Lessons learned in first class of 2022

The next steps in the 2022 baseball season, which felt like they began with the Dec. 2 lockout, finally bring us to the first home game. The absence of a dateline on this story makes it official.
We’re not in Florida anymore.
The .500 record in exhibition games already was packed away. The 0-3 start after Tampa Bay’s sweep made the trip to Baltimore, but the baggage wasn’t all bad.
The Rays are gonna do Rays things. They’re a small-market winner that’s a blueprint and a powder-blue pest.
What did we learn about the Orioles after only three regular season games?

* We know that Jorge Mateo is going to get many, many chances to stick with the club rather than being exposed again to waivers. And in a tiny sample size, he’s viewed more as a shortstop than second baseman, based on his starts.
Mateo made a couple of impressive plays in the field and also committed a fielding error. There could be lapses in consistency, but the tools intrigue and a rebuilding team can afford a lengthy audition.
He wasn’t a top 100 prospect for three years because of his winning smile.
You can’t steal first base, and Mateo is reaching at a much higher percentage with the Orioles. He collected two hits over the first two games, including a double, and drew three walks in the series to raise his total to 10 in 128 plate appearances since the waiver claim. He had three in 121 plate appearances with the Padres.

* There could be platoons at two infield positions.
Or some semblance of them.
Kelvin Gutiérrez started at third base on opening day against Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan, and he sat the next two games versus right-handers. Rougned Odor started at second base against the right-handers and sat versus McClanahan.
Ramón Urías could be a regular who keeps bouncing between third and second, with chances to start at shortstop when Mateo is rested.
Mateo seems more comfortable at shortstop.

* Keegan Akin can throw strikes.
Akin filled up the zone Saturday afternoon, with 27 strikes among 31 pitches. An insane amount for anyone. A real eye-popper with Akin averaging 3.8 walks per nine innings last season and issuing six in 5 1/3 frames in spring training.
Troubles with command prevented Akin from making the club last spring. He was more aggressive and confident in his stuff Saturday, and coming out of the bullpen just felt right.
“I liked it, actually, to be honest with you,” he said. “I liked it a lot, so could get used to it.”
Akin smiled. Manager Brandon Hyde was beaming, with Akin the highlight of the day for him.
Does this make Akin a tandem starter, perhaps behind Tyler Wells? Is he long relief behind anyone who requires it?
Stay tuned.

* Anthony Santander isn’t planted in right field.
Santander is expected to patrol right at Camden Yards, but he was the left fielder for two days at Tropicana Field before serving yesterday as the designated hitter.
That’s half the number of starts he made in left field in 2021.
Hyde mentioned that Austin Hays is throwing the ball a little better. He also pointed out that Santander’s running has improved after he sustained ankle and knee injuries last year, but he didn’t say that “Tony” has 100 percent mobility. 
Hays is likely to be the one introduced today to the new left field dimensions. Santander can observe from across the outfield if he isn’t the DH.

* The leash wasn’t long on DJ Stewart.
Stewart pinch-hit in all three games, struck out twice and flied out, and was optioned.
The choice seemed to come down to Stewart or Ryan McKenna if the Orioles decided to go with 15 pitchers and 13 position players. This could be happening, though they’d need two fresh arms with Dean Kremer expected to be placed on the injured list with an oblique strain.
Stewart lost a chunk of spring training after being hit by a fastball on his left hand. He rushed to get ready, and the club likely will explain yesterday’s optioning by saying he needs more at-bats.

* Ryan Mountcastle also can hit when he isn’t a rookie.
Mountcastle went 5-for-12 with a home run in the series. He just missed a three-run homer yesterday in the seventh inning, flying to the warning track in center field. Exit velocity of 102 mph, a 397-foot out.
No worries with this beast.

* A remade bullpen could have some real weapons.
Bryan Baker retired the first six batters he faced in two appearances before Manuel Margot led off the seventh yesterday by reaching on an infield hit that probably should have been ruled an error on Odor. Baker was good in camp and good in St. Pete.
Cionel Pérez may never give up a run. He owns a spotless ERA after six spring training games and opening day.
Félix Bautista flashed a 99 mph fastball yesterday, and we know there’s more in the tank. But his strikeouts came on a changeup and slider. 
Seems unfair.

* Bautista is huge.
We already knew it, but seeing him up close really drives home the point.
The guy walks into the clubhouse and it dims. I’m not throwing shade. It’s just true.
Bautista isn’t just tall. His shoulders are so broad, he can balance equipment bags on them.
Baseball.Reference.com lists him at 6-feet-5 and 190 lbs. That was at birth.

* Speaking of nicknames, which I did with Santander, backup catcher Anthony Bemboom is “Boomer.”
Hyder used it over the weekend. It’s official.
Baseball nicknames used to be the most creative in sports. Hammerin’ Hank, Catfish, Three Finger, Toy Cannon, Bambino, Iron Horse, Rapid Robert, Teddy Ballgame, The Say Hey Kid, The Wizard of Oz, The Georgia Peach, Spaceman, Charlie Hustle, Penguin. Then, everyone got lazy and just attached a “y” sound.
The raging beat writer controversy is in the spelling. Is Jorge López written as “Lopey” or “Lopie?” Is John Means “Meansy” or “Meansie?” Is Ryan Mountcastle “Mounty” or “Mountie?” Is Austin Hays “Haysy” or “Haysie?”
Thank goodness for “Ced.” No room for debate there.
Don’t get me started on “Zim/Zimm” or “D-Tate”/“DTate.”
Hyde confirmed “Zim” and “D-Tate,” by the way. And his word is gospel.
We also settled on Lopey, Meansy, Mounty, Haysy, Robbie (Chirinos), CO (Chris Owings), Mac (Ryan McKenna) and Roogie (Odor).
Your cheat sheet for the season.

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