FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Steve Johnson's start on Thursday is in jeopardy, as the right-hander -- who had his original start already pushed back a day -- has been slowed dealing with a lower back injury.
"He's got some discomfort there," manager Buck Showalter said, "He's getting closer."
Given how late it is in camp, it's probably safe to say that Johnson, who had an outside shot to break with the Opening Day team, will likely start the season with Triple-A Norfolk.
The Orioles are also mulling over whether to place right-hander Chris Tillman on the disabled list to start the season. The stint would be backdated to his last spring start, which was March 3. The team has floated the idea to Tillman, who is a little behind after dealing with some abdominal soreness, and a move would open another roster spot.
It could also allow the Orioles to keep Rule 5 Draft pick T.J. McFarland, who Showalter confirmed will likely only make the team in a long relief role. That would free up right-hander Tommy Hunter, should he make the club, to be used in another role, and also give them two lefties -- Brian Matusz and Troy Patton -- to use in the later innings.
"If that's the direction we go," Showalter cautioned reporters. "That's still a tough bite. I just don't know if we are going to be able to take [McFarland]. It's going to be close. Have to get some help from other organizations [and potentially make a trade]. I don't know."
Hunter allowed three earned runs in 1 1/3 innings in relief on Tuesday.
The Orioles need a fifth starter only once before April 21 and could use their early off-days to manipulate the rotation with four pitchers to create another roster spot. Matusz, who has been stretched out as a starter this spring, could be a candidate to make a spot start if they go that route, which would involve putting Tillman on the DL.
Jake Arrieta appears to be the guy who will win the rotation spot with Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez also penciled in. However, if he's deemed healthy, Tillman, who is out of options, will be in the rotation.
Gausman pleased with big league experience
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If Tuesday was Orioles prospect Kevin Gausman's final spring game, the 22-year-old will leave his first Major League Spring Training with a lot of experience and a good impression on an organization that selected him as the fourth overall pick in last year's First-Year Player Draft.
"He's pretty polished," manager Buck Showalter said of the right-hander, who was drafted out of Louisiana State. "You can see why he was so coveted.
"We felt like he was getting something out of it and he was competitive with it. He didn't seem like he was a fish out of water or over his head."
Gausman, who allowed three runs over 3 2/3 innings in Tuesday's start against the Twins, pitched to a 3.94 ERA in seven spring games, lasting until the final week of Spring Training. The long look, particularly when the Orioles sent fellow top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy down on March 16, was a surprise even for Gausman.
"To be honest, I thought I was going to be in big league camp for maybe a week or two," Gausman said. "Right after [Dylan] Bundy left, I thought, 'Alright, a couple more days.' But I'm definitely happy with it. Don't get me wrong, it's been a blast. I definitely wasn't expecting it."
Using a fastball that topped out at 97 mph, Gausman showcased his stellar changeup on Tuesday and picked up three strikeouts on an incredibly windy afternoon. He threw 69 pitches, 50 strikes, and scattered six hits with no walks. Gausman pitched 16 innings this spring, allowing seven runs on 17 hits and six walks with 17 strikeouts.
"I've learned a lot," Gausman said of his experience in camp. "Probably learned more in my 'pens and things like that then the games. Things happen in the game that you can't really control. But I've learned so much, pounding the strike zone, keeping guys off balance -- guys at this level, you can make great pitches and they are going to hit doubles. So, not much you can do about that.
"It was fun to be around, a fun group of guys. I would say most of these guys are pretty young and that's why it was so much fun to be around them. You don't get any guys who have huge heads or don't want to talk to you because you are the rookie. Stuff like that. It's been awesome on the field. It's been fun to just face guys that I watched on TV last year, and having some success against them is definitely good going forward."
Gausman is expected to start the season at Double-A Bowie, but he and Bundy could be options for the big league club at some point in 2013. Asked if it will be a letdown to be reassigned to Minor League camp, he said: "Yeah, of course. But I really wasn't expecting to make the team. But, going forward, I guess I will see what happens. I definitely won't have any bad taste in my mouth or anything like that."
Ford reassigned to Minor League camp
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Orioles reassigned outfielder Lew Ford to Minor League camp prior to Tuesday's game, whittling the spring roster to 37 as the Opening Day team starts to take shape.
"Obviously some of the dynamics of it changed yesterday," manager Buck Showalter said, referring to Wilson Betemit's right knee injury, which gives Ryan Flaherty a spot and opens up another reserve role.
"So there's some moving parts right now, ball's in the air. We will see. Lew has got a chance to help us again. Things have a way of changing very quickly…I'm hoping we can have him at Triple-A and get some at-bats for him. Obviously one more spot was created at [Triple-A] Norfolk yesterday because someone won't go down there."
The Orioles have nine non-roster invitees and the leading candidates for the final bench spot are Steve Pearce and Conor Jackson, both of whom could play first base and outfield, if needed.
Ford's reassignment, and the wealth of outfielders in Orioles camp this spring, will require a little roster maneuvering, and it's not out of the question for executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to try to swing a trade involving one of them. Showalter would prefer to not go with a short bench, which would give them an extra pitcher, to start the season.
"It's five into seven now," Showalter said, referring to the numbers game with outfielders slated to play at Norfolk. "Still contemplating how they are going to do it. It's a good problem, but it's a challenge."
Ford was 15-for-37 (.405) with three doubles, two homers and six RBIs in 17 spring games.
• Jim Johnson and Darren O'Day threw at the Minor League complex on Tuesday to give the pair of relievers back-to-back outings. Arrieta started and went six innings. He is slated to throw again on Sunday, the team's off-day.
• Mark Hendrickson will not stay in extended spring and the lefty, who is working on a new sidearm delivery, is still in camp and an outside option to make the club, according to Showalter. If he doesn't, Hendrickson could be assigned to Triple-A Norfolk or Double-A Bowie, which is a lot closer to his York, Pa., home.
• Gonzalez will start Saturday's game against the Mets.
• Showalter said outfielder/infielder Russ Canzler is not an option to return to camp, but raved about Canzler as a person and player. He is expected to start for Triple-A Norfolk.
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.