Showalter on Álvarez’s hot bat and Drake’s struggles

FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Orioles could be adding two of their regular players soon. Third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Welington Castillo fly into Florida tonight.

O’s manager Buck Showalter said he would give them tomorrow off and they should be back at spring training camp on Wednesday. Both played for the Dominican Republic, which was eliminated Saturday night in the World Baseball Classic.

Meanwhile, outfielder Seth Smith (hamstring) and utility man Ryan Flaherty (shoulder) are both very close to returning. But Showalter said both will likely not be playing yet tomorrow.

Pedro Álvarez, who made his second Grapefruit League start in right field today, continues to wield a hot bat. He went 2-for-3 in the Orioles’ 7-4 loss to the Red Sox and hit his second homer. He is 4-for-10 in three games. Álvarez also went 3-for-4 in Friday’s B game with two doubles and home run.

He’s hitting everything hard, but if he is not yet ready defensively to play the outfield by opening day - which he will almost certainly not be - he likely can’t get an opening day roster spot.

When Showalter was asked about Álvarez possibly making the roster if he is not ready on defense, the skipper answered a question with a question: “Where would you play him?” he said to reporters. The designated hitter spot is taken right now.

“What would you do with (Mark) Trumbo?” Showalter said. “I’m open to suggestions. We’ve got a couple other guys in that boat. How does Michael Bourn fit? I want to hear that one. Those things have a way of working themselves out.

“I’m glad we have the depth. If we hold onto him. He might be getting himself ready for another club. We knew that when we brought him here. Some people might look around and say, ‘Golly, I can’t believe we didn’t do that.’ “

Álvarez had a tough fielding chance as well in right today on a liner in the last of the second. Marco Hernandez doubled on the ball when Álvarez charged in and played a short hop. The ball kicked away from him as Hernandez ran to second.

“Hard play for most guys,” Showalter said. “Today was one of those days, balls in the air a real challenge with a high sky and no depth perception. The outfield is going to be a work in progress for him. People forget, he was really good for us offensively for a couple of months and the last few days have been a reminder of that.

“I’ve got an idea what would have to happen to get to the point for us to trust him out there. We’re not at that yet. He’s working hard at an unfamiliar position. We took infield yesterday and he throws well. I tell you, I was surprised at how (Trey) Mancini threw out there. Not that it’s great, but it’s playable. I was pleasantly surprised to see that.”

Oliver-Drake-black-sidebar.jpgRight-hander Oliver Drake continues to struggle. His ERA is up to 10.61 and he’s allowed 18 hits in 9 1/3 innings. Today he entered in the second and quickly gave up a two-run double followed by an RBI double and RBI single. Over 1 1/3 innings, he was charged with three runs. He also allowed two inherited runners to score.

Drake is out of options and maybe out of luck to make the opening day roster. What is Showalter seeing with Drake’s stuggles?

“Command of his fastball (is an issue),” Showalter said. “The split (finger fastball) strike is getting hit and the split ball isn’t. So when he was pitching well for us last year, he attacked the strike zone and made them honor both pitches. He’s not doing that right now. He’s a couple ticks down on velocity, too.

“The question is will it (his stuff) play up here? It did some last year for us. But his high pitch count. It’s been a lot of pitches to get through innings. If that takes him out of him being a multi-inning guy, it will be a challenge for him.

“He’s pitched some good games for us. It will be a tough decision as we go forward. He’s got enough track record in the minor league that someone will give him an opportunity.”

Why is Drake’s velocity down?

“Same reason about 75 percent of our guys are now. It’s just normal and happens in the spring,” Showalter said.

Showalter was impressed with a few of the minor league players brought to Fort Myers today, including outfielder Cedric Mullins and right-handed pitcher Stefan Crichton. Mullins, who homered in Friday’s B game, tripled today. The club’s No. 26 prospect per Baseball America, he hit .273/.321/.464 last season at Single-A Delmarva, with 37 doubles, 10 triples, 14 homers and 30 steals. A plus defender, he could skip Single-A Frederick and jump to Double-A Bowie.

Crichton, a 25-year-old right-hander, posted a 3.73 ERA at Bowie in 2016 and is the No. 27 prospect according to Baseball America. He pitched a scoreless inning with a strikeout today and has now thrown four scoreless innings with five strikeouts in Grapefruit League games.

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