A few random questions and thoughts as the Orioles enjoy another off-day before beginning a three-game series in Cleveland:
* Is Joey Rickard’s stock on the rise?
He’s making it hard for the Orioles to put him back on the Triple-A shuttle, collecting six hits in 20 at-bats this month - he was robbed of a hit to end last night’s game - with a double, triple and home run. Rickard closed out July with six hits in 16 at-bats, including three doubles and a home run, and also had eight RBIs.
The Orioles have been playing infielders in the outfielder corners, unable to avoid it with Trey Mancini while Chris Davis is at first base and Mark Trumbo is the designated hitter. Trumbo should remain in the DH role after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right knee on Monday.
Mancini certainly does an adequate job in left, but there have been too many games with an infielder also playing right. Jace Peterson had made nine starts and Danny Valencia made 17 before the Orioles designated him for assignment and released him.
* Is Austin Wynns presenting a stronger argument for staying with the Orioles as their backup catcher?
Wynns is 11-for-26 (.423) during an eight-game hitting streak that raised his average to .296 with two doubles and three home runs. He’s also thrown out five of 13 runners attempting to steal, and the correct scoring change was made Saturday to remove his throwing error and give it to third baseman Renato Nuñez.
“I’m going to keep everybody in the mix,” said manager Buck Showalter. “Austin’s done well with what we’ve given him. He’s swung the bat well. This guy, he’s full-in. I mean, he’s always engaged in the game, great effort and he’s been a rock as far as his effort.
“The learning curve, you can tell he’s picking things up.”
What are the biggest adjustments for a rookie backstop? Let’s start with knowing the right fingers to put down, learning a pitching staff and the opposing hitters.
“It’s the game within the game,” Showalter said. “It’s the hitters. How do you put it into play? This guy may be susceptible to the curveball and that pitcher doesn’t have one. I mean, what are you going to do then?
“This guy’s a first-ball hitter. Well, what do you do, throw him all breaking balls? There’s a lot of things. I think understanding that and your pitcher having confidence in you.”
Wynns had a single and run-scoring double last night, but being behind the plate while the Mets scored 16 runs killed his mood.
“It is what it is,” he said. “That’s not really my concern at all. Defense is what I go by, and we have to find a way. We have to find a way.”
Chance Sisco is batting .217/.301/.337 in 24 games with Triple-A Norfolk. He was 3-for-28 in eight games before going 2-for-5 yesterday.
Sisco is 4-for-30 throwing out runners attempting to steal. There’s no reason to rush him back to the majors, as the Orioles did after sending him down the first time.
There’s also no reason to give up on him. He’s 23 and still developing. But the Orioles understand that they need to improve their catching depth and tried to address it by getting Brett Cumberland from the Braves as part of the four-player package - plus $2.5 million in international bonus slot funds - for starter Kevin Gausman and reliever Darren O’Day. However, Cumberland’s throwing isn’t regarded as a plus and he eventually could move from behind the plate.
The Orioles selected University of North Carolina catcher Cody Roberts in the 11th round of the 2018 draft. He has a .268 average with eight doubles and one home run in 31 games at short-season Single-A Aberdeen. He’s thrown out six of 26 runners attempting to steal and has been charged with six passed balls.
Don’t sleep on Double-A Bowie’s Martin Cervenka, and not only because it would be uncomfortable for both parties. The Eastern League’s Player of the Month for July is on the Orioles’ radar. They keep receiving positive reports on him. Lots to like about it.
* What will the Orioles do at shortstop after this season?
We’ve already discussed the many possibilities awaiting Tim Beckham, including his return to shortstop or third base, a bench role, a possible trade and being non-tendered.
Jonathan Villar has made only one start at shortstop with the Orioles, but he’s accumulated 258 in the majors, more than in any other position. Peterson has made only five starts in the majors and seems to bring more value in a utility role. He’s really impressed Showalter for a variety of reasons, but we still don’t know whether that’s going to be a factor in 2019. Steve Wilkerson could get a few opportunities at shortstop after coming off the disabled list, but the Orioles are grooming him to be the super-utility player that’s a necessity with a three-man bench.
Cadyn Grenier, the Orioles’ competitive-balance pick this year out of Oregon State University, is a plus defender at shortstop and his glove could get him to the majors no matter how he’s hitting. But let’s not gloss over the second part. He had a .167 average and .544 OPS with Single-A Delmarva, and two hits in his last 34 at-bats, before going 2-for-4 last night.
With the Orioles in dire need of defensive upgrades, I’d take an offensively challenged shortstop as long as the rest of the lineup can supply the hits and the power. Mark Belanger’s glove was worth every low-.200s average that he posted. But the game has changed over the years and I’ve heard a few people mention how it’s much harder to carry that type of player.
The Orioles invested their second pick in him. They believe that he’s developing as a hitter. They also must be fine with taking whatever he supplies at the plate in exchange for an elite fielder.
Grenier has seven errors in 26 games, but Derek Jeter committed 56 at low Single-A Greensboro in 1993 and he turned out fine.
* A closer on a rebuilding team might seem as important as an irrigation system for artificial trees, but someone has to do it and the Orioles actually are trying to win as many games as possible during this process.
Is Mychal Givens getting first crack at the job? It appears to be happening, as evidenced by his three saves this month and how he’s warmed up on a few occasions while the Orioles threatened to take the lead.
Givens has been generating interest from other clubs and the Orioles don’t regard him as untouchable, but they’re reluctant to part with him due to having him under team control through 2021 and his potential to be a late-inning specialist.
Tanner Scott might evolve into a closer if he can become more consistent with his control - he didn’t have it last night - but he’d also bring value as a power lefty in the Andrew Miller mold. I’d ditch the idea of starting him, but what’s important is making a choice and sticking with it. Same with Jimmy Yacabonis.
Is there anyone else in the bullpen who’s a viable candidate? Givens pretty much gets the job by default, but that’s fine. The Orioles need to find out whether he’s the closer in 2019 or if it’s someone else or if they just go by committee or if Gregg Olson can do more than provide analysis on select radio broadcasts.
* Mancini posted averages of .192 in May, .233 in June and .203 in July, but he had a .300/.345/.580 slash line this month heading into last night’s game. His four home runs matched his highest total for any month and his 10 RBIs ranked first.
Is the main reason for the improvement more mental or physical?
“One goes hand in hand,” Showalter said. “Trey, this year is something he’s always going to be able to reach back for because he mentally got to the point where it was affecting him physically. He knew exactly what he was going wrong and he just couldn’t ... His want-to was so strong that he couldn’t take that pitch, he couldn’t swing easier and couldn’t let the ball travel deeper. Everything was push, push, press, press, and that’s normal. That’s human nature. But I wish it was that easy.
“You feel good about something and you hit three line drives at somebody, and I don’t care who you are, you go home that night and you see 0-for-4. And you have friends calling you and, ‘What’s wrong? Have you tried this?’ Believe me, I try not to get too involved in a lot of cases because I know they’re hearing everything from everybody.
“It’s something about Trey. When he struggles it seems to be more, I don’t want to say ‘acceptable.’ It’s just, there’s real sincerity about why he wants to do well.”
* Former Orioles manager and coach Dave Trembley resigned as Braves director of player development earlier this month. I hadn’t seen it reported anywhere and just found out yesterday.
Trembley’s reason for leaving the organization isn’t related to his health, so no worries. And he’d like to stay in baseball.
The Braves’ farm system appeared to be in good hands with Trembley.
* The Orioles chose to take the team photo yesterday instead of prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, which isn’t unusual under normal circumstances. But the photo won’t include the departed Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day. Or the injured Richard Bleier.
Valencia didn’t make it, either, but he came closest.
Years from now, fans will sift through their collection of team photos - assuming such a thing exists - grab the 2018 copy and pick out Mullins, Villar, Renato Nuñez, Cody Carroll, Evan Phillips and Sean Gilmartin.
Phillips made it about eight hours before the Orioles optioned him.