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O's gear up for first Spring Training test

Tillman leads Baltimore vs. Rays as players look to settle position battles

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles will officially open spring play on Friday, with a pair of intrasquad games and a recent flurry of activity -- in signing pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez, Suk-min Yoon and outfielder Nelson Cruz -- giving even more excitement to the start of actual Grapefruit League games.

"It's good," O's manager Buck Showalter said after Thursday's 4 1/2-inning contest, a lighthearted affair that ended with video coordinator Mike Silverman serving as the home-plate umpire. "We're ready to take the next step."

Orioles right-hander and potential Opening Day starter Chris Tillman will take the mound on Friday (1:05 p.m. ET, live on Gameday Audio) and pitch two innings. He will be followed by lefty Zach Britton, who is competing for a rotation spot and will start an important spring campaign against the Tampa Bay Rays.

"It is exciting; it will hit me more tomorrow," Tillman said of starting spring play. "I think it will be good just to get back out there. Throwing live BP and throwing to your own team, it's kind of tough to get that adrenaline flowing. But you got to get that feel and get back in the swing of things. There's no better way to do it than start tomorrow."

Former Orioles lefty Erik Bedard will make his Rays debut when he starts at Charlotte Sports Park, and Bedard is competing for a rotation spot. Also in the competition for the No. 5 starter job -- and scheduled to pitch Friday -- are right-handers Jake Odorizzi and Nathan Karns.

The O's, who have spring battles most notably in the rotation, bullpen, second base and backup catcher, have their home opener on Saturday, and Cruz is slated to make his debut. Cruz, who spoke with Showalter about wanting to play the outfield this spring, wasn't sure on Thursday whether that would be the case for Saturday.

Miguel Gonzalez will start Saturday's game, with Jimenez scheduled to make his Orioles debut on March 7. Wei-Yin Chen is also expected to be part of the rotation with Bud Norris, who is a leading contender for the fifth spot, and both of those pitchers will make their respective spring debuts next week.

There will be plenty of intrigue around the Orioles this spring, but as Showalter cautioned reporters, success in Spring Training doesn't always translate into the regular season. Still, it never hurts to make an impression, and top infield prospect Jonathan Schoop has done that with homers in each of the intrasquad games. Schoop is competing for a second base job and has arrived at camp more comfortable and with added strength.

"Obviously, all the baby fat is gone and it looks like all the growth platelets have closed," Showalter said. "Jon's in a good place. I think he's had some very good role models. And as I've said before with Jonathan, it's a matter of when, not if. That's what we'll try to judge here."

The same sentiment applies to pitcher Kevin Gausman, who will try to crack the rotation. The organization's top pitching prospect along with Dylan Bundy -- whose rehab from Tommy John surgery will be closely monitored -- Gausman is in the Orioles' plans this season and will try to force their hand soon.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.

Baltimore Orioles