Notes on Mountcastle, Hall, rotation, Means and more

SALISBURY - Ryan Mountcastle couldn’t resist. The temptation got the best of him.

Mountcastle had to check out the left field fence at Camden Yards this week while in town for the Birdland Caravan, knowing that it hadn't changed. Giving it another chance to torment him.

“We were up there. It looked about the same,” Mountcastle said yesterday before posing for photos with fans and tending bar at Evolution Craft Brewing in Salisbury.

With his familiar boyish grin, Mountcastle said, “You see all these other parks moving it in, and I guess we’re moving it out. It is what it is.”

The dimensions will be friendlier to the hitters at Ed Smith Stadium, where the Orioles begin spring training in a few weeks.

Camp will have a unique feel to this group, which isn’t accustomed to garnering so much respect in the industry and being referenced in flattering terms. Praise has been reserved for the farm system, but the major league team finally is earning its own plaudits.

“We’ve got a little more expectations coming into this year and I think all the guys are excited for it,” Mountcastle said. “It brings the fans out, brings everybody. More people watch us. I think it’ll be a really fun year.”

The Orioles didn’t make any high-profile moves, but they filled needs by adding starting pitchers Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin, second baseman Adam Frazier, reliever Mychal Givens and backup catcher James McCann.

“Picked up some good names,” Mountcastle said. “I’m excited to see how they mesh into the group. I think it’s definitely going to be a good year.”

Mountcastle is the unchallenged starter at first base. One of the biggest questions in camp is which left-handed hitter will serve as the primary backup.

“I’ve still got to go out there and play hard and play well, or else anybody can take your spot any day,” he said. “Just go out there, have fun. I’m excited to see all the guys.”

Mountcastle stuck to his usual offseason routine except for some tweaking in the gym.

“I’m ready to go,” he said. “Feel healthy, and the swing feels good.”

Last year’s swing produced a .250/.305/.423 line with 28 doubles, 22 home runs and 85 RBIs in 145 games. Some of it was bad luck, with Mountcastle posting an expected batting average of .277 with a .509 slugging percentage, per Baseball Savant.

“It’s tough,” he said. “You’ve got to go wherever the ball is pitched. I was hitting balls hard to the center of the field, and most of the time you should be happy with that. I was just a little unlucky last year, but hopefully that luck can turn around.”

* DL Hall comes to camp as a starter after making 10 relief appearances in September. The Orioles never intended to change his role.

“He’s going to be in the rotation mix, so he’ll be one of the competitors for the rotation,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said yesterday at the warehouse. “I see 12 pitchers on the 40-man roster right now that will be stretched out and competing for opening day rotation spots. We want to revert to him as a starting pitcher.

“It was kind of part of the plan to bring him up as a reliever to give him a taste of the big leagues, to help the team in the stretch, but also manage his innings and workloads last year. But the plan was always to go back to him starting because he still has a lot of potential there.”

If Hall doesn’t make the rotation in camp, could he be sent down to Triple-A rather than going back to relief?

“That part hasn’t been decided. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Elias said.

“We want to toss him into the rotation competition in camp. Hopefully, he wins one of those spots. I think we’ll see what else is going on with the rest of the team if that ends up being the case.”

* Gibson and Irvin are locks for the rotation. Firmly in the plans, as Elias put it.

Then, it gets murky.

Grayson Rodriguez is likely to break camp in the rotation, but how do the Orioles fill the other two openings?

“The rest of the guys either weren’t in the rotation last year or were but only pitched 100-120 innings and were rookies,” Elias said. “Anytime that’s the case, I think you go back into spring training with a competition to get into the rotation. A lot of those guys had good seasons last year, I think they have inside tracks, but it’s never set in stone until we get through camp.”

Too early to call.

“Really excited,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I think the competition we have in camp is something we haven’t had here, just from how athletic and just the skill level of our guys. It’s a great mix.

“Opening day starter, I think we’re a long way away from that. Kyle’s been around the league for a while, but we have a lot of guys who haven’t been in the league for very long and we’ll kind of figure it out as we get closer.”

* Elias doesn’t expect left-hander John Means to pitch for the Orioles until after June.

“Nothing new, thankfully, beyond what I’ve been saying,” Elias said yesterday during his media session in the warehouse.

“He’s having a very normal, very positive Tommy John rehab right now and I think he could be back in our rotation on the early side in July.”

* Outfielder Yusniel Díaz has returned to the Dodgers organization on a minor league deal.

The Orioles acquired Díaz, pitcher Dean Kremer and three other players from the Dodgers in July 2018 for shortstop Manny Machado. The teardown had begun.

The rebuild would follow.

Díaz couldn’t stay healthy and appeared in only one major league game, striking out in his only at-bat Aug. 2 in Texas.

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