Henderson happy to stay at shortstop, Hyde impressed with Kimbrel's changeup, Nevin notches another hit (O's lose 3-2)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Talent times have changed with the Orioles, and the proof showed again tonight when substitutions in the sixth inning included Coby Mayo at first base, Jackson Holliday at shortstop and Kyle Stowers in center field.

Not the typical replacements in a road exhibition game.

Holliday subbed for Gunnar Henderson, who led off and played the position that now belongs to him in 2024. Sharing is caring, but Henderson can hog it.

Manager Brandon Hyde confirmed it to the media this afternoon. Henderson won’t shift between short and third. Precisely what last year’s American League Rookie of the Year wanted to hear.

“That’s what I was drafted as and what I played my whole life growing up,” Henderson said, “so I’m looking forward to just getting some consistent playing time there.”

Making 68 starts at third last season and 64 at short denied Henderson an opportunity to win a Gold Glove Award. Too few games at either position, too few positions to be considered for the utility award.

Henderson believes that his defense can tick up by staying in one spot.

“That’s the position I’m most comfortable and, like I’ve said, I’ve grown up playing,” he said. “Yeah, feel like I can make big strides there.”

Henderson didn’t campaign for the full-time job, didn’t advocate for it. The Orioles let him know early on that he’d stay at short unless they made an in-game switch.

“They told me pretty much going into spring training and I kind of had an idea,” he said. “I came in with the right mindset and was able to take most of my reps there and get really ready to play every day at short.”

Henderson went 0-for-3 tonight with a strikeout but is batting .419 with a 1.083 OPS in 10 games. Soreness in his left oblique put his spring debut on hold but didn’t come close to ruining his camp.

“I feel really good,” he said. “I feel good in the box, feel good defensively.”

Jorge Mateo could be a frequent double play partner if he isn’t backing up in the outfield. He’s made the club after going 12-for-35 (.343) with a .425 on-base percentage, .571 slugging percentage, two doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs.

“You can’t coach speed,” Henderson said. “I feel like he’s going to make a difference on the basepaths and wherever he is, he’s going to make a difference, and that’s just the beauty of his ability. He’s a difference-maker no matter where he is.”

* Closer Craig Kimbrel stayed back in Sarasota today after striking out the side in the fifth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Phillies in Sarasota.

On his final pitch, Kimbrel got Bryson Stott to whiff on a changeup. According to Statcast data, Kimbrel’s lone changeup thrown during the regular season was on Sept. 26, 2018 against the Orioles. Jonathan Villar offered at it and missed.

The outcome was the same for Stott.

“It was nasty, too,” Hyde said.

“It’s called 14 years in the big leagues, right? Sometimes you’ve got to progress, and maybe you don’t throw 100 (mph) anymore, you’ve got to do other things. And he’s worked really hard on all of his pitches this camp and showcased the changeup the other night, and the guy was way out in front of it. A really good changeup.”

Stott stood at the plate and stared at Kimbrel in disbelief.

“He wasn’t expecting it. ‘That’s not in the report?’” Hyde said.

“You usually yell at the hitting coach when something like that happens.”

Kimbrel is primarily a fastball pitcher who mixes in a knuckle-curve. The changeup offers a different look to hitters, and it’s doubtful that Kimbrel will leave it down in Florida.

“I think you’ll see more than one this year,” Hyde said.

* Tyler Nevin got another start tonight in left field while Austin Hays stayed back in Sarasota, with his return to the lineup expected Friday night. Nevin grounded out in the second inning, struck out in the fifth and singled in the seventh for his 18th hit in 52 at-bats (.346). He also has an .882 OPS.

Nevin should have gotten an outfield assist in the second inning after fielding Ceddanne Rafaela’s ball off the fake Monster and firing to Kolten Wong. Rafaela appeared to be an easy out, but Wong couldn’t slap the tag, and Wilyer Abreu followed with a run-scoring single off Albert Suárez.

Hyde moved Nevin to right field in the bottom of the fourth and switched Anthony Santander to left.

A reporter suggested earlier today that Nevin won’t be on the Opening Day roster but could latch on with another club.

“He’s got a chance to make the team still,” Hyde said. “We’re still keeping our options open with everything and he’s had a really, really good spring training. Like almost everybody else.

“His ability to hit left-handed pitching, play corner infield and outfield defense, is something we were talking about. He’s had a great camp.”

Nevin is out of minor league options and looking for an opportunity.

“He’s never really had a long look, whether it’s Detroit last year or with us,” Hyde said. “He’s just never had major league everyday at-bats. Our team is pretty good and pretty full right now and it’s going to be tough from that standpoint, but we were looking for guys who can come off the bench or fill in when needed, so he’s right in the mix for those types of things.”

* Suárez turned in his longest outing of the spring at 4 1/3 innings. He allowed one run and four hits, with one walk and three strikeouts, and finishes with a 5.17 ERA.

“It’s been a while since I felt the humidity here,” he said, "but I felt good.”

The rotation competition is closed. Suárez’s only chance to make the club is in long relief.

“I think for me, personally, this is the best spring I ever had pitching-wise and mechanics-wise,” he said. “Everything is just in place.”

Asked whether Suárez sees himself as a major league-caliber pitcher, he replied, “Yes. I can do that.”

“I think I showed them that I’m ready to pitch in the major leagues,” he added. “I don’t control the decision, obviously, but I did my best to show them that I’m ready to pitch in the big leagues.”

Jonathan Heasley replaced Suárez with none on and one out, retired Jarren Duran on a popup and loaded the bases with two singles and a walk. Tyler O’Neill lined to left field.

Wandisson Charles tossed a scoreless sixth with a hit, walk and strikeout, but Boston scored twice against Trey McGough in the seventh for a 3-2 lead.

* Red Sox starter Cooper Criswell shut out the Orioles on two hits in four innings – Santander’s double in the first and Ryan Mountcastle’s double in the fourth.

Michael Pérez led off the sixth with a double off Chris Martin, moved to third base and scored the tying run on catcher Connor Wong’s errant pickoff throw. Santander, who’s really heating up, lined a single up the middle that sent Martin sprawling on the mound.

Ryan McKenna had a run-scoring double in the top of the seventh and is 5-for-34 this spring.

* Controversial Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was on the field for Orioles batting practice.

Politicians seem drawn to the club this spring.

DeSantis chatted with Hyde, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and some of the players. Elias and DeSantis have a Yale connection.

* The Orioles lost 3-2 and are 20-6-2.

Hyde was asked about Suárez.

"Really what he's been doing all camp," Hyde said. "Really good command of pitches, aggressive in the strike zone. I thought he threw the ball extremely well once again. That's a great pickup for us and we're excited about him.

"I didn't even know who he was coming in. Whatever we do with him, it's nice to have a guy, one of those surprised guys a little bit that we talked about at the beginning of camp. His fastball is 96-97, he knows how to pitch, he's got a good cutter. Facing the varsity squad there for the Red Sox tonight, threw the ball well."

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