The Orioles started their minicamp this weekend in Sarasota, an adjusted version of it that won’t be flooded with players and serves in large part to allow new hires to become more familiar with the complex.
A handful of players already have been working out there, including pitcher Mike Wright Jr., catcher Chance Sisco and outfielder Austin Hays. Reliever Richard Bleier is joining them as he continues his throwing program following lat surgery in June.
“A couple other guys come in and pop their head in,” Wright said during Thursday’s “Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan.
Hays is recovering from September ankle surgery and ramping up his rehab program. Back on Jan. 4 he tweeted, “Haven’t been this healthy in a long time.”
“He looks great,” Wright said. “He’s definitely moving around. I don’t want to give away too much information that I’m not supposed to, but he looks good and the future looks bright for him.”
Wright is trying again to feel better about the direction his career is headed. He posted a 5.55 ERA and 1.625 WHIP in 48 games, including two starts in April. The former third-round pick out of East Carolina University registered a 2.30 ERA in 15 2/3 innings in June and a 2.19 ERA in 12 1/3 innings the following month, but he allowed 11 runs and 16 hits in 11 innings in August and 13 runs and 17 hits in 16 2/3 innings in September.
The bases often were flooded even in better times. Wright had a 1.468 WHIP in June and opponents batted .300 against him in July. But he limited the damage and there was a spike in his fastball velocity.
“There’s been a couple games where I let the situation kind of get the best of me instead of just playing the game of baseball,” he said. “The game of baseball hasn’t changed since I was playing in Little League. The competition’s gotten better, but the game is still the same. You have to do the same things. And I’m trying to put some of those nervousness games behind me and just go out there and play.
“Those two months, they felt right. I finally felt like myself being in Triple-A and in Double-A, like I felt at home, felt comfortable. And it’s definitely exciting moving into this year. You can look at my numbers and different things, but at the beginning of the year, my velo was very down. That’s the first time I’ve ever had that, where nothing was really working for me, nothing was sharp. And finally when I got it back, I had those two months straight where I was like, ‘OK, if I can just be me and do this, I’ll be fine.’
“Going into this year, hopefully I can string together about six months of that.”
The future is unsettled again with a new front office, manager and pitching coach evaluating him, though fresh eyes might be beneficial. Wright ran out of minor league options following the 2017 season.
“It definitely feels different, but obviously last year was kind of the same situation, out of options,” said Wright, who turned 29 on Jan. 3.
“Even the same eyes on you again and again, it could be very easy that they say, ‘You know what? He looks the same, we’re probably going to get the same results, let’s kick him to the curb.’ But now that we have new eyes, it’s going to be cool to go in there and just try to learn from different people and hopefully have a better season than I’ve had the past four years.”
Limited changes to the roster have left openings in the rotation and bullpen. Wright made starts on April 3 and 8, his final opportunity at Yankee Stadium lasting only two-thirds of an inning.
“It’s going to be awesome having fresh eyes and getting their thoughts on how they see me and how they want to use me,” he said. “Obviously, I would still want to be a starter, but I understand that I haven’t really earned that, so I’m just trying to come out and make the team, whether or not that’s the back end of the bullpen, long relief or fifth starter. However they want to use me and however I can come out and compete and help this team win, that’s what I want to do.”
Whatever the role in 2019, Wright will try again to become an established major league pitcher who sticks around due to his talent and production more so than the lack of options or any lingering organizational fears that he might blossom with another team.
“Adversity definitely is the best teacher and honestly I’m tired of learning,” he said. “It’s time to go out there and play.
“Obviously, we’re playing against the best competition and you just have to go out there and do your work and try to be as consistent as possible and not live and die by every single pitch and every single outing.”
It all resets this month in Sarasota, where Wright is one of the early arrivals at the complex. He doesn’t have far to travel.
“Basically, I’m in a mini-spring training already,” he said.
“I’ve done this honestly since about 2014. I’d always come down early in January to train, a little bit better weather than North Carolina, and in ‘15 I made this my permanent residency, so it just makes it super easy to be in your own home and be able to train at the facility.”
Shameless plug alert: I’m appearing on “Wall to Wall Baseball” today from noon-2 p.m. on MASN.