Mansolino offers infield opinions of Westburg, Holliday, Henderson and Mountcastle

Jordan Westburg began yesterday’s game on the bench, only the second time this season that his name was missing from the lineup. He wouldn’t budge because of a stomach virus, robbing the Orioles of a bat that might have impacted the outcome of the game, a 7-6 loss to the Athletics.

Westburg has made 18 starts at third base and six at second, and he’s also served once as the designated hitter. He’ll return to the infield tonight if he’s recovered from the bug, still charged with only one error in 93 major league games.

Memories are fuzzy when it comes to identifying the location and exact situation, but Westburg’s lone miscue happened on Aug. 15, 2023 in San Diego. Manager Brandon Hyde did some shuffling after the top of the seventh inning, moving Ramón Urías from third base to first, shifting Ryan O’Hearn from first to right field, and sending Westburg into the game to play third.

The Orioles were down 10-1 when the first batter in the inning, Xander Bogaerts reached on a ground ball that Westburg fielded to his left before bouncing the throw. Urías couldn’t handle it and Westburg was charged with the error.

Bogaerts raced to third base on Jake Cronenworth’s double, but Mike Baumann escaped the jam with two strikeouts and a fly ball. No harm done.

That’s the only smudge on Westburg’s defensive ledger.

“He’s really skilled,” said third base coach Tony Mansolino, who’s also the infield instructor. “It’s a really boring infielder and I say that with all the respect in the world. He can make a flashy play, but he’s just so steady. He makes everything look really easy and really simple. You guys had a great one here in JJ Hardy that people who saw him play described him as kind of a boring shortstop, which, that’s a huge compliment in this game.

“When have we seen that (one error) with a rookie going back and forth between multiple positions. It’s really impressive what he’s done.”

Mansolino didn’t remember the city, but he knew it was a high chopper, and that a more experienced first baseman might have picked the ball out of the dirt.

“That’s a tough one to get,” he said. “None of us can be anything but impressed by Jordan and how he’s played and how he’s handled himself day to day.”

Any infield instructor is going to prefer the “boring” player over the flashier one. Steady beats showy.

“The routine plays still matter,” Mansolino said.

“I think the metrics love range and they love lateral plays, but I think everybody here in the building and probably all of you as well, we want the guy who makes the routine play every single day. We don’t want the guy who makes lateral plays but throws up 20 errors, 25 errors in a season. We’ll take a guy who maybe has a little less range but has a single digit error total. That guy’s a really good player, as well, and I think that guy’s undervalued in the game just because we tend to lean so much, we place defensive value so much through the metrics, and the metrics really reward a lot of rangy-type plays.”

Jackson Holliday’s removal from the active roster gives Westburg more chances to play second. Holliday will get most of his starts at the position while he’s in Triple-A, though the demotion had more to do with his struggles at the plate. He looked fine in the field.

“He played clean,” Mansolino said. “I didn’t see any mistakes. The eye test was really positive. I think the metrics were real neutral on him, which is positive in a short sample. Those things can go sideways real quick, even when a guy plays well. I think the two of those combine to be really good and feel really good about him.

“I’d say going forward he just has to play more. We really didn’t see him get tested by the spectrum of plays that a second baseman’s going to have to make over the course of the year. That’s nobody’s fault. It's just kind of the sample that was given to him. I think that’s going to be a big thing. And I think what we’re going to see the more he plays there is you’re going to see his skill set we see in practice every day during his work and BP, we’re going to see that start to show up in the game, which is really good and really positive and something that’s going to lend him well in the future playing that position.”

Perhaps most impressive with Holliday was the way he kept his slump from bleeding into his defense. He left his failed at-bats at the plate.

“It’s really crazy that we have two young players here in Gunnar (Henderson) and Jackson, two middle infielders, that we’ve seen come up and struggle a little bit offensively at different times as they’ve been here and play so well defensively,” Mansolino said. “It’s really wild that both of them are able to separate at such a young age. We saw Gunnar do it his first taste in the big leagues at 20, and obviously now Jackson as a younger 20-year-old do it.

“Credit to their parents I think more than anything. Knowing how you raise your kids and the message you’re always teaching them. Credit to their parents in teaching those two how to do that.”

Henderson made four more starts at third base as a rookie than he did at shortstop, but the bouncing back and forth has stopped. He’s the full-time shortstop and making dazzling plays, including the throw from the outfield grass in Anaheim after a ground ball eluded the diving Westburg at third.

The range and arm strength weren’t typical.

“He’s really a heck of a player,” Mansolino said. “If you look at the two months or so that he played straight at short at the end of the year last year, I don’t know the numbers for sure but I know he’s at the very top of DRS, which is probably my favorite metric to look at, knowing the ins and outs of how they’re all calculated. I think that kind of painted a clear picture of his work over there. Then, also, the eye test over there obviously was really clean last year.

“Fast-forward to this year, he’s played great. I think you can credit him maybe with three mistakes at this point.”

One of them is debatable, as Mansolino noted. The throwing error in Pittsburgh that gave the Pirates a walk-off win after Henderson dived up the middle to smother Edward Olivares’ bouncer up the middle, tapped the bag with his hand and fired the ball past Ryan Mountcastle to let two runs score.

“I don’t even know if that is a mistake,” Mansolino said. “That’s a great play that I’d probably say there’s only a couple shortstops in the game that are going after that ball at that angle and trying to turn it as opposed to taking the safe out at second. He’s made a couple probably focus mistakes is what you would call them, but other than that he's making the routine play, he’s making the great play right, he’s making it left. He’s a great relay guy. He can go get a popup.

“Really, the whole skill set is there to be an everyday shortstop and be one of the better ones in the major leagues.”

Mountcastle made his 23rd start at first base yesterday, with Ryan O’Hearn going to right field. O’Hearn has made three starts at first, two in the outfield and 11 as designated hitter.

Mountcastle had three more hits, including a home run, and is batting .319 with a .906 OPS. But Mansolino also praises the work at first, where Mountcastle was a Gold Glove finalist last season.

Yesterday's game included a lunging stop by Mountcastle to rob Ryan Noda of a hit and strand a runner in the eighth inning.

“He might be the only guy I’ve seen in the major leagues in the last four years who honestly takes ground balls every single day,” Mansolino said. “There was probably an epidemic in the big leagues there a few years ago where guys weren’t going out on day games, they weren’t taking them every day. I feel like it’s flipped a little bit here recently. I feel like you’re starting to see guys out there more often, but Mounty’s been out there every single day.

“He wants to get better, he takes a lot of pride in it, and we’re seeing the fruits of that labor at this moment.”

Battle for the AL East lead: O's and Yankees begin...
Kimbrel can't hold lead and leaves with injury in ...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to