Casilla: "Just-in-case guy" is back for Orioles

Casilla: "Just-in-case guy" is back for Orioles
January 11, 2014, 8:30 am
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Hall of Fame voter Mark Zuckerman on the 2014 class

On Friday night, the Orioles re-signed one of the more popular players in last year’s clubhouse. Perhaps this year, he’ll be used more often.

Alexi Casilla was re-signed to a minor league contract with a spring training invitation, but he wouldn’t have been added if the Orioles didn’t feel he was going north with them.

Casilla had a $3 million option for 2014, one that was swiftly declined last fall, and the team let him declare for free agency. Obviously, there wasn’t much demand for him.

After hearing wonderful things about Casilla from Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, Buck Showalter was eager to see him at work.

Even with Brian Roberts out for the first half of the season, Casilla rarely played, but by the end of the season Showalter lauded him for being a superior teammate and lamented that he wished he could have played him more.

He may have that opportunity in 2014.

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Roberts is gone. Manny Machado’s status for the season’s initial weeks is in question and until Casilla’s addition, Jemile Weeks looked to be the favorite for the backup infielder’s job.

It’s apparent the Orioles want Jonathan Schoop to spend some more time at Norfolk, and Ryan Flaherty is going to be the second baseman. That’s unless Machado’s surgically repaired knee isn’t right on March 31.

Then, Flaherty could be the third baseman, and Casilla might slid in at second.

Casilla committed a hideous baserunning gaffe last season. He took off from first with Flaherty at bat, sure that the ball would drop in. It was a routine fly ball, and the game ended with Casilla in shock at third base, easily doubled off.

He only hit .214, and though he has a success rate of nearly 90 percent in steals, tried to run only 11 times. (He was successful nine times.)

But, Casilla was always there as insurance. His other ghastly moment came in the same game Machado was injured. Casilla, who pinch ran for Machado, collided with Nick Markakis and suffered a concussion.

He stayed in the game for an inning and convincing Showalter and the trainers he was fine. Showalter was upset with himself for not pulling Casilla immediately and his season ended.

Now Casilla is back, and he’ll probably have a similar role to last year. “I’m the just-in-case guy,” he said in 2013.

Casilla’s signing was the second of the week. Knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa also got an invitation to spring training with his minor league contract. Zach Clark, who is also learning the knuckleball and had a 3-15 record and 7.84 ERA, got the minor league contract without the spring training invite.

A few familiar names got minor league contracts elsewhere this week. Chris Dickerson is going to the Pirates, Taylor Teagarden the Mets, and Luis Exposito hooked on with Detroit. Matt Angle, who played 31 games for the Orioles in 2011, signed with Miami.