Checking on Orioles' extended spring training

As the Orioles move through the first series of their three-city road trip, hoping the weather allows them to play this afternoon in Oakland, the activity down in Sarasota is picking up in intensity. The daily routine is shifting into another gear.

There’s more to track than the major league club and four full-season affiliates. You just need to do some digging.

The Orioles are playing their first extended spring training game today against the Pirates. Veteran Matt Harvey, signed to a minor league contract on April 8, is making the start.

Harvey won’t be asked to provide much length, of course, since he’s been working out with the team for less than two weeks. But if you’re wondering how far along he is, well, he’s starting an extended spring training game.

Rico Garcia, who missed the 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, will follow Harvey.

Florida Complex League managers Matt Packer and Christian Frias have been running the camp. Frias joined the Orioles on their trip to provide assistance while first base coach Anthony Sanders and third base coach Tony Mansolino are away from the team due to illness.

FCL hitting coaches Josh Bunselmeyer and Jaylen Ferguson, pitching coaches Adam Bleday and Andy Sadoski and fundamentals coaches Collin Woody and Troy Marrow are at the site. So are lower-level hitting coordinator Anthony Villa, Latin American pitching supervisor Anderson Tavárez, complex pitching and rehab coordinator Dave Schmidt - in his 25th season in the organization – the strength and conditioning staff, rehab strength coach Brandon Farish and others.

(“Others” reminds me of how the Gilligan’s Island theme song used “and the rest” to include the professor and Mary Ann during its first season. Sorry about that – both for the omissions and that reference.)

The workouts moved after a few days from Twin Lakes Park to the Ed Smith Stadium complex, and they’ve been inhabited by players from the short-season affiliates and the group that’s recovering from injuries or on the development list. Games will be played today and Friday, followed by four next week and five in other weeks.

Top prospect Adley Rutschman isn’t ready to play, but he’s getting closer.

Rutschman is catching bullpen sessions and participating in some defensive drills while also continuing his throwing and hitting progressions. He got his first live at-bats a few days ago, “and in Adley Rutschman style, he hit a home run,” Packer said.

Of course he did.

“He’s in great spirits,” Packer said. “He shows up every day, he’s getting all of his work in, he looks great. He’s just progressing. Every day he’s getting to do a little bit more, it seems. Every day he just continues to look like Adley Rutschman.”

I can’t think of a better compliment or more encouraging update.

“We all love Adley,” Packer said. “He’s just a joy to work with every day.”

Outfielder Heston Kjerstad is recovering from the left hamstring strain he suffered in an intrasquad game prior to spring training. A “higher grade,” as executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias described it on March 23, that was expected to sideline him eight to 12 weeks.

Kjerstad hasn’t made his professional debut since the Orioles selected him second overall in the 2020 draft, with a myocarditis diagnosis keeping him off the field. Now it’s the hamstring that’s blocking his path to an affiliate.

“He’s working with our (minor league) physical therapist every day, Byron Campbell, who’s the absolute man. He’s getting these guys right and absolutely crushing it with them,” Packer said.

“Heston has been able to start some baseball activities, which has been a lot of fun to see. It’s obviously still a really slow process, wanting to make sure with that hamstring that it’s completely ready to go, but he is throwing, working with some hitting progressions, and he’s continuing to do his PT. So, he is doing baseball activities.

“He comes every day, he’s got the biggest smile on his face and he’s a lot of fun to be around. Kind of hurt us all when that happened, but he seems to not let it affect him and continues to know the end goal and works every day to get there.”

Kjerstad has a remarkable ability to stay positive as life takes its cheap shots at him.

“He is an incredible young man when it comes to that,” Packer said. “I couldn’t imagine what he’s had to go through the past two years with everything that’s happened, and then throw this on top of it. He’s never wavered. He’s just continued to show up and have a great smile and just absolutely crushes work. And he makes it fun for us to be around him when that’s the case. We’re very happy with him and hopefully we can continue to progress him in the right direction.”

Left-hander DL Hall, on the development list with Double-A Bowie, is healthy and in Sarasota to build up innings after making only seven starts in 2021.

“He’s been getting his innings when he can in live batting practice,” Packer said. “He actually has one coming up again. He threw the other day. He looks great. He’s got the velo, it’s still there. So, it’s more about getting his innings up so he’s ready to go. He’s progressing and he’s built up his innings a little bit more and more every time he gets out there, and it’s obviously a lot of fun to watch him pitch.”

Like his one inning against the Phillies in Clearwater, when his fastball climbed from 98.7 mph to 99.6 to 100 to strike out Mickey Moniak. His 11 four-seamers averaged 99.1 mph and he retired the side in order with a second strikeout.

“Even with no fans in the stadium and it’s just live BP on the back fields, it’s like, ‘OK, this is going to be really cool to see,’” Packer said.

The Orioles drafted infielder Anthony Servideo in the third round in 2020 out of the University of Mississippi, and he played in 20 games last summer with Single-A Delmarva, registering a .489 on-base percentage, before undergoing surgery for a sports hernia. He’s also working out in Sarasota, taking ground balls and progressing this week to live at-bats.

“Also hit a home run on his first swing,” Packer said.

“He looks good. He’s just happy to be back on a baseball field and working toward getting back into game shape. He’s definitely getting better every day and it seems like he’s just in a good spot right now.”

* Jordan Lyles tossed five scoreless innings yesterday, and starters have posted an 0.63 ERA in the last six games and a 1.13 ERA in the last nine. The rotation has allowed one run or fewer in six consecutive games and eight of nine.

* Triple-A Norfolk’s Grayson Rodriguez tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings against Durham with one hit allowed, one walk and eight strikeouts. He threw 75 pitches, 46 for strikes, and lowered his ERA to 1.26 in 14 1/3 innings.

Another look at more outstanding O's pitching
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