Mazara on much-needed single, revisiting reduced rotation competition

SARASOTA, Fla. – Nomar Mazara knew that the media was ready to speak with him last night in the bullpen area, but fans weren’t done asking for his autograph. He signed baseballs tossed to him over the fence that separated them. One kid asked for his cap, which he kept on his head.   

Told in jest that he’s a man of the people, Mazara smiled and said it happens when you’ve played for so many teams.

He wants a chance to include the Orioles.

Mazara has been scuffling at the plate, pushing him further behind the competition for a last bench spot. He was 3-for-23 before bouncing a game-tying, two-run single into right field in the second inning.

The next two at-bats ended with a comebacker that got Franchy Cordero in a rundown between third base and home, and a line drive to Blue Jays first baseman John Aiello.

Another ball barreled that resulted in an out.

A bouncer through the right side felt like payback, but he’s still owed.

“This working in the cage and stuff,” he said. “The results haven’t been there, but just try to go out there every day and just have good at-bats. The past couple games I’ve been hitting the ball better and just right at people.

“That doesn’t mean I’m going to try to do extra stuff because I have a routine, I work with thousands of swings every day to trust what I’ve got here. I’m not worried about it. I know what I’m capable of, and see more at-bats, start feeling better in my legs. Seeing a result is huge for the confidence, too, and the work done in the cage.”

Mazara is trying to make a late push and avoid falling into an upcoming round of cuts. The Orioles stocked up on non-roster left-handed hitters, with Mazara an exception among players who can be used at first base. He’d need a big spring offensively to shake up the team’s outfield plans, and it hasn’t happened.

“I feel good, swing-wise,” he said. “I’m not seeing everyday reps, so the amount of playing every other day and still being out there and seeing the pitches good and trying to get good at-bats every time, I feel pretty good. The results haven’t been there, but that doesn’t mean anything. I’m working really, really hard, I know what I’m capable of doing, and I know I can help this team at some point.”

There might be a wait in Triple-A for Mazara, who placed fifth in American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Rangers in 2016 and hit 79 home runs in four seasons with them. Cordero had three more hits last night, including a pair of doubles, and is 14-for-26 with seven extra-base hits. Josh Lester singled in his only at-bat and is 13-for-32.

Ryan O’Hearn is nearing a return from a right knee injury and is 9-for-19.

“It’s a really good competition,” Mazara said. “Obviously, everybody’s here to help the team and that’s a good thing. That’s a tough decision on the front office. They know what they’re looking for, and we’re talented. We have depth and that’s good. We’ve got so many lefties that can do a really good job now, later, whenever they want, whatever decision they want to make.

“The competition has been good and hopefully we can continue doing that moving on.”

Mazara was ready to move on from his interview spot after the final question, but a woman called out to him in Spanish and asked if he would sign something for her young son. More children crowded the fence as he walked over to them.

“You’ve got to be nice to the kids,” he said.

* Mike Baumann was a long shot to make the rotation in spring training, but he counted among the dozen candidates on the 40-man roster.

Baumann is out of the running, with manager Brandon Hyde confirming last night that the right-hander is going to be used in short relief.

Seemed like a good fit, with Baumann retiring the Blue Jays in order with a strikeout in the eighth inning.

“That was impressive tonight,” Hyde said. “High-90s fastball, a good slider, cutter. Right now, we’re taking a look at kind of a shorter spurt for him.”

Baumann worked two, three and two innings this spring and allowed eight runs with five walks and 10 strikeouts. Six of the runs scored in two innings Saturday in Dunedin.

Twelve candidates have become nine, with Drew Rom optioned and DL Hall still waiting to make his debut and unable to accumulate the necessary innings to start. Rom also was a long shot.

Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin and Grayson Rodriguez are in, and Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer must like their chances. Kremer has returned from the World Baseball Classic and starts today against the Twins in Fort Myers, with Rodriguez getting the ball Saturday on the Red Sox’s home turf.

Tyler Wells, Austin Voth, Spenser Watkins and Bruce Zimmermann haven’t been eliminated.

* With the camp roster down to 51 players, Lester and catcher Maverick Handley escaped the auxiliary clubhouse across the hall and found lockers in the main area.

The back room is now reserved for players arriving for games from minor league camp.

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