A few more questions as Orioles finish first half of road trip

The Orioles wrap up their series against the Reds this afternoon, going for the sweep, and I’m unwrapping three more questions that hang in the air. At least where I’m breathing.

The good news is there’s a definite answer to the first one.

What the heck happened to Terrin Vavra?

Vavra posted photos recently on his Instagram account with a caption about “the most trying 10 months of my career” and offering thanks for the support he’s received. The first photo showed Vavra in his hospital bed holding one of his children.

Was this a new surgery on his shoulder that would perhaps ruin his chances of playing in 2024, or was he celebrating the end of his rehab from his original labrum procedure last fall?

The latter, apparently, since Vavra played yesterday in a Florida Complex League game in Sarasota.

Vavra led off and played first base in the Orioles’ 8-6 loss to the Pirates. He was 0-for-3 with an RBI and a hit-by-pitch that didn’t force him out of the game.

“Absolutely thrilled,” said Anthony Villa, who was promoted during the offseason from minor league hitting coordinator to director of player development. “He started his rehab assignment and just happy that he’s healthy and back playing.

“Terrin’s a true professional. We think he’s a fine young man. The way he carries himself, it is incredible. He’s encountered some difficult circumstances and he’s handled them like a true professional.”

The plan is to get Vavra back to Triple-A Norfolk and see whether he can be a left-handed bat option for the Orioles later in the summer. He broke camp with them last year after an outstanding spring training – I abused the “Terrin it up” pun on the former Twitter – and made nine starts in right field, four in left and one as designated hitter and appeared in two games at third base and one at second.

Vavra went 12-for-49, all of his hits singles, and didn’t play for the Orioles after May 31.

Jackson Holliday is the likely first call-up if the Orioles want a left-handed hitting second baseman. His return to Norfolk won’t constitute a brief reset but he isn’t expected to spend the bulk of his summer in the minors.

I’d rate him much closer to brief than bulk on that scale.

A utility role is the obvious path back to the majors if the Orioles trust Vavra’s defense in multiple spots. Batting from the left side at least separates him from guys like Ramón Urías, Jorge Mateo and Connor Norby.

“He just finished his first game in the FCL and we’re evaluating how he’s feeling coming off the field,” Villa said.

For now, Vavra is a position player who earned a win by rehabbing the shoulder and getting back into games. An achievement worthy of another Instagram post.

“We love Terrin, he’s a great kid,” Villa said. “The offensive profile is a really attractive bat that controls the strike zone and makes a lot of contact and hits a lot of line drives. Defensively, he’s very versatile. Very excited that he’s continuing to progress.”

Are we supposed to be worried about Craig Kimbrel?

What time is it?

Kimbrel looked like a dominant closer Friday night, striking out the side for his 425th career save. He needed 16 pitches but could have done it in fewer if plate umpire Mike Muchlinski had a much more consistent strike zone.

It’s like asking for a kidney to get an umpire to take the guesswork out of throwing strikes.

Kimbrel’s fastball touched 95 mph and he worked up in the zone. The Reds couldn’t lay a bat on him.

The four days rest had to help, but I’m still not in the “overworked” camp. I’m not blaming five games over nine days and never back-to-back for his injury, if that’s what we’re calling upper-back tightness.

It wasn’t elbow or shoulder. It was April. He warmed Wednesday, so he could have pitched sooner than the opener in Cincinnati. And the Orioles aren’t giving him $13 million and making him the undisputed closer to pitch every fifth day.

And then, we had last night.

Kimbrel went back-to-back and put the first two Reds on base with the Orioles clinging to a 2-0 lead. Cionel Pérez threw only nine pitches in the eighth and Albert Suárez was warming in case of a non-save situation.

Spencer Steer delivered an RBI single with one out, ending the Orioles' scoreless streak at 20 innings, and manager Brandon Hyde signaled for Yennier Cano. Hyde wasn't ride-or-die with Kimbrel. He wanted the double play, and Cano induced grounders on 73 percent of batted balls.

A stolen base removed the double play and a walk loaded the bases. Christian Encarnacion-Strand struck out and Jeimer Candelario flied to shallow left field, extending the Orioles' streak of two runs or fewer allowed to six games. Nothing to see here.

Well, yeah, there was.

Kimbrel won't be available today. Might be nice to get Suárez some work since he hasn't pitched since April 28. Was nice last night to reward John Means for his seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts in his 2024 debut.

I’ll wait until we’re further into the season to begin grading the Kimbrel signing. He received an A-plus for Friday night’s demolition job and failed to get his 426th save last night.

How will the Orioles make room for Austin Hays?

Hays is working out at Double-A Bowie and will go on an injury rehab assignment. His left calf is pain free and he’s ready to play.

Though a decision isn’t imminent, the Orioles will need to create a spot on their active roster. They can go three ways with it, and I’ll start with No. 3.

It seems least likely that the Orioles will use Hays’ minor league option. He was an All-Star and Gold Glove Award finalist last summer. He’s been the everyday guy in left field who began platooning with Colton Cowser earlier this season while struggling at the plate.

A trip to Triple-A would be a bold, bold move. I included it only because it’s possible on paper.

Ryan McKenna is the direct counterpunch to losing Hays. He’s also a right-handed hitting outfielder who gives the Orioles speed and defense. He is out of options and would have to clear waivers again, and this time approve an outright assignment.

Heston Kjerstad differs because he’s a left-handed hitter and isn’t the speed/defense guy. He’s just a different player. He’s also one of the top prospects.

The Orioles must decide if it’s worth having him on the bench for so many games rather than playing every day with Norfolk, staying sharp at the plate and working on his defense.

Ryan O’Hearn remains an obstacle for Kjerstad because he’s starting against right-handers. Plain and simple. Might be at first base or in right field or it might be as the designated hitter, but he’s starting and earned every at-bat.

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