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O's have experience proving critics wrong

O's have experience proving critics wrong play video for O's have experience proving critics wrong

SARASOTA, Fla. -- You would think that after a season in which they went 93-69, advancing to the American League Division Series, the Baltimore Orioles would enter the 2013 regular season with higher expectations. But Baltimore again finds itself doubted outside the organization, with numerous media outlets skeptical the club can repeat last year's success, picking the O's to finish last in the AL East, or at least outside of the playoff picture.

Inside the clubhouse, there's no doubt about what the Orioles can accomplish, although center fielder Adam Jones has had his way with the team whiteboard a few times this spring to post motivational messages. It's business as usual for manager Buck Showalter's club, and frankly, they'd prefer to stay out of the spotlight as long as possible.

"You have to understand how this team operates," said closer Jim Johnson, one of three All-Stars on last year's squad. "We don't really pay much attention. I mean, we hear a couple things -- there was some motivation given to us by a former Red Sox manager last year, so we hear some things -- but we don't really care what anybody says. We know what we have to do to get ready for the season and what it takes to get to where we want to be at the end of the season."

Added first baseman Chris Davis: "After being picked dead last in the division so many times, I think you get to the point where you are just kind of numb to it. The biggest thing for us is to continue to trust one another, continue to rely on one another and keep the family theme going here."

That kinship is very much alive for a group that remained largely intact -- minus infielder Mark Reynolds -- from a year ago. Fans and reporters waited for the Orioles to make a big move this winter, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette stood pat, opting to keep the organization's wealth of pitching depth instead. That left the O's with some healthy rotation competition in camp and a returning bullpen -- a unit led by Johnson and reliever Darren O'Day, who signed a two-year deal with a club option -- that should continue to anchor the late innings.

Outfielders Nolan Reimold (neck surgery) and Nick Markakis (herniated disc) are expected to be healthy to start the season, boosting a lineup that will also include second baseman Brian Roberts, who hasn't played a full season since 2009. The trio missed parts of last season, and each is expected to be part of the team's starting nine.

"It seemed like we were missing a guy every other day last year," Johnson said of a club had more roster transactions than games played. "To have a full squad, health is always important. It doesn't matter if it's Day 1 or Day 162. But obviously, having B-Rob back and healthy -- his presence here as the veteran on the team, having him here after all the stuff he's been through -- is important for the rest of the guys, for sure."

Roberts has looked re-energized this spring, and he will help balance a lineup that is devoid of a true cleanup hitter but presents challenges from top to bottom. The Orioles are also expected to benefit from a full season of outfielder Nate McLouth -- who re-signed over the winter -- and rookie third baseman Manny Machado. Jones, Davis and catcher Matt Wieters will fill the middle of the order, and Showalter may drop shortstop J.J. Hardy, who is coming off a down season offensively, having struggled in the No. 2 spot.

"The lineup that we should be able to run out there isn't going to have an unbelievable amount of focus on one guy," Showalter said. "We are going to be able to present a challenge one through nine. To think we are going to have all nine guys clicking on all cylinders for an extended period of time is probably wishful thinking.

"If Brian can do what he's capable of doing, it would be very impactful -- just another cog in the challenge that we can present as a team offensively."

Defensively, the O's return three of last year's AL Gold Glove Award winners in Hardy, Wieters and Jones, providing a stable force up the middle and helping a pitching staff that struggled with inconsistency in 2012. Right-hander Jason Hammel will be the club's Opening Day starter, with lefty Wei-Yin Chen and righty Miguel Gonzalez returning after impressive rookie seasons. Right-hander Jake Arrieta, last year's Opening Day starter, looks poised to crack the rotation, while fellow righty Chris Tillman -- slowed by abdominal soreness -- will also be among the starting five, should he avoid the disabled list to start the season.

"We've all played this game long enough to know that you can say what you want, but you've got to go out and play 162 [games] in order to put yourself into a position [to be successful]," Jones said. "Last year, we did it; that was last year. You've got to repeat what you did. Somebody told me early in spring: 'The way a team wins is everybody just does their part.'

"We've got a lot of guys that are very, very, very good. It's just playing the game. I told you last year, 'Give me 25 guys that compete, and I'll take them.' I don't need superstars. I just need people that are going to compete and play selfless baseball."

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.

{"event":["opening_day" ] }
{"event":["opening_day" ] }