Kjerstad on Cowser: "It’s good to see him come out of the gate hot"

Kjerstad on Cowser: "It’s good to see him come out of the gate hot"

SARASOTA, Fla. – No one in the Orioles organization is enjoying Colton Cowser’s hot start in exhibition games more than teammate and friend Heston Kjerstad, who doesn’t ponder how it might impact his own chances of making the Opening Day roster.

Kjerstad isn’t wired that way. He wants everyone to be electric, to put up good numbers.

And he remains confident that he’ll do it, too.

Kjerstad received three at-bats yesterday in the Orioles’ 9-8 walk-off win over the Pirates in Sarasota. He flied to left field against Paul Skenes to end the first inning but lined a single into left-center against left-hander Bailey Falter in the third. He was 1-for-12 with four strikeouts before Falter … well, faltered.

The spring tally is 2-for-14 after Kjerstad bounced to the mound in the fifth inning.

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Holliday stands out after Skenes' matchup, Burnes works on cutter and slider (Orioles win 9-8)

holliday at OPCY cage

SARASOTA, Fla. – Orioles leadoff hitter Jackson Holliday swung at the second pitch from Paul Skenes today and grounded to second baseman Nick Gonzales.

The first-overall pick in the 2022 draft retired by the first-overall pick in the 2023 draft, with the assist going to the seventh-overall selection in 2020.

And after catcher Henry Davis, the top selection in 2021, hit a three-run homer against Corbin Burnes in the top of the first.

This was not your typical spring training game.

Skenes’ fastball topped out at 102 mph in his exhibition debut and he hit 100 mph against Holliday, who lost the only matchup between them. Skenes wasn’t returning for the second inning.

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Hearing from newest Orioles Wong and Teheran on their first day in camp

Kolten Wong Dodgers

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles might not be a last-chance stop for pitcher Julio Teheran and second baseman Kolten Wong. However, they’re grateful to be detached from the free-agent market and the uncertainty in their futures, and hope to seize the opportunity as late arrivals in camp.

Their minor league deals became official yesterday and they found their lockers this morning at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.

Wong, 33, is trying to bounce back from a hugely disappointing 2023 season, when he batted .165/.241/.227 in 67 games with the Mariners and was released Aug. 3. The Dodgers signed him six days later and he went 9-for-30 to earn a spot on the Division Series roster.

The Brewers signed Wong to a two-year, $18 million contract in February 2021 and picked up his $10 million option for 2023 before trading him to Seattle.

“I learned a lot about how to go through adversity,” he said. “The first time for me going down the DFA route. Just learned a lot about that and took it into the offseason. It kind of gave me a little extra fuel to train harder and do the things I’ve got to do to be ready.”

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Orioles lineup vs. Pirates in Sarasota

Orioles lineup vs. Pirates in Sarasota

SARASOTA, Fla. – Jackson Holliday is playing second base again and leading off this afternoon against the Pirates’ Paul Skenes, pitting the 2022 first-overall draft pick against the 2023 first-overall selection.

The hype keeps building.

Adley Rutschman, the first-overall selection in 2019, is catching and batting directly behind Holliday. Heston Kjerstad, the second-overall pick in 2020, is the right fielder and cleanup hitter.

Coby Mayo gets another start at third base, Kyle Stowers is in left field and Ryan McKenna is playing center.

Corbin Burnes is making his second start after tossing a scoreless inning in Saturday’s opener against the Red Sox. Burnes struck out the first two batters and threw 22 pitches before leaving the game.

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A few thoughts on Teheran and Wong acquisitions

Julio Teheran Brewers jersey

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles are back home this afternoon to play the Pirates, with baseball’s No. 3 prospect, Paul Skenes, starting opposite Corbin Burnes.

Yes, everyone is primed for the expected Skenes-Jackson Holliday matchup - the first-overall picks in the last two drafts going head-to-head. A potential sneak peek of the Spring Breakout game next month in Bradenton that features top prospects from both organizations.  

Or, as I call it, “a double header in Bradenton that I didn’t ask for,” but this isn’t about me.

Always keep in mind that it’s spring training. This is the time to overhype and to obsess.  

Holliday didn’t make the trip to Fort Myers yesterday. He’s rested and ready, and probably back at second base.

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Hilliard claimed on waivers to create spot on 40-man (O's win 12-3)

kremer @TB orange

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Orioles reduced their 40-man roster to 39 players this afternoon in the latest move - their third in less than 24 hours - by losing outfielder Sam Hilliard on a waiver claim by the Rockies.

Hilliard was claimed from the Braves in November and competed for a backup spot with the Orioles, an intriguing possibility with his left-handed bat and ability to play all three spots.

He didn’t get many opportunities, going 0-for-3.

Hilliard played for the Rockies from 2019-22, so he returns to his original organization.

The Orioles have a healthy supply of left-handed hitting outfielders in camp with Cedric Mullins, Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad, Kyle Stowers and Daniel Johnson. Anthony Santander bats from both sides of the plate.

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Quick Orioles pregame hits on injuries and pitching (Wong signed to minor league contract)

Gunnar Henderson gray

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Gunnar Henderson took batting practice again this morning in Sarasota and remains on track to make his 2024 spring debut in the near future.

Henderson was held back in workouts and games due to soreness in his left oblique. He made it through yesterday’s batting practice without incident.

“He did a lot of defense yesterday, also, and everything’s going great,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “It’s just a matter of getting him a little bit more on-the-field stuff, and you should see him pretty soon.”

Second baseman Connor Norby said the soreness in his left side is gone and he’s increasing baseball activities.

“Feels good,” he said. “Hitting is picking up more and more every day. My workload’s picking up more and more every day.”

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Orioles and Twins lineups in Fort Myers

Austin Hays batting orange

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Orioles brought their starting outfield to Hammond Stadium for today’s game against the Twins, though Cedric Mullins is the designated hitter.

Austin Hays is in left field and batting cleanup. Colton Cowser is in center field and Anthony Santander is in right.

Jordan Westburg gets the start at shortstop. Ramón Urías is the third baseman and Nick Maton is at second.

Maverick Handley is catching Dean Kremer, who’s making his 2024 spring debut.

Infielders Coby Mayo and Errol Robinson and outfielders Daniel Johnson, Dontá Williams, John Rhodes and Billy Cook made the trip.

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Santander's journey from Rule 5 pick leads him to threshold of free agency

Anthony Santander smiling

SARASOTA, Fla. – It’s the quieter times or moments off the field that can make Anthony Santander imagine his baseball life away from Baltimore. Never when he’s working out with teammates or joking with them in the clubhouse. Never when he puts on the uniform.

The games, whether real or in exhibition form, have his full attention. But he knows that free agency beckons. The 2024 season could be his last with the Orioles, who used the 18th pick in the 2016 Rule 5 draft on a 22-year-old Class A outfielder with a surgically repaired right shoulder.

The last selection in the major league phase, with the other eligible teams passing on him.

Dan Duquette, the former executive vice president, said the Orioles didn’t have access to all of the medicals but were comfortable with the idea of giving Santander a shot based on talent. The power from both sides of the plate and run producing tools sold them.

Duquette wasn’t retained after the 2018 season, the year that Santander finally shed his Rule 5 status by spending the requisite number of days on the active roster. He fell short by 44 in 2017 due to his surgery, his debut delayed until Aug. 18 against the Angels at Camden Yards.

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Report: Orioles sign Teheran to minor league deal

Julio Teheran Brewers blue away

SARASOTA, Fla. – Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias kept checking the pitching market for rotation depth after players reported to spring training. He’s reportedly made a move tonight.

Veteran right-hander Julio Teheran has agreed to a minor league deal with an invitation to camp, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Teheran will receive $2 million if he’s in the majors, and his contract includes a $100,000 signing bonus and an opt-out clause.

Elias confirmed on Feb. 15 that Kyle Bradish, who evolved into the staff ace last summer and finished fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting, would begin the season on the 15-day injured list with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Bradish received a platelet-rich plasma injection in January and began a throwing progression in Sarasota, playing catch again this morning at 90 feet.

In addition, John Means is headed to the IL because he’s a month behind after experiencing elbow soreness before the Division Series.

The Orioles are proceeding as though Bradish will be available in 2024, with Means an anticipated reinstatement by April. But Elias also was working the phones.

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Tate impresses in Orioles return, Rodriguez happy to "rip some fastballs" (O's win 5-2)

tate pitches white

SARASOTA, Fla. – An exhibition game, with results that don’t really count, meant everything to Orioles reliever Dillon Tate.

Tate was back on the mound today after a right flexor forearm strain kept him away from it last spring. He didn’t pitch for the Orioles after experiencing a setback during a rehab assignment, but is in good health again and equipped to head north with the club.

Three Detroit hitters faced Tate in the third inning. Wenceel Pérez flied to left field, Ryan Kreidler took a called third strike and Parker Meadows bounced to the mound.

“It was just good to be out with my teammates,” he said later. “It’s been a while since I competed at this level, so it felt good.”

“Felt good” also is how Tate described his stuff. “Fill up the zone” was how he approached his outing. He was equally efficient with his answers.

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Orioles pregame notes on Stowers, Henderson, pitching and more

Kyle Stowers black home

SARASOTA, Fla. – Kyle Stowers wasn’t sitting on a changeup yesterday. The very idea made him laugh.

But he got the barrel on it yesterday, pulling the ball to right field for his first spring home run in the Orioles’ 2-1 split-squad win over the Braves in North Port.

Stowers won his latest left-on-left battle, this time against Atlanta’s Dylan Lee. He’s been churning out line drives against them in live batting practice, on the main stadium and Camden Yards replica fields.

He’s also downplaying the importance of it.

“Righties or lefties, just got to put together good at-bats,” he said this morning. “I think I had two good ones yesterday. Righty or lefty, you guys know how I feel. I feel confident against them. But just got to stack good at-bats throughout the whole spring.”

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Orioles lineup vs. split-squad Tigers in Sarasota

Jackson Holliday

SARASOTA, Fla. – Jackson Holliday is leading off for the Orioles this afternoon for their game against the split-squad Tigers at Ed Smith Stadium.

Holliday gets another start at second base, with Jorge Mateo at shortstop.

Coby Mayo is making back-to-back starts at third base.

Ryan McKenna is the center fielder today, with Daniel Johnson in left field and Tyler Nevin in right. Heston Kjerstad is the designated hitter.

Gunnar Henderson remains out of the lineup after experiencing tightness in his left oblique last month during workouts. But he’s making progress every day while increasing baseball activities.

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More Orioles observations in early days of exhibition games

Coby Mayo

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles are playing their fifth exhibition game this afternoon, hosting the Tigers with Grayson Rodriguez making his first start.

Among my camp observations prior to the opener were Jackson Holliday prepping to play second base, teammates being excited to have Dillon Tate back, Cedric Mullins resembling the pre-injury version of himself, players being angry about the Division Series sweep but moving past it, no one worrying about Gunnar Henderson’s oblique or John Means being a month behind, no one showing panic over Kyle Bradish’s elbow injury, Yennier Cano’s stuff remaining filthy, roster composition remaining a mystery, hard-throwing reliever Wandisson Charles being a popular camp dark horse pick, former Orioles infielders in camp loving Holliday and Henderson, and my lame confusion over Albert and Andrew Suárez.

Also, I didn’t get to meet Peyton Burdick before the White Sox claimed him on waivers. I’m sure he’s equally bummed.

Henderson keeps improving from the left oblique soreness that’s kept him out of games. He worked out again yesterday and said he’s feeling much better. His 2024 spring debut is drawing near, though the Orioles aren’t rushing him.

Bradish is long-tossing and saying that his elbow recovers nicely the following day. It’s the ol’ so far, so good.

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Povich on his outing, Mayo on hot start in camp and more Orioles split-squad notes (updated)

Cade Povich spring training

SARASOTA, Fla. – Cade Povich received a mound visit from his catcher this afternoon after only 14 pitches.

Povich issued back-to-back walks to Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Aranda and Curtis Mead with one out in the first inning and fell behind 2-0 to Junior Caminero, prompting Adley Rutschman to call time and offer some counseling.

It worked.

Povich missed the zone again, Caminero fouled off the next pitch, and the Rays’ designated hitter flied to center fielder Cedric Mullins. Jose Siri struck out, and Povich escaped the jam with his pitch count at 21. Only nine strikes, but also no runs.

The organization’s No. 9 prospect per Baseball America tossed two scoreless innings on 31 pitches, 16 strikes, for the split-squad Orioles. He walked two and struck out two.

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Orioles split-squad lineups vs. Rays and Braves

rutschman v TB

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles are playing their first split-squad games this afternoon, at home versus the Rays and in North Port versus the Braves.

Adley Rutschman is catching left-hander Cade Povich at Ed Smith Stadium. Ramón Urías is starting at second base and batting cleanup.

Coby Mayo is starting at third base and Colton Cowser is in right field.

Ryan McKenna is leading off and playing center field in North Port. Anthony Santander is the designated hitter, Jordan Westburg is the third baseman, Heston Kjerstad is in left field and Jackson Holliday is the second baseman again.

Kyle Stowers is in right field. Michael Pérez is catching Seth Johnson.

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Quick Q&A with Silas Ardoin

Silas Ardoin photo day

SARASOTA, Fla. – The name rang a bell. In all of its mispronounced Louisiana glory.

The Orioles selected catcher Silas Ardoin in the fourth round of the 2022 draft out of the University of Texas. The mind immediately shifted to Danny Ardoin, the father who played in 165 games in the majors, including five with the Orioles in 2006.

Same position, too.

Silas is in his first major league camp after batting .238/.366/.361 in 385 plate appearances between High-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie.

“I wouldn’t say that I was expecting it,” he said, “but I’m just excited for the opportunity to be here.”

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Irvin retires all six batters in dominant spring debut (Orioles win 2-0)

irvin pitches orange

BRADENTON, Fla. – Cole Irvin’s first exhibition start today featured a significant increase in velocity and routine disposal of the six Pirates batters that he faced.

Irvin struck out three, on a 95.3 mph sinker, 92.2 mph fastball and 88 mph cutter. His four-seamer touched 95.

All five of his pitches showed an increase over the 2023 season. The cutter jumped 3.5 mph from the norm.

“I’m feeling good,” he said. “All in all, just blessed. A lot of the hard work in the offseason is starting to pay off. That’s what I attribute it to. It was a longer offseason for me because I gave myself no breather of rest, because I just wanted to get better. And so far we’re starting to see the labors of the work, and I’m just thankful for the gifts of God.”

“He’s in great shape,” said catcher James McCann. “I know he made a few little mechanical changes and it’s led to him … Just talking to him, I don’t think he sought to increase velocity. I think that it’s just kind of a byproduct of the few things he was working on in the offseason. He looks really good.”

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Orioles pregame notes on Norby, Henderson, Kimbrel, Guzmán, upcoming starters and more

Connor Norby spring training

BRADENTON, Fla. – Second baseman Connor Norby downplayed the soreness in his left side that caused the Orioles to shut him down, and he planned on swinging a bat today to test it.

Norby said he felt some discomfort four or five days ago and wanted to remain active, but the club obviously chose to be careful with him.

“It’s not bad at all,” he said this morning. “I begged and pleaded with him (manager Brandon Hyde) not to stop my workload pretty much and just lower it, but they were pretty persistent on not rushing me right now.

“I’ve been throwing, I’ve been doing everything else as everyone and I feel fine.”

The discomfort surfaced after a round of batting practice.

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Kimbrel says he's fine after yesterday's shortened live batting practice (O's lineup)

Craig Kimbrel

SARASOTA, Fla. – Orioles closer Craig Kimbrel cut short yesterday’s live batting practice session by about five pitches due to some tightness in his lower body. He said this morning that he’s fine and is scheduled to pitch again on Monday.

Kimbrel was facing James McCann when the discomfort became apparently. He threw one more pitch and a member of the athletic training staff approached him near the bench after he walked off the mound.

“The live BP session went all right yesterday,” Kimbrel said. “The ball was coming out like I wanted it to for the most part. Toward the end, started getting a little tight in my lower body, so instead of kind of trying to push through it, being where we are now … I thought it would be beneficial to come in and just start my workout and get ready to come back for Monday instead of questioning whether I need to keep going out there.

“It’s early in camp. There’s no reason to do that. I was happy how the ball was coming out of my hand before that, so I just shut it down and came in and had some things worked on and feel better today and should be good to go tomorrow.”

This type of discomfort isn’t uncommon for Kimbrel in spring training, as he told a teammate yesterday after it surfaced.

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