SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles are playing under the lights again tonight, which allows the team to report to the clubhouse later than usual. Temperatures are supposed to dip into the 50s. Also a good way to prepare for a March 30th Opening Day in Boston.
Left-hander Cole Irvin gets the start against the Blue Jays and Kyle Bradish could find his innings on the Camden Yards field. Two starters who are in the Opening Day rotation. No need to proceed with caution regarding Bradish. He’s done everything required to hold onto his spot.
We’ve gotten clarity on some topics and remain in the dark on others.
The last bench spot is an example of the latter, with me saying again that I’m sticking with my original and follow-up mocks but also am intrigued by the performances from backup first base candidates Ryan O’Hearn, Franchy Cordero and Josh Lester. And especially how Lester went from disappearing to dominating.
The Undertaker being flat on his back and then sitting up in the middle of the ring comes to mind.
The bullpen picture is most out of focus, partially due to questions about the rotation but also the team’s plans for the failed starters.
We’re exactly two weeks away from the opener and still don’t know whether DL Hall is an option in relief, staying back at extended spring training to build innings or headed back to Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation. How adamant are the Orioles about not using a young starter prospect in the ‘pen to fill an immediate need on the major league club?
Spring training numbers matter more to some players than others. Not at all if they’re secure with their roster spot. They can “work on some things” and experiment. Throw pitches in certain situations that might not happen in the regular season.
Tyler Wells is one of the camp mysteries, and so is the importance of his stats.
Wells has made three appearances, including a pair of starts, and allowed nine runs in seven innings for an 11.57 ERA. He’s surrendered 11 hits, but he’s struck out 11 batters and his only two walks came Tuesday in Bradenton.
The first-half form is evident and then fades.
Wells struck out three consecutive batters in Clearwater after serving up a leadoff home run, and he allowed just the one run with five strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings. Against the Pirates, he struck out three of the first four batters but five straight reached in the third inning and Kyle Dowdy replaced him.
In one of those spring training quirks, Wells re-entered and recorded two outs sandwiched around a walk.
“I don’t think the box score tells the whole story,” Wells told the assembled media when asked about his camp. “I was getting some ground balls when I needed them, and unfortunately, they were in, you know, tough spots to get to. I got the result I was looking for, but it found a hole. The walks are something that I obviously don’t want. They were my first walks of spring, but that’s two too many.
“I don’t feel like I’m far off from where I need to be to be very dominant. I think the fastball has been great, changeup is still coming along as far as locations go. Curveball’s come a long way. Slider’s come a long way. I think that everything is there, and I think everything is showing itself. Now, it’s just trying to put the pieces together, and that’s always the hard part in spring training.”
Hyde viewed Tuesday’s start as “unlucky” for Wells and was happy that the right-hander’s pitch count stretched to 63. That seemed to be the only number that really mattered to him.
Meanwhile, what happens to Wells later in camp and what he’s doing March 30 are unresolved.
Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi rebounded from the two-homer, four-run implosion in Clearwater with a scoreless inning Monday against the Braves in North Port. He hasn’t allowed a run in four of his five outings, with only one walk total and seven strikeouts.
Politi has a chance to be introduced at Fenway Park, the emotions running even higher than usual for a Rule 5 guy since the Orioles selected him from the Red Sox’s organization. But again, we don't know.
Bryan Baker has been labeled a lock throughout the winter and into spring training. Still sounds right. But it’s been a struggle from the outset, with Baker allowing eight runs and 10 hits with four walks in 4 2/3 innings.
The right-hander didn’t allow a run in his last 11 appearances in the 2022 season but has been scored upon in four of his five exhibition games.
Baker was saddled with his second loss in Monday’s rain-shortened game in North Port, with two runs scoring in the sixth inning on Braden Shewmake’s two-out triple.
Reason to worry? We aren’t supposed to fall in love or freak out over spring training numbers, but Dillon Tate will begin the season on the injured list and an ineffective Baker would be another painful blow to the ‘pen.
Austin Voth is counted among the starter candidates who could shift to relief, as he’s done previously in his career. He’s appeared in three games, the last his only start, on Saturday against the Blue Jays. He has allowed seven runs and 10 hits in 7 2/3 innings. He walked three batters in 2 2/3 innings in Dunedin.
Voth is out of minor league options and assured of making the club after avoiding arbitration by signing for $1.85 million. But the Orioles are expecting his Florida failings to stay down south.
One explanation is how Voth is working on a new pitch, a sweeper, that he used for the second time over the weekend. A luxury for guys who aren’t on shaky ground.
“I want to incorporate that a bit more,” Voth told the media in Dunedin. “I know that’s going to be a big pitch for me down the road. And then, backdoor cutters to lefties and also throwing it front door as well. Just trying to get a better feel for my spin right now.”
Voth said pitching coach Chris Holt suggested the sweeper, which Voth began toying with in bullpen sessions late in the season.
“Holty came to me and they saw this one curveball I threw a certain way,” Voth said. “They said you can get the same horizontal results on your curveball if you just change your grip to this grip. I started working on it in ‘pens and had a little bit of success in my bullpens. So, now I have a curveball that has depth and a curveball that has horizontal run. So, just another pitch that you know a hitter has to think about in the back of their mind.”
Which leads us to Hyde’s calm reaction to Voth’s Grapefruit League stats.
“I’m not worried about his spring ERA, honestly,” Hyde said. “It’s more for him getting in game shape.”
Mychal Givens has allowed an unearned run and one hit in three innings. He’s obviously on the club. His numbers aren’t really important. But there’s one stat that’s worth mentioning.
Givens was called for three balks in his first two appearances. A teammate who witnessed the last one, which didn’t appear in the box score, mentioned how the umpires are cracking down.
The Tigers’ Ángel De Jesús was called for three in two-thirds of an inning against the Orioles in Monday’s split-squad game. So, it could be worse.
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