Checking out other items from Opening Day

BOSTON – The Orioles can’t just sit on their 1.000 winning percentage as if it’s a papasan shaped like their loss total in 2023. They’ll have to play another game. Maybe the rain gods will get their own off-day, or we’ll have to wait a little longer. But it’s happening.

The beauty of yesterday’s prearranged break is it allows fans, though eager for an immediate follow up, to reflect a little more on Opening Day. To savor the sensation of a 10-9 win and catcher Adley Rutschman’s historic performance.

Rutschman soaked up a spotlight that he didn’t pursue. He kept trying to step aside of it while staying in the MASN camera frame. Happy for the win. The most important thing. Don’t lose sight of it within the glare of a 5-for-5 day that included a home run and walk.

Guilty as charged. He was the main story. But let’s explore a few other nuggets from Thursday afternoon. They’ve been kept on ice, which seems right with a game time temperature of 38 degrees.

(OK, that’s above freezing, but don’t overthink it.)

The impact of the pitch clock/batter timer
There were three violations, including a strike on Austin Hays. A third strike was called on Rafael Devers leading off the eighth against Bryan Baker. Reliever Chris Martin didn’t beat the clock.

Can’t say the game sped along like we were in Sarasota. It was played in three hours, 10 minutes. But a combined 19 runs, 26 hits, 12 walks and three errors, and the pitching changes in the middle of innings, usually would have taken us into the four-hour mark and killed the pace.

The average Opening Day game time in 2022 was three hours, 11 minutes but only two hours, 42 minutes on Thursday. Only five of 15 this year lasted three hours or more.

Do with it what you want.

I'd probably favor it less if I were watching at home or hanging in the press box with the freedom to leave whenever I wanted. If I wasn't working the majority of 162. Gotta be honest here. I'll excuse myself from the voting process.

Félix Bautista’s rough ride
Dissecting pitching stats with numb fingers isn’t advised.

Bautista wasn’t sharp, allowing two runs (one earned) and two hits with a walk, but manager Brandon Hyde blamed the conditions and how his reliever couldn’t get a grip on the splitter.

The save wasn’t blown. A three-run lead was whittled to one but Bautista notched his second strikeout of the inning, needing three pitches to fan Adam Duvall. And with the split after firing four-seamers at 97.5 mph and 99.3 mph.

Bautista’s velocity was down at times but nothing alarming. The first game in cold weather after getting a late start in camp and building up slowly. He was 95-97 mph for the first two batters but struck out Devers with a 99.2 mph heater. He was clocked at 99.6 mph before Justin Turner reached on an infield hit.

I’d remain calm. Don’t get too obsessive over the stat line.

In other words, get a grip.

Logan Gillaspie offers a different look
Gillaspie provides evidence that long shots can be winners in camp.

Mock bullpens weren’t flush with Gillaspie references, but he pitched his way onto the team with one unearned run allowed and 10 strikeouts in seven innings. And it wasn’t just the numbers. Hyde loves Gillaspie’s stuff and attitude on the mound.

Everyone in the bullpen has the potential to work in high-leverage situations. Gillaspie’s first career Opening Day lasted one batter, when he struck out Connor Wong to strand the runner he inherited from Baker.

Gillaspie provides a bit of a contrast on the bridge to Bautista. He wasn’t just fastball/slider, fastball/splitter or fastball/sinker – the latter combo allowing Cionel Pérez to retire the side in order in the seventh. Gillaspie touched 96.9 mph with his four-seam and went heavy with his slider, which was 82-85 mph, but he snapped off a curveball to dispose of Wong – a pitch he used only nine percent of the time in 2022 per Baseball Savant. The changeup is his primary secondary pitch.

Injuries to Dillon Tate and Mychal Givens opened the door for Gillaspie and Mike Baumann. It slammed shut on Joey Krehbiel and Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi, despite how he impressed and the team’s infatuation with his curveball. Tate won’t be back until at least mid-May. We don’t know about Givens after the pain he experienced again in his left knee during his simulated game. We’re still told it isn’t catastrophic.

In the meantime, Hyde will figure out, based on matchups and availability, how he’s aligning his ‘pen. He spoke with bench coach Fredi González on Thursday about the rarity of having every reliever available with an off-day on the horizon. It won’t always be that way, of course.

“You’re not really sure about roles and how guys are throwing, because spring training can really fool you in so many ways,” he said. “But you saw the guys that threw at the end with Cionel, Bake and Bautista, guys that did the job for us really well last year.

“Cionel was unbelievable, but Gillapsie, that’s a huge, huge punchout there, possible game-changing strikeout.”

Moves that worked for Hyde beyond bullpen
Lineup fascination is amped in the opener, and Hyde was asked pregame about starting Ramón Urías at third base and Adam Frazier at second and sitting Kyle Stowers against veteran right-hander Corey Kluber. We don’t know what Stowers would have done, but Urías hit a two-run homer in the fourth to break a 1-1 tie and also reached on a single hit by pitch and fielder’s choice.

Urías was 6-for-13 lifetime against Kluber before the home run. Not a huge sample size, but combine it with the Gold Glove he won at third base and having Kyle Gibson on the mound, and Hyde clearly made the right call.

Frazier doubled twice, walked, stole a base and started two double plays after going 8-for-43 (.186) in exhibition games.

In a related story, don’t fall in or out of love with spring training numbers.  

Moves that didn’t work for Hyde
It made sense to put Anthony Santander in left field and Austin Hays in right at Fenway Park. Most of us saw it coming from miles away.

Have the speedier Hays cover more ground in right. That’s how the Orioles have done it in the past. Trey Mancini also was assigned the Green Monster.

Hyde had the right idea Thursday but it didn’t work as expected. All three outfielders were crossed up during the game. Santander broke back on a fly ball that fell in front of him and got turned around on a line drive that cleared his head.

The plan made sense on paper but the games are played on the field. Write that down.

Ryan McKenna pinch-ran for Santander in the top of the ninth and replaced him in left. Would be wise to make that defensive switch a little earlier, except no lead is safe at Fenway and Santander received one more at-bat.

Between the two, I’m going with the glove, but you can make an argument for how it played out.

The Red Sox are starting left-hander Chris Sale in the second game, which could keep Stowers on the bench and have Frazier join him. The outfield alignment might be the same. Or maybe Urías plays second base, Gunnar Henderson plays third, and the DH spot opens for Santander, with McKenna starting in left.

I’m not dumping on Santander. He’s usually a right fielder and was a Gold Glove finalist. There isn’t an easy outfield position at Fenway. But the overall defense was one of the few issues on Opening Day.

Six geese a-laying, five stolen bases
The Orioles also were resting on their stole base lead yesterday, swiping five bags to lead the runner-up Yankees, Braves and Pirates by three.

I mentioned it in my article and provided details, but they felt buried beneath the pile of Rutschman milestones.

Two for Jorge Mateo, two for Cedric Mullins and one for Frazier.

Mateo easily had a third steal in the eighth inning but Mullins fouled off the pitch. Mateo was more than two-thirds to the bag. He could have gone in standing.

Mullins lined into a double play after Mateo again got a huge jump.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora thought his club invited the track meet by being slow to the plate and ignoring the clock. Orioles baserunners got huge leads.

“Everyone was dealing with the clock in a real environment,” said catcher Reese McGuire. “There were a few times that the clock was winding down and it was almost as if they were using it to their advantage to kind of time it up. We got exposed a little bit there today."

And being exposed in freezing weather is never a good idea.

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