little bit," Bell said. "Just being over here is a good feeling. I think I've been smiling ever since I've been here. Hopefully, there are more days to come like this."
When the Orioles signed Tejada to a one-year deal this offseason, Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail essentially acknowledged that Bell will probably be held at Triple-A Norfolk this year. That was initially the plan for Markakis before the 2006 season, and the outfielder forced the hands of team officials with a dynamic spring.
Could the same happen with Bell? Judging by MacPhail's words and history, the answer is absolutely not, though Bell could at least give people plenty to talk about in what has been an uneventful spring training camp to this point.
"I hope he makes [the decision] tough," Trembley said. "Good for him. That's what they're all here for. They should all be here trying to make the Opening Day roster, every one of them."
Regardless of how long he remains at major league camp, it should be time well spent for Bell, who has already had extensive opportunities to work with hitting coach Terry Crowley.
"He's a big guy, an imposing figure in the batter's box," Crowley said of Bell, 6 feet 3 and 220 pounds. "When he hits the ball, it jumps off his bat. All young players have to shorten [their swing] up a little bit as they go along and as they try to raise their game to excel at the major league level. He's working on it. He did well today. He took everything that we've ever talked about right out on the field."
Bell hit .349 with eight homers and 19 RBIs as a left-handed hitter for Bowie, compared with .129 with one homer and five RBIs from the right side. Those numbers were even more pronounced last season during his time with Chattanooga, the Dodgers' Double-A affiliate. Still, the Orioles have no plans to ask Bell to abandon switch-hitting.
"Anytime I've gotten negative criticism about anything, I just take it as a motivator to work harder," Bell said. "Last year, I never really got comfortable right-handed. It just made me work that much harder this offseason. I know I can do it, and I want to continue to improve."
Wednesday was a good start.