It’s a special day for fans of any baseball team. It’s the beginning of a long 162-game marathon that is the Major League Baseball season.
Each and every one of the 30 teams in MLB begin the new season with a sense of optimism, a clean slate at 0-0.
This season, the Baltimore Orioles begin with a couple of fresh faces and a rejuvenated lineup.
The Orioles began their offseason with patience, their first major signing of Ubaldo Jimenez wasn’t until Feb. 17, 2014. There were many enticing free agents this offseason: Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Nelson Cruz, Kendry Morales…
But in order for the Orioles to sign one of these sought after players, they would have to surrender their first-round pick in the upcoming draft. With the signing of Jimenez, the O’s had made their decision.
Jimenez, a 30-year-old eight-year veteran, will be joining his third major-league club in the Orioles. He is 82-75 in his career with an ERA of 3.92. Last season with the Cleveland Indians, Jimenez finished the season with a 13-9 record, much improved over his 2012 season record of 9-17.
The Birds inked Jimenez, 30, to a four-year contract worth $50M — the largest free agent contract signed by a pitcher in the franchise’s 60-year history.
But the Orioles weren’t done there.
A week later, on Feb. 25, the club signed the aforementioned Cruz to a one-year, $8M deal and the O’s had turned around what was a quiet and disappointing offseason into a good one.
Cruz is a 33-year-old slugger who should add power to an already powerful Orioles lineup — the O’s led the league in home runs last season with 212, the closest club was the Seattle Mariners with 188.
Cruz was suspended 50 games for testing positive for being linked to the Biogenesis case last season. Despite that fact, he still slugged 27 home runs in 109 games for the Texas Rangers.
The O’s open their season with a few interesting storylines.
Second base! (Abbott and Costello reference)
For the first time in a long time, the Orioles will have a new starting second baseman not named Brian Roberts, this time not because of injury.
Roberts signed with the New York Yankees this offseason, meaning the Orioles will likely have Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop platooning as the role of second baseman this year (similarly to last season).
The hot corner, a.k.a. third base!
The largest void in the Orioles lineup will be at third base. Usually filled by Manny Machado, the O’s will likely have Flaherty, Schoop or new-to-the-Orioles, Maryland native, and utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi at the hot corner.
Machado is recovering from his torn medial patella tendon ligament that he suffered on Sep. 23, 2013. Machado will start the new season on the disabled list and is eligible to come off the DL as early as Saturday.
On Dec. 3, 2013 the Orioles traded closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics for Jemile Weeks, meaning Tommy Hunter will likely become the team’s newest closer.
Hunter is a hard-throwing, 27-year old and former starting pitcher who started 25 games for the O’s in 2012. Last season Hunter finished with a 6-5 record, four saves and a 2.81 ERA.
A brand new Orioles season begins this afternoon (weather permitting) at 3 p.m., when the O’s begin a three-game series with the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
Chris Tillman, who led the Orioles last season with 16 wins get the Opening Day nod from manager Buck Showalter. The Red Sox will send Jon Lester to the mound, who is 15-3 lifetime against the Orioles.
Baseball is back!