The Orioles completed their only trip to Kansas City yesterday and are in Toronto for the first of three visits.
This is my first appearance since the 2016 wild card game.
My lasting image from that day besides Zack Britton warming in the bullpen and sitting down, and my frantic attempts late at night to get a flight home, is catcher Matt Wieters bolting out of his crouch the moment that Edwin Encarnación’s bat made contact against Ubaldo Jimenez in the 11th inning.
Wieters spun toward the dugout as if unable to watch. Or maybe he sensed the outcome in advance and hated to be proven right. Probably both.
The four-time All-Star also knew he just played his last game with the Orioles. A tough way to go out.
The Orioles are 136-208 all-time in Toronto. They lost three of four games in June 2021 in Buffalo and two of three Aug. 30-Sept. 1, and they were swept in a three-game series to conclude the season.
The Jays outscored them 28-9 from Oct. 1-3. Also a tough way to go out, but the Orioles wound up with the first-overall pick in the draft.
A year later, the Orioles remain a last-place team but are more competitive. They’re a feisty bunch, which increases their frustration when swept in Detroit and losing the first two games in Kansas City. They expect more from themselves.
Winning the last two spun their moods. Much better than spinning their wheels.
The most interesting part of this week’s trip is how much the roster changes with the vaccination requirements to enter Canada. The Orioles are expected to use the restricted list for one or more players, which could allow Kyle Stowers to make his major league debut.
Manager Brandon Hyde didn’t disclose the exact number during yesterday’s media session.
There’s bound to be speculation surrounding outfielder Anthony Santander, who hit a 455-foot home run yesterday, and reliever Keegan Akin, who served up a two-run homer to Hunter Dozier and solo shots to Michael A. Taylor and Bobby Witt Jr., based on their placement last summer on the COVID-19 injured list in St. Petersburg, Fla. They declined to discuss their vaccination status, saying it was a private matter.
Stowers, 24, is on the taxi squad. He’s the No. 7 prospect in the system per Baseball America and No. 8 per MLBPipeline.com. He can be the 47th player used by the Orioles this season unless reliever Rico Garcia is added to the active roster and beats him to it.
The Orioles might not be able to introduce Grayson Rodriguez to the majors this year, but Stowers could follow pitcher Kyle Bradish and catcher Adley Rutschman. He’s batting .253/.356/.545 with 16 doubles, 12 home runs and 34 RBIs in 209 plate appearances.
“He’s got a chance to hit,” Hyde told the media. “He’s still a really, really young player, like a lot of our guys, but he’s got big upside.
“You don’t know what it’s like here until you get here. To see it up close and to see what a big league clubhouse feels like, it’s just a lot different when you get here. It’s a nice way to see, for any young player, what this actually looks like, feels like, before they actually get on the field.”
Garcia won’t create the same fuss as Stowers, but he deserves recognition for coming back from Tommy John surgery that cost him the 2021 season and posting a combined 1.93 ERA this year with 29 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings at three levels of the system.
The Honolulu native and 30th-round pick of the Rockies in 2016 out of Hawaii Pacific University hasn’t pitched in the majors since Sept. 17, 2020 with the Giants.
Anthony Bemboom also is on the taxi squad. A friendly reminder here that one catcher is required, so don’t read too much into it.
Reliever Mike Baumann is the fourth member, giving Hyde another bullpen option.
The Orioles placed infielder Chris Owings on unconditional release waivers yesterday, inching him closer to his removal from the organization.
Owings was designated for assignment last week after the Orioles claimed pitcher Austin Voth off waivers from the Nationals. He went 6-for-56 with 24 strikeouts.
The infield at Triple-A Norfolk doesn’t have room for Owings. Richie Martin joined the Orioles in Kansas City, but the Tides are starting prospects Jordan Westburg, Gunnar Henderson and Terrin Vavra, and also are finding at-bats for Cadyn Grenier and Shed Long Jr.