CLEARWATER, Fla. – Spring stats don’t appear to carry much weight with Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. He’s only checked the number of plate appearances. Otherwise, he has no interest.
It’s more about the quality of the at-bats and a pitcher’s control in the strike zone, he says.
“Put very little stock in what their numbers are like.”
Some of the competitors for the backup job at first base probably wish the figures counted for more in the final evaluations.
Josh Lester was 1-for-12 before stepping off the bus Wednesday in Fort Myers. Better to turn away. But he went 3-for-3 with two RBIs against the Twins, and he singled twice today in his first two at-bats.
Lester lined an RBI single into center field off Phillies starter Aaron Nola in the second inning, and raced to third base when the ball scooted past Brandon Marsh, which allowed Lewin Díaz to score. Díaz, who walked as the designated hitter, also is trying to make the club as a non-roster invite.
Lester came to the plate with one out in the fourth inning and singled again. He grounded out in the sixth, and César Prieto replaced him at third base.
Ryan O’Hearn started at first base and singled in the third and fifth innings, with solid contact. He’s 9-for-17 with a double, home run and four RBIs and is slashing .529/.579/.765 in eight games.
Hyde hauled a huge portion of the first base competition to Clearwater. Franchy Cordero started in right field and had an RBI triple in the third. He’s 7-for-18 with a home run this spring.
Díaz is 5-for-15 with two doubles and a home run, and Hyde loves his defense at first.
“A lot of guys we brought into camp have done a great job of coming in prepared and swinging the bat extremely well, especially early now,” Hyde said after a 7-6 loss. “Good to see. Good to see the way Lester is swinging the bat and the way O’Hearn and Franchy. It’s been fun watching these guys and looking forward to watching them for a while now.”
* Tyler Wells fell behind 2-0 to the first batter he faced this afternoon, Bryson Stott, fired a 92.7 mph fastball and was down by a run.
What followed were three consecutive strikeouts on two fastballs and a slider. Two runners were stranded in the second, the rally dying with another Wells strikeout.
Wells retired the first two batters in the third, but on 18 pitches to reach 55 for the game and force a change. Stott’s at-bat ending with a fly ball consumed eight of those pitches. Wells threw 10 to strike out Rhys Hoskins – plus a ball due to a pitch-clock violation.
“The best way I can put it is, it’s very uplifting,” Wells said. “It’s a long, gruesome battle out there, but even in my head I’m just like, ‘Good lord, this guy (Hoskins) is going to keep fouling them off.’ But it was a great at-bat by him and definitely happy that I came out on top.”
The final line was one run and two hits in 2 2/3 innings, with no walks and five strikeouts. He allowed three runs and five hits in two innings against the split-squad Braves in his debut.
“I definitely think I came out with a little bit more aggression kind of right out of the gate, something that as a whole I’ve talked about,” Wells said. “Just attacking guys, staying in the strike zone but still kind of, I guess, getting ahead of guys and being able to put them away. Very happy with the result today, but still more work to do.”
“Loved his slider today,” Hyde said. “Sometimes, that slider went in and out last year, but today he had the slider that he had out of the bullpen two years ago. The fastball was good again. Just gave up that home run. Besides that, I thought he threw the ball really well.”
The first-batter home run was the biggest disappointment for Wells. A wakeup call perhaps, since he settled in nicely after it?
“It pissed me off, if that counts,” he replied. “That’s what happens whenever you fall behind 2-0 to the first guy of the game and you kind of throw him a cookie and try to get ahead. He hit the ball well. Even the second time he got it well and it went out to the warning track. So, not taking anything away from him. That was my own doing. I think that definitely kind of helped me get into that aggressive mode real quick.
“So, it is what it is, but I’m not going to let it happen again.”
* Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi tossed three scoreless innings over his first three appearances. No walks and five strikeouts.
And then today happened.
Politi surrendered two-run homers to Edmundo Sosa and Aramis Garcia in the fourth to give Philadelphia a 5-4 lead. He also struck out two batters but couldn’t finish the inning.
Alec Bohm drew a leadoff walk before Sosa’s homer on an 87 mph cutter. Jake Cave tripled before Garcia’s homer on a 94 mph fastball. Cave and Garcia had brief stays on the Orioles’ 40-man roster.
The strikeouts came on a curveball and cutter.
Sosa hit a solo homer off Bruce Zimmermann leading off the sixth. Zimmermann retired the side in order in the fifth, the Phillies scored twice in the sixth, and he retired the side in order in the seventh.
* Hyde revealed that the first round of cuts will be made before Monday’s split-squad games. He isn’t providing a specific date until players are informed.
Hyde also said earlier today that left-hander DL Hall remains a realistic possibility for the Opening Day roster.
“He just won’t be fully built up from a five-inning, six-inning starter standpoint, but we could carry him still,” Hyde said. “He’ll get some appearances in major league spring training games before we break if everything goes well from now until then.”
Infielder Terrin Vavra is expected to return to the lineup Friday night against the Twins in Sarasota. The soreness is gone from his left shoulder and he had a full workout this morning.
“It all went well today,” Hyde said. “I just got the text, actually, that, all good. Check in in the morning with him, and if he feels good, I’ll probably have him in there tomorrow.”
Gunnar Henderson went hitless in three at-bats today and is 2-for-17 with seven strikeouts, but he darted to his right in the fifth, made a lunging backhand stop of Bohm's ground ball at 108.8 mph off the bat and threw him out from the edge of the outfield grass.
Robert Neustrom hit a two-run homer in the seventh after replacing Kyle Stowers, cutting the Phillies’ lead to 7-6. Heston Kjerstad batted for Cordero and tripled with two outs, his eighth hit in 15 at-bats.
Joey Krehbiel had a much-needed 1-2-3 eighth, striking out two batters, after allowing eight runs in his first 1 2/3 innings.
“He was the highlight of the day for me on the mound, him and Wellsy with the slider,” Hyde said. “Joey looking way more aggressive, on the attack, some really good changeups. I thought the fastball had great life to it. I know he scuffled early, but good to see him kind of come back to show who he is.”
Jordan Westburg, starting at second base, had a double, sacrifice fly and infield single. He’s 6-for-20 with three doubles.
“Fairly pleased,” he said. “I felt like I put together two good at-bats against Nola, which I was really happy about. Obviously, he’s a top-of-the-line guy, and for me to get that experience off him was pretty cool, it was pretty special, and definitely helps my game a little bit comparing myself to what it’s going to be like up there.
“My last at-bat, I’ve faced the guy (Seranthony Domínguez) quite a bit, had some issue with him, and that’s kind of what I end up doing off that guy is not a lot of hard contact. Would love to face him again, would love to get that at-bat back, but overall I was pretty pleased.”
“We faced some big league pitchers today with these guys and he went to left-center that first at-bat, and then a nice piece of hitting with the sac fly,” Hyde said. “I’ve been moving him around defensively, he’s going to continue to move around, but took really good at-bats today.”
Austin Voth starts Saturday in Dunedin while left-hander Cole Irvin’s next outing is the same day on the Camden Yards field in Sarasota. Hyde is sparing Irvin the long trip.
Left-hander Keegan Akin has tossed three scoreless innings in two appearances, including two Wednesday afternoon against the Pirates.
“For me, he’s throwing the ball as good as anybody this spring,” Hyde said. “Great life to his fastball, I know he’s been working on his off-speed, also. I think his fastball is up to 95, gets on hitters. Throwing a ton of strikes. Off to a great start.
“We’re going to continue to kind of multi-inning him all the way through.”
Hyde won’t put a limit on the number of relievers in the Opening Day bullpen who can provide length.
“I think the more multi-inning guys we have in our bullpen, the better, especially in April, when starters aren’t fully built up,” he said. “You don’t want to back-to-back guys out of the bullpen as much early. To have guys be able to throw multiple innings is really valuable, especially early.”
Hyde stepped inside the clubhouse this morning only for a few seconds as Dean Kremer played O’Hearn in the ping pong tournament finals. He smiled and walked back to his office, asking later who won.
The way teammates cheered them on, hanging on every shot, provided the latest example of the camaraderie on the team. The closeness and the chemistry.
“We have a dart tournament going on, we’ll have some basketball stuff during March Madness. Physically, see who’s got the best jumper on the team,” Hyde said.
“It’s such a, same thing every day, except when you come to Dunedin and Clearwater, that just trying to keep it light for the guys and have guys do fun stuff with the group.”
Update: The Orioles have reassigned infielders Coby Mayo, César Prieto and Curtis Terry, outfielder Robert Neustrom, catcher Ramón Rodriguez and right-handers Wandisson Charles, Ofreidy Gómez, Morgan McSweeney Kade Strowd, Cole Uvila, Chris Vallimont and Ryan Watson to minor league camp. That brings the Orioles' spring training roster down to 59 players.