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It was a beautiful day for baseball today in the Valley of the Sun. The Grand Canyon Rafters hosted the Scottsdale Scorpions at Surprise Stadium, the spring training home of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Chiefs. The game started out as a blowout when Royals first overall pick Luke Hochevar gave up 7 runs in only 2 1/3 innings of work. However, the Rafters never gave up and came from behind to win it in the bottom of the ninth, 9-8. All three Oriole position players were in the lineup today for the unbeaten Rafters. Jeff Fiorentino was the DH and hit out of the third spot in the lineup. Nolan Reimold started in right field and batted fifth. Former number one pick Bryan Bass opened the day at second base and hit ninth. Since rosters were originally announced, the Orioles have sent catcher Ryan Hubele and first baseman Dustin Yount to Arizona as members of the Rafters taxi squad; which means they work out with the team, but cannot play except on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If an opening comes about on any team in the league, members of the taxi squad can become members of that team and play any day of the week. Hubele started last season as a taxi squader, but was moved to the Scorpions when one of their catchers went down with an injury. Today, Hubele suffered the most common fate of a taxi squad catcher, spending the day warming up pitchers in the bullpen.
Brian Finch also got into the game today as a relief pitcher. He entered the game to start the sixth inning by sprinting in from the right field bullpen. After working from the stretch position exclusively, my thought was that Finch was being converted to a relief role. Given the current situation in the Orioles pen and his reliance on his power sinker, the move makes perfect sense. However, on his way to the showers, Finch told me that he was still a starter. Coach Kennie Steenstra confirmed this sentiment after the game and went on to explain that Finch was just getting some work in as he had thrown a lot of pitches in a game a few days ago. Finch gave up a lead off home run to White Sox prospect David Cook. Finch had him in a 2-2 count when Cook started fouling off pitches. Cook fought off two straight then Finch tried to throw a fastball by him. It landed over the center field fence, 405 feet away. Finch finished his one inning of work after throwing 25 pitches to six batters. He gave up one hit and one run, walked two batters and did not strike out anyone. To be fair, he seemed to settle into a nice rhythm after the home run until the umpire broke it for him by calling a time out to close the fence on the left field line. Odd call, I thought, the gate had been open the entire game to that point. Finch's early struggles might be a concern if the Orioles do eventually switch Finch to relief work, but it's nothing that is likely to prevent such a move long-term.
Fiorentino went 2-4, both of his knocks being doubles off the right field wall. I felt he had a third hit, when he nailed a smoking grounder to the left of shortstop Andy Gonzalez. The ball was hit so hard that Gonzales could not handle it. I scored it an infield hit, but the official scorer felt it was an error. Fio also walked once, drove in a run and scored three times for the Rafters. He's looking extremely polished here, carrying a .500 batting average and a discerning eye at the plate. He was on top of every pitch he saw and was fooled only one time in the top of the ninth; when he looked to be expecting a 0-1 fastball, only to take a swing at a curveball instead. Fiorentino has easily been the most impressive of the Orioles' contingent thus far.
Reimold also scored a run, walked twice and struck out on a 2 strike fastball which looked low to me, but was too close to take with in a pitcher's count. Otherwise, he hit the ball hard but failed to elevate the ball.
Bryan Bass had an error in the field and went 0-2 at the plate. He struck out looking twice and walked once. He is still looking for his first AFL hit.
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