Wieters, Hammel, Showalter discuss deep O's rotation

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Jake Arrieta made a strong statement for the fifth rotation spot on Thursday night, tossing six scoreless innings and striking out nine in a Grapefruit League start against the Pirates.

"[It was] a lot more efficient, " said Arrieta, who had eight strikeouts working from the stretch and was able to work deep in the game. "I think it was one thing I needed to clean up a little bit, was to be better at getting ahead of guys and putting them away when I'm in favorable counts. So, I did a better job of that today."

Last year's Opening Day starter, Arrieta cruised through four innings and pitched out of the only jam of the night in the fifth. After issuing a leadoff walk and an infield single, Arrieta retired the next three batters, fanning Pedro Alvarez for his eighth strikeout. The 27-year-old right-hander extended his scoreless innings streak to 14 2/3 in the process, allowing six hits while walking two.

"A big thing for me last year was not being able to minimize damage," said Arrieta who went 3-9 with a 6.20 ERA in 18 games last season and has made a conscious effort this spring toward in-game adjustments. "When I got in situations things started to get out of control and I just wasn't able to manage it."

This spring, he has been able to eliminate the big inning. Arrieta, who also pitched in an exhibition game against Spain, has appeared in five spring games (four starts) and has allowed three earned runs on 13 hits and eight walks with 16 strikeouts over 17 1/3 innings.

Thursday's outing conceivably gives Arrieta the edge on the rotation spot, although manager Buck Showalter wasn't willing to tip his hand.

"He's shown me enough to be in the competition," Showalter said of Arrieta, who is considered to be in the mix along with Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson and Zach Britton. "To continue to be in the competition."

"All I can do is go out there and show that I belong on the team," Arrieta said, "And after that, it's their decision."

Markakis cleared to resume baseball activities

Outlook: Markakis put up his best numbers since '09

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Nick Markakis, out for the past three weeks with a small disk herniation in his neck, has been cleared to resume baseball activities and will be on a three-day progression to return to spring games.

"He's going to start hitting off a tee [Friday], start some offensive progression and start throwing," manager Buck Showalter said of Markakis, who spoke with spine specialist Dr. Lee Riley on Thursday. "If everything goes well, you are talking three, four days [away from games]."

Markakis, who last played March 1, has been receiving regular treatment and said prior to Thursday's game that he's back to feeling normal.

"Full range of motion, no pain," Markakis said. "We're right where we want to be."

Slated to be the team's starting right fielder, Markakis has played in at least 160 games in three of the last four seasons. He's played in four games this Grapefruit League season, going 3-for-12 with an RBI and two strikeouts and is "Twin Lakes-bound" as Showalter put it, meaning he will get a lot of at-bats at the team's Minor League complex in order to be ready in time for Opening Day.

Orioles option Valencia to Triple-A Norfolk

SARASOTA, Fla.-- The Orioles optioned infielder Danny Valencia to Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday night, trimming their Major League spring roster down to 44.

Valencia, 28, was acquired from the Red Sox this winter and went 10-for-31 with a homer and 4 RBIs in 17 Grapefruit League games. He is expected to be Norfolk's third baseman.

Valencia hit .188 with a .199 on-base percentage and a .299 slugging percentage in 44 Major League games in 2012 with Boston and Minnesota. He placed third in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting in 2010 and enjoyed his best season in '11, when he hit .246 with 15 home runs and led the Twins with 72 RBIs in 154 games. He also led Major League third basemen that season with 260 assists.

In 326 career plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, Valencia is a .316/.359/.472 hitter, and he posted a .226/.214/.377 line in 56 such plate appearances in the Majors last season.

The O's now have 12 non-roster invitees remaining in camp.