More Orioles observations in early days of exhibition games

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles are playing their fifth exhibition game this afternoon, hosting the Tigers with Grayson Rodriguez making his first start.

Among my camp observations prior to the opener were Jackson Holliday prepping to play second base, teammates being excited to have Dillon Tate back, Cedric Mullins resembling the pre-injury version of himself, players being angry about the Division Series sweep but moving past it, no one worrying about Gunnar Henderson’s oblique or John Means being a month behind, no one showing panic over Kyle Bradish’s elbow injury, Yennier Cano’s stuff remaining filthy, roster composition remaining a mystery, hard-throwing reliever Wandisson Charles being a popular camp dark horse pick, former Orioles infielders in camp loving Holliday and Henderson, and my lame confusion over Albert and Andrew Suárez.

Also, I didn’t get to meet Peyton Burdick before the White Sox claimed him on waivers. I’m sure he’s equally bummed.

Henderson keeps improving from the left oblique soreness that’s kept him out of games. He worked out again yesterday and said he’s feeling much better. His 2024 spring debut is drawing near, though the Orioles aren’t rushing him.

Bradish is long-tossing and saying that his elbow recovers nicely the following day. It’s the ol’ so far, so good.

Charles is pumping upper-90s fastballs in camp. He tossed a scoreless inning Sunday in Bradenton but allowed a hit and walked a batter.

I’ve seen Albert Suárez pitch. Or maybe it was Andrew.

Here are a few more observations before temperatures climb into the high 70s:

* Enrique Bradfield Jr. comes as advertised.

Last year’s first-round draft pick possesses 80-grade speed. As Muhammad Ali used to say, he can turn off the light switch and be in bed before the room gets dark.

Bradfield batted in the seventh inning Sunday as one of the extras making the trip and beat out a chopper to shortstop with runners on first and second.

The Pirates’ Sergio Alcantara never had a chance to get Bradfield, who left a vapor trail up the line. But he did have an error that allowed the game’s first run to score. Bradfield forced Alcantara to rush the throw and it sailed wide.

As if to rub it in, Bradfield stole second base for good measure.

Bradfield also is an exceptional fielder, and he battled the infamous Florida sun to make a stumbling catch in left.

Some people are using Kenny Lofton as an early comp. Let’s tap the brakes. But yeah, maybe. He’s got some work to do as a hitter, but man, he can fly.

* Can you hear Coby Mayo knocking?

I do.

Mayo had two hits and a walk yesterday after doubled in his only at-bat in Saturday’s opener. He’s swinging the bat with extreme confidence.

We haven’t seen the tremendous power yet, but a line drive single to left-center field yesterday and a liner to right showed me plenty. He isn’t just swinging from his heels. He isn’t just about home runs.

He isn’t Dave Kingman.

I loved this quote yesterday (from Mayo, not Kingman): “After last season, I feel like I have the most confidence in the world and I can hit anybody, and that’s the approach I have right now.”

Confident, but not cocky. You had to be there.

* Craig Kimbrel is known to get lower-body tightness in camp.

Kimbrel cut short his live batting practice session Saturday morning after experiencing discomfort in his quadriceps. He noticed it, threw one more pitch and walked off the mound.

Nothing to see here. Kimbrel told a teammate, and later confirmed to the media, that it’s happened in the past. The veteran closer knows his body - how it’s going to react and when he should head inside. He didn’t limp back to the clubhouse and appeared to be fine the next day.

* Cole Irvin didn’t waste his time in the offseason.

The workouts and new diet are paying big dividends early in camp.

Irvin’s velocity was up Sunday with all five of his pitches, and the movement was sharp. He’s lighter and stronger after lifting heavier weights. The core work is making a noticeable difference.

Irvin has the inside track on a rotation spot and he seems intent on holding onto it. The grip also figures to be stronger.

* Mike Baumann has got rhythm.

I’ve never seen Baumann dance, but the word “rhythm” has come up twice with him.

Baumann retired the side in order Saturday and his fastball was clocked at 97-98 mph.

“He looks great,” Hyde said. “It looks like he’s got a little more rhythm in his delivery. Mike could be huge for us if he continues to progress the way he was last year.”

I approached Baumann at his locker yesterday and asked for his opinion of how he threw against the Red Sox.

“I felt really good,” he replied. “I think most importantly, I felt like I had a good rhythm going and was just filling up the zone. It felt good to have something to build off to start the spring.”

Baumann isn’t a lock for the Opening Day bullpen, but I like his chances.

* Maybe Kaleb Ort isn’t a head-scratcher.

The Orioles acquired Ort from the Phillies for cash considerations and the immediate reaction from fans was somewhat underwhelming.

Ort made 21 appearances with the Red Sox last year and posted a 6.26 ERA and 1.565 WHIP in 23 innings. He has a career 12.86 ERA and 2.286 WHIP in seven games against the Orioles – but also his only save. Last season, he was charged with six earned runs and seven total with nine hits in 3 1/3 innings. He surrendered two home runs in one-third of an inning on April 25, including Cedric Mullins’ grand slam.

Increased use of the changeup and his refined cutter are important differences in Ort, who tossed a scoreless inning yesterday against the Braves and struck out Austin Riley. Keep an eye on him.

* Don’t sleep on Kyle Stowers.

Uncomfortable? Yes. He isn’t a mattress. But also, he’s looked pretty good so far.

A couple of Stowers’ hits in live batting practice came against left-handers, with loud contact. And he homered yesterday off Braves southpaw Dylan Lee in North Port.

A good time here to remind folks that Stowers broke camp with the team last spring. He just needs to get past a few other left-handed hitting outfielders. Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad come to mind.

“He’s got to compete,” Hyde said. “We’ve got a pretty talented group. With the three primary outfielders coming back, things always happen throughout camp. We’re looking for bench bats or guys that can platoon or guys that can step in and start. So, he’s in the mix as one of those guys who’s competing for a major league job.”

* Hyde doesn’t care about your projections for his team.

Fewer wins in 2024? A wild card instead of a division champion? Regression from a 2023 season that produced the best record in the American League?

Fangraphs calculates 84 wins for the Orioles and a third-place finish. Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA gives the club 86 games and residency in third place.


“Can only control what we can control,” Hyde said. “The last two years the projections were a little bit off. I’m not even worried about projections or what people think. We have enough to take care of in this clubhouse and try to get ready for a season.

“Honestly, people can say what they want or predict certain things. It means absolutely nothing to us. So, you can put the computer away. We’ve still got to go play.”

A little off?

“They were a couple wins off,” he said with a smirk.

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