FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Orioles pitcher Zach Britton is well aware this is a big spring for him, as the 26-year-old is out of Minor League options and is facing what could be the end of his time in the organization should he not make the Opening Day roster.
That's why Friday's spring debut was so encouraging for Britton, who was clocked consistently at 92 mph, ranging from 90-93 with command of his trademark sinker. Britton allowed one run, on a base hit to third base, over two innings against the Rays and -- as manager Buck Showalter pointed out later -- it very easily could have been a scoreless outing.
"You can tell by the way the hitters are swinging the bat where your stuff is and what you need to improve on," said Britton, who has been working with strings on a bullpen mound to help improve his command. "My sinker movement was great. Either they swung and missed at it or they hit it into the ground, which was great, especially this early in camp. Slider, they were both really sharp. I only threw two, [and they had] good action."
Britton wasn't pleased with his leadoff walk and said his four-seamer command is still something he wants to improve, "but it was a good first step" as he vies for the Orioles' final rotation spot.
Last spring, Britton's velocity was down -- in the upper 80s -- and he struggled with command. He went 2-3 with a 4.95 ERA in eight games, seven starts, for the O's last year, and the left-hander is trying to recapture the form that saw him go 5-1 with a 2.63 ERA through his first six big league starts in 2011.
If he doesn't make the rotation, the Orioles could put him in the bullpen as a long man, although that call won't be made on Britton -- and others who are being stretched out -- for another few weeks.
For now, Britton will continue to use the strings for his in-between sessions, and hopes to build on Friday's start.
"I'm seeing a big difference on my sinker command," he said. "My four-seamer, I can still improve it, but my sinker I was able to command on both sides of the plate [Friday]."
Rule 5 pick Almanzar seeing time at third base
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Orioles have kept their past two Rule 5 Draft picks, but it's going to be tough to make it a third consecutive time with infielder Michael Almanzar.
Baltimore, which selected Almanzar this winter from the Red Sox, has made a host of moves this spring and the 23-year-old has to be on the Opening Day roster -- and stay there -- or else the O's must offer him back.
Given the uncertainty around Manny Machado for Opening Day, Almanzar will get most of his reps this spring at third base. It's the position at which he feels most comfortable, though the Orioles told him he also will be used at first base and designated hitter.
"Right now, third," manager Buck Showalter said of where he looks to slot Almanzar. "You're thinking about how you are going to keep him. We will run him over there some later on. I want to get a good feel for him at third base.
"Manny is going to get back at some point. So you got to think not only that but beyond. ... So far, I've seen there's a possibility [of keeping Almanzar], but we will see. I'm reminded a little more every day, you can see why we thought so highly of him. He's a very talented kid."
Showalter also managed Almanzar's father, Carlos, in Texas, and Almanzar said his dad had just one piece of advice regarding his new manager.
"He said just to do the right things the right way," Almanzar said. "I feel very good here. He's a very good manager, my dad said."
Matusz's trip for wart removal postponed
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Brian Matusz pitched well in his spring debut, allowing two hits over two scoreless innings to a lineup full of Red Sox regulars on Sunday afternoon.
"I felt excited to be able to get back out there on the mound again and get started being able to start from the windup," said Matusz, who threw 18 of 35 pitches for strikes. "I felt like in the first inning, I was a bit overexcited and I wasn't exactly hitting the spots like I wanted to, but overall I felt good. I was able to throw all four pitches and fortunately had a good changeup today. That was the key to be able to be successful and get out of two innings.
"And I thought [Steve] Clevenger did a great job behind the plate. [He] called a good game and also did a good job of slowing the game down when we needed to, by stepping out, coming in and talking, things like that. Overall, it was a good first start."
The left-hander could get another start in before a trip to Philadelphia is rescheduled. Matusz has a wart (on the side of his left middle finger) that needs to be removed, and he was slated to travel with catcher Michael Ohlman, who also is dealing with the same issue on his throwing hand. They'll both still make the trip, but there's no definite date, with a winter storm up north causing the team to cancel the flight scheduled for Monday morning.
"Fortunately, it's not in a spot that's affecting games and practices right now," Matusz said. "Hopefully, we will be able to get things lined up with my pitching schedule, the weather and the doctor's schedule and get this thing taken care of."
Two minutes with ... catcher Clevenger
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The "Two Minutes with" series focuses on local product Steve Clevenger, who is seeking the backup catcher's role. Clevenger, acquired in the midseason trade from the Cubs that also netted the Orioles now-departed starter Scott Feldman, is competing along with Johnny Monell for the spot behind Matt Wieters.
Clevenger, 27, is from Baltimore and grew up attending games at Camden Yards.
Favorite food: Steak. I'm a rib-eye kind of guy. I like a lot of fatty meat on my steak.
Favorite movie: The Halloween [series]. The original ones. I'm a scary-movie guy.
Hidden talent: I'm pretty good at video games. I'm a Zelda guy, I like old-school games.
If I wasn't a baseball player, I'd be … : A professional fisherman. I watch the shows every Saturday morning and stuff. I'm an outdoorsman.
Favorite offseason place: Panama City, Fla. You go there, it's warmer than Maryland, and we do some fishing. We go a couple times a year. My wife is from there.
Prized possession: Definitely would be my Cal Ripken signed baseball. I've had it since I was about 8 or 9 years old. I got it down at the stadium, finally. I only got one autograph from him out of all the times I went to the stadium. So, I would say it's my prized possession.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.