SARASOTA, Fla. – Anthony Santander received his second exhibition start at first base last night. With the club undecided on a primary backup, it makes sense to check whether he can be trusted to do more than field ground balls in pregame drills.
Santander has shown that he’s comfortable, running down a foul popup last night and handling every throw, but the Orioles have other options. For instance, non-roster invites Franchy Cordero, Josh Lester and Ryan O’Hearn remain in camp, surviving cuts that whittled the roster to 44 players.
“We definitely have more depth this year, and we still have a huge number in camp because we still want to take a look at a lot of people,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Still have roster spots open that we haven’t finalized. We’re just starting to have those conversations. We have them throughout the spring but narrowing down to how our roster is going to look when he break. Still questionable right now.”
Cordero was inserted at first base in the seventh inning last night, and Lester went to third. O’Hearn batted for designated hitter Ryan Mountcastle in the eighth. They were stacked back-to-back-to-back in the order, which seemed appropriate. Lined up like actors auditioning for a role.
O’Hearn walked in the eighth, Cordero singled into right field and Lester walked. They all scored, as the Orioles battled back to tie the game.
Lester made a sensational diving stop and throw behind the bag to end the top of the ninth. Maverick Handley and O’Hearn walked, Cordero struck out and Lester produced a walk-off double on a ball hit to the base of the center field fence.
And deciding what to do with them didn’t get any easier.
Taking a called third strike was a rare instance when Cordero stayed quiet. He’s 18-for-40 (.450) with four doubles, a triple, two home runs and nine RBIs.
“I feel really good with the way things have gone so far,” he said via translator Brandon Quinones. “I think we’ve seen the fruits of the labor from working really hard with the hitting coaches. They’ve set me out on a good path here and so, all the hard work that I’ve been putting in with them and all the hard work in general has been paying off for me.
“I feel and we feel really good with the amount of work we’ve put in on the field and everything like that. At this point, it’s up to the staff, the GM (Mike Elias), manager. We try to control what we can and do our part, and now it’s up to them.”
The nerves subsided a while ago. Cordero isn’t a stranger to the roster bubble and having to fight for his opportunities.
“It’s nothing new to me,” he said. “It’s something that every spring training you kind of deal with. But I just control what I can control, continue to work hard and just leave it up to them and in their hands.”
Lester is 16-for-49 (.327) with two doubles, two triples, a home run and 12 RBIs that lead the club. He’s able to play the infield and outfield corners.
“I don’t really have a feel, they haven’t said anything to anybody,” he said. “Hopefully, even if it’s not in the big leagues to start, I’d love to make a good impression on them and there won’t be a hesitation to call me up at some point this season. I know there’s a number of us for a few spots. We’ll see how it plays out. But either way, I think I’ve done enough to make a positive impression and hopefully be up at some point.”
Lester fell behind the competition early in camp with a 1-for-12 start at the plate. He went 3-for-3 with two RBIs after coming off the bench March 7 against the Twins in Fort Myers, and he won’t go away.
Given one plate appearance Thursday night, Lester singled in the eighth inning to score Jordan Westburg. He was mobbed last night after his double, with the ball scalded to center.
“I think a little bit of it is just getting comfortable, and obviously with hitters seeing more at-bats, more pitches, you get a little more on time with everything,” he said. “We worked on some things that we figured would help with the timing, starting earlier and working certain parts of the field and trying to get back to where I had been in the past. I think it all kind of came together at the same time, those things working and getting more at-bats into the spring, and it clicked.”
O’Hearn is 11-for-33 (.333) with a double, home run, four RBIs and five walks. He missed some time with a knee injury sustained while chasing a fly ball in the outfield, but the swelling is gone and he’s still here.
“It’s crunch time,” he said. “I’m just waiting to hear. This isn’t my first time going through this, so I know it kind of goes down to the last minute before they let us know, or at least that’s how it’s been for me in the past.
“Just try not to worry about that, focusing on my work today and any opportunity I get, trying my best not to worry about what’s going to happen because that day’s going to come here. No matter how much worrying and wondering I do, it’s not going to have an effect, right? It’s completely out of my hands. But I feel good. I feel good defensively – first base, the outfield. Swing’s coming back. I feel good. I feel like I fit the team well and I can help out.
“Obviously, I want to be on that plane to Boston, so we’ll just see what happens. It’s not going to be the end of the world either way. We’re going to be all right whatever happens. Just trying to take it in stride, focus on every day and let the decision-makers make the decisions. Same thing.”
Stressing over each at-bat would be counterproductive.
O’Hearn struck out in his first at-bat Thursday night with a runner in scoring position and reached on an infield single with two outs in the ninth inning after the Tigers rallied to tie.
“I mean, realistically, they’re not going to make their decision off one or two spring training games,” he said. “It’s like, continue to be myself, continue to get after it on defense, have quality at-bats, compete like crazy, and that’s pretty much it. Focusing on the process, focusing on my work, and then just kind of letting it fly and getting my competitive juices going when the game happens. That’s it.”
The instruction provided in camp is viewed as a key to some of the offensive bursts, with credit doled out to co-hitting coaches Ryan Fuller and Matt Borgschulte, new Double-A Bowie hitting coach Sherman Johnson and new Triple-A Norfolk hitting coach Brink Ambler, who moved up from Single-A Delmarva this year.
“They’ve just been working with my base, with my body, understanding that the power comes from the ground up,” Cordero said. “So, I’m working from the lower body up, and just overall plate discipline, as well.”
“They do a really good job,” Lester said. “It’s anything you could possibly want and more. They do a really good job of not only being available to what we want to do, but also having thoughts of what they want to do, and based off what they see. Every day is different, especially in the hitting world. Things can feel really good one day and then the next day you feel like you’re an alien. But they try to do their best and they do a really good job of keeping everybody in a routine and then throwing some wrinkles in there that they think can help, and it’s been really helpful. I love it.
“They’re all in there all the time, so it’s a group effort, for sure. There’s not just one guy we go to. We trust all of them. It’s been a good group to work with and I think they’ve got some really good ideas, and hopefully we can carry through a season, too, and make it a special one.”
Hyde wants to give his regulars more at-bats and innings in the field and play them on back-to-back days. The usual progressions late in camp, which come at the expense of the reserves. But the non-invite trio is staying strong, outlasting Lewin Díaz and Curtis Terry and waiting for the next chance.
Making the club would allow Cordero to return to Fenway Park after spending parts of the last two seasons with the Red Sox.
The city and ballpark wouldn’t matter, though. Like the others, he just wants to get back to the majors, with March 30 the targeted date.
“It would mean a lot to me just to be in any situation for Opening Day,” he said.
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