A little reflection on Orioles before opening series in Boston

BOSTON – The Orioles have an odd attachment to Opening Day – their own and their opponent’s.

They get to hop in the middle of more festivities this afternoon against the Red Sox, who began their season with a West Coast swing through Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim.

No other team or fan base is allowed to complain about the schedule. The Red Sox own the rights.

They also won seven of 10 games to move 1 ½ ahead of the Orioles.

Eyes shouldn’t be strained from reading too much into either team’s start. However, the off-day allowed for some reflection on the Orioles.

* Scoring 24 runs in two days didn’t signal that the Orioles were going to average 12 per game throughout the summer. Scoring 23 in the next seven isn’t an indicator that the offense will stay dormant and kill the season.

Collective slumps are part of baseball. It never fails. They happen in clusters and fade away. Panic roster moves aren’t a cure or smart.

Tweaking, however, is always on the table.

Anthony Santander was 4-for-26 before his run-scoring single Sunday. He was retired in his next two at-bats. Austin Hays is 2-for-26 and hitless in his last 19 at-bats. Cedric Mullins is 4-for-28 and 2-for-20 since the second game. Gunnar Henderson is 3-for-26 since going 3-for-4 on March 30. Ramón Urías is 1-for-17. Jordan Westburg hit a walk-off home run March 1 but is 6-for-31.

That’s a heavy load of right-handed bats paired with those left-handed starters the Orioles faced early in the season.

The Red Sox are sending three right-handers to the mound before the Brewers bring former Orioles lefty DL Hall to Camden Yards for a weekend series. Is this the time to tweak?

A reporter in Pittsburgh joked about the Orioles making a hockey line change by subbing out five players. Bring up Jackson Holliday, Heston Kjerstad, Kyle Stowers, Coby Mayo and Connor Norby. Let’s go crazy. Fans would get nuts.

It isn’t happening, of course, but if you want a fun little exercise, come up with ways to fit those prospects on the roster.

* Quick glances at social media, which is the most that I’d recommend, reveal a lot of frustration directed toward Hays. He didn’t hit in spring training and isn’t hitting now. He had a stomach bug in Sarasota and was under the weather in Pittsburgh.  

My memory isn’t what it used to be, but I’m certain that Hays was an All-Star in 2023 and a Gold Glove finalist in left field. He looks lost at the plate, even if that’s not how he’s feeling. Chasing early and falling behind in counts. He seems to be pressing, which is understandable, but he didn’t agree with that assessment.

“That’s just baseball, I’m not worried about it,” he said. “My mechanics are good. I just need some more at-bats. The hits will start falling, things will start rolling. Just got to hit the ball hard. Make their own holes.”

Hays has a minor league option left but we’re only nine games into the season. That would be an extreme reaction. Maybe Colton Cowser gets more starts against the right-handers. That would be a measured reaction.

* The reactions to Triple-A Norfolk’s offensive explosions are understandable.

The Tides have scored 100 runs in nine games.  And this isn’t a veteran-heavy team. Top prospects are doing most of the damage.

Kjerstad was named International League Player of the Week after leading all minor leaguers with six home runs, 21 RBIs, 33 total bases and a 1.753 OPS in six games. Cade Povich was Pitcher of the Week after posting 0.82 ERA, 0.55 WHIP and .083 opponent’s average with 14 strikeouts. But let’s keep our focus on the hitters.

These players are legit. But what about the Charlotte Knights? What happened in the series also could be due to the opponent’s putrid pitching, and how it twice used a position player on the mound.

I’m going with a combination of both. You can’t ignore one.

“They’re all off to pretty good starts,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I haven’t seen the opponent they’re facing, but yeah, to see that many guys get hot that early, especially with those kinds of numbers, I’ve never seen it like that.”

Notice Hyde’s reference to his unfamiliarity with the Knights? Message received. But yeah, the Tides are doing amazing work.

* Yennier Cano was pressed into closer duty Sunday because Craig Kimbrel pitched on back-to-back days. Cano loaded the bases with no outs in a 2-1 game and two runs scored for the Pirates’ second walk-off win in the series.

Cano was off to a good start in his setup role, and that’s the one he seems to prefer. That’s the one that seems to bring out the best in him. But Kimbrel can’t pitch every day. Félix Bautista didn’t do it.

The full picture of Cano’s ninth inning includes some tappers that rolled foul and two ground balls that produced an out at the plate – after umpire Dan Iassogna apparently suffered a brain cramp, forgot that a tag wasn’t required and ruled Ke’Bryan Hayes safe – and Gunnar Henderson’s diving stop, tag of second base and wild throw to first.

Cano sort of gives off a Mychal Givens or, further back, Arthur Rhodes vibe. And I’m just talking pitching. Better as a setup guy than closer.

Cano had eight saves last year, but in 14 opportunities. He has a career 2.02 ERA in 13 1/3 innings in the seventh, 2.09 in 43 innings in the eighth, and 5.93 in 27 1/3 innings in the ninth.

Mike Baumann tried to record his first major league save Saturday afternoon and couldn’t do it. Hyde kept Cano available for Sunday and will hand him the ball again in a save situation. But Cano has to reward the faith or the Orioles will be forced to switch plans.

They might have to go by committee when Kimbrel is down. Danny Coulombe and Keegan Akin have tossed a combined 8 1/3 scoreless innings.

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