SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles are two days away from playing their first exhibition game and they’ve chosen left-hander Drew Rom to make the start.
Rom, 23, made a combined 26 appearances between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk and posted a 4.43 ERA and 1.475 WHIP with 144 strikeouts in 120 innings. He’s ticketed for the Tides after spring training but gets the assignment against the Twins in Sarasota.
Being the first starter in camp doesn’t provide a sneak preview of the team’s plans moving forward. Manager Brandon Hyde quipped, “not (Thomas) Eshelman” while announcing his choice.
“He’s a starting candidate and a guy, just kind of how things line up, honestly,” Hyde said.
“Some of the guys that were starters here last year will be a couple days after that. Drew’s going to get an opportunity to start our first Grapefruit League game.”
The news had Rom smiling at his locker as media approached him after the workout. He knows that it’s unwise to read too much into the assignment, but it’s meaningful to him.
“Especially this being my first year in camp,” he said. “I think that’s kind of a big, almost confidence boost for me, especially coming into my first season when I have the potential to be in the big leagues and having that confidence from the front office. Definitely helps that they trust me to go in and set the tone for the first game.”
The Orioles drafted Rom in the fourth round in 2018 out of a Kentucky high school, before the new front office settled in. He was placed on the 40-man roster in November, assuring that he’d be in major league camp.
“Definitely feels different,” he said. “I think in that clubhouse it probably would have been more kind of veteran heavy and not really bringing up prospects, but rather in this clubhouse, they’re really leaning on all the talent that we have, whether they’re prospects or established veterans like the guys that we brought in. I think that’s really helped the clubhouse because now we have a veteran presence and all the young energy and those guys to really build the stepping stones for the future of this organization. I think we’re going to be having a really strong season this year.”
A season when Rom expects to make his debut.
“I think this is the year,” he said. “As a player that’s all you really can say. You just try to make the decision hard on them and just do what I can do, and I’ve got to prove it this year. If I get to make some spot starts every now and then, be a reliever guy, as long as I can help the team win, I’m ready for it.”
Rom doesn’t need the extra motivation, but he sees Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish in the rotation and DL Hall making his first big league start in August, and he knows that Grayson Rodriguez is likely to break camp in the rotation.
“It’s just like the guys that I came up with, just seeing them getting their opportunities and get their shots last spring training or this spring training,” Rom said.
“I think that really proves this whole organization’s mindset and letting the young guys, if they’re ready, see how they do up there and give them opportunities. Hopefully this year is my opportunity, but I’m just going to sit back, do my own thing, let it come to me and not really try to rush or do too much. Just do what I’ve been doing for the past couple years and keep hoping it works out for me and just kind of take everything in stride and go out there and do everything I can.”
Non-roster pitchers Eduard Bazardo, Wandisson Charles, Cole Uvila, Chris Vallimont, Ofreidy Gómez and Morgan McSweeney will follow Rom. Outfielders Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander will be in the lineup and play every other day before leaving for the World Baseball Classic.
Other regulars will play beginning on Monday, along with prospects who arrived early for the development camp because they’re a little further ahead.
Outfielder Colton Cowser, the club’s first round pick in 2021, fits in the latter group.
“I like Colton a lot,” Hyde said. “It’s a big outfielder who can really move. I like the way he can control the strike zone. I think he’s going to kind of grow into his power a little bit, but he’s kind of a hit-first guy, which I like, a line drive guy. A guy who’s able to play three spots in the outfield. He’s going to get a nice look in spring training.”
Kyle Bradish and Mike Baumann had live batting practice sessions today on the stadium field. Mullins, Santander and Adley Rutschman were included in the group of hitters.
Non-roster pitcher Kade Strowd also threw.
Jordan Westburg and Ramón Urías worked out at third base during double play drills on one of the back fields.
Former Orioles closer Jim Johnson was a visitor in camp. He lives in the area and Hyde invited him.
Johnson watched some bullpen sessions and stood behind the mound, and the screen, for live batting practice.
Hyde said catchers’ pickoff attempts, or back picks, will be emphasized more in camp under the new rules limiting pitchers to only two per batter unless the runner advances.
Rodriguez impressed yesterday during his live batting practice, showcasing his five-pitch mix.
“You saw the fastball velocity was there already, which was incredibly impressive,” Hyde said. “Great changeups. Just good to see him on the mound. I haven’t seen him in a year. We didn’t see him much last spring. To be able to see him out there, feel good today, was a real positive.
“First outing kind of facing hitters. I know he was excited for it, probably a little too amped up, but good to see him and Adley both out there.”
The grunting from Rodriguez on each pitch was audible from the stands.
“I think he’s a high-effort guy, yeah,” Hyde said. “He’s a big kid. His stuff is really impressive.”
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