Orioles end spring schedule with loss to Blue Jays

Lee goes 3-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI in club's 7-4 defeat

March 29, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles' likely Opening Day lineup and several members of their projected bullpen got a final tune-up for the regular season in a 7-4 loss Tuesday afternoon to the Toronto Blue Jays in front of an announced crowd of 5,522 at Ed Smith Stadium.

Veteran first baseman Derrek Lee went 3-for-4 with two doubles and his first spring RBI, catcher Matt Wieters had two hits, including an RBI double, and Brian Roberts and Vladimir Guerrero each drove in runs in the losing effort.

"I have been starting to feel a little better the last couple of days and it definitely felt good. I'm seeing the ball good," said Lee, whose spring was delayed as he recovered from offseason thumb surgery and then wrist and foot pain during the spring. "All is well that ends well. It was my first surgery, I didn't know what to expect coming off of it. I'm kind of right on schedule from what the doctor told me. I am ready to go for Opening Day."

With the loss, the Orioles finished their Grapefruit League schedule with a 15-15-2 mark. They'll have a workout Wednesday afternoon before boarding buses and making the 45-minute drive to St. Petersburg, where they'll start the 2011 season Friday night at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays.

"I feel good about where we are," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We had a list of things we wanted to accomplish. We had some challenges, health-wise, but we're back on track now. We weren't fully expecting that. If you had told me we were going to be where we are physically going over to Tampa, I would have signed up for it in blood."

Minor league left-hander Chris George started the game, but it was mostly carried by several members of the Opening Day bullpen. Koji Uehara, Kevin Gregg, Michael Gonzalez and Jason Berken all turned in scoreless innings, combining to allow no hits and one walk while striking out six over four innings.

However, Josh Rupe, who made the club on the strength of not allowing an earned run in his first 13 2/3 innings, was touched for two runs and four hits in an inning of work. Blue Jays first baseman Adam Lind tied the game at four in the seventh inning on an opposite-field homer off Rupe, and then former Oriole farmhand Mike McCoy gave Toronto the lead for good with an RBI single later in the frame.

The loss did little to mar what was a hugely-successful first year at remodeled Ed Smith Stadium. The Orioles attracted 115,506 fans in 16 home dates, including 10 sellouts. That was both an Orioles franchise record for spring attendance and an Ed Smith Stadium record. It broke the previous record of 115,372, set in 1994 by the Chicago White Sox, whose spring roster included then retired basketball legend Michael Jordan.

"We were talking about it in the dugout the other day, the support, the attendance. It's been a great atmosphere. You're sitting in the clubhouse, and all of a sudden you walk through there and you can see everybody here," Showalter said. "It's meant a lot to us. I hope it grows. I was talking to [Brady Anderson]. He said he's starting to see a lot of people here from Baltimore that used to come years ago. I'm hoping word gets around about what a great facility we have. Hopefully the presentation we make with the fans, it'll grow more and more."

There will be more changes to the stadium in the coming weeks. The clubhouse building, which houses a major and minor league locker room, executive offices and the weight room, will be completely remodeled, and there will be extensive work done on the backfields.

"It's a testament to the city and all the things that [Orioles owner Peter Angelos] has done to put us in this position," Showalter said. "We know it's not free, but it's eliminated a real challenge for us. It's only going to get better and better, too, when you see the plans for some of the facility, the fields in the back."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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