SARASOTA, Fla. – Anthony Santander took charge of a high popup near the mound in the first inning, finding the ball in the high sky, avoiding any collisions and squeezing it for the second out.
Santander fielded Jake Cave’s grounder and stepped on the bag to finish the second, scooped a throw out of the dirt on an attempted double play in the third to prevent an error, and concluded the inning by handling Darick Hall’s grounder and again hustling to the bag.
The fourth also couldn’t end without Santander. He fielded Cave’s ground ball and tossed to Mychal Givens for the last out and strand a runner on third base following a hit batter and two balks on the reliever.
Santander also was flawless taking two throws, from second and third base, in the opening inning. As if he played the position for most of his professional career.
Try nine games with Single-A Lynchburg in 2016, before his shoulder surgery and the Orioles' selection of him in the Rule 5 draft.
They aren’t removing him from the outfield. This was a chance today in an exhibition game against the Phillies to “give him a taste,” as manager Brandon Hyde said this morning. He could back up Ryan Mountcastle on occasion this season.
Hyde intended to give him some innings in camp and decided on today, right before Santander left the team for the World Baseball Classic. Santander was working out at first last season during batting practice. This was his first real test.
“It felt pretty good,” Santander said. “I’ve been taking a lot of ground balls the last couple days. Obviously, I was excited because it’s really different in the game, but pretty much felt good.
“It’s totally different taking ground balls nice and easy. … Fortunately, I got some ground balls today. We’ll have to wait until somebody smashes a ground ball at 100-105 and see. But I feel pretty good.”
The popup was a quick challenge for Santander, difficult for the most experienced infielders under spring training conditions. He charged toward the mound, called for the ball and grabbed it.
The outfield experience came in handy, and Santander actually found it a little less difficult to track a ball from first base.
Less difficult but not a breeze.
“There wasn’t clouds, so kind of lost it a little bit,” he said. “But being an outfielder, taking fly balls in the infield is a little easier because in the outfield, those high fly balls.”
The Orioles are auditioning some non-roster first basemen for the backup job, including Lewin Díaz, Ryan O’Hearn, Franchy Cordero and Josh Lester. They also could stick with their 40-man roster and rotate Santander, infielder/outfielder Terrin Vavra and catchers Adley Rutschman and James McCann.
The idea is to give Mountcastle more rest than in 2022 after the Trey Mancini trade.
“Keep him in the lineup DHing would be great,” Santander said. “If I would be able to play first base, that would be awesome for the team.”
Santander went 0-for-2 before leaving the game. He’s going to miss his teammates but is eager to represent his country.
“I feel really good,” he said. “I’m seeing the ball good, body is good. I think that’s more important because it’s early to play nine innings, but body is really good and I feel like I’m ready to compete.”
Left-hander Cole Irvin made his second start and allowed one run and three hits with two strikeouts in three innings. He came within an out of another scoreless appearance, but Alec Bohm doubled to left-center field with two outs to plate Bryson Stott.
“I definitely got to work on some more things with that extra inning, and a lot of it was good,” said Irvin, who worked two innings in his debut and extended his pitch count today by throwing in the bullpen. “The third inning, maybe a little humid, kind of tired me out a little bit, but that’s just an adjustment of the body and all that. So, felt good, felt strong. … I think we’re in a good spot right now.”
Irvin didn’t approach this start any differently than the first.
“It isn’t until you get to that four-, five-inning mark that you’re really like, ‘OK, my routine’s got to be pretty close to down,’ and things like that,” he said. “I really don’t put too much emphasis on spring training. My job is to still get outs, but I want to work on things and throw things that I may not do typically during the year, just to see if I can get away with it, especially with new curveball, new slider. I’m trying to get used to throwing it in certain situations and today I felt like I did a really good job of that.
“Just finding that repeatable delivery to be able to allow me to do that is going to be important.”
Austin Hays hit a three-run homer in the fourth inning to give the Orioles a 3-1 lead, but the Phillies hit three home runs off Austin Voth in the sixth to move ahead 5-3. Bohm and Hall went back-to-back to begin the inning, Scott Kingery singled with two outs and Cave, who was briefly in the Orioles organization during the offseason, cleared the left-center field fence.
Bryan Baker allowed two runs in the eighth and was removed with two outs after reaching his pitch count.
But the Orioles rallied to tie the game in the bottom half, capped by Colton Cowser's opposite-field two-run homer. Coby Mayo had an RBI single.
Adley Rutschman singled twice in three at-bats.
Update: Ryan O’Hearn hit a three-run, walk-off homer in a 10-7 victory over the Phillies. Jackson Holliday started the rally with a leadoff single.
O’Hearn went 2-for-3 and is batting .538.
“He’s taking good at-bats every time he’s out there,” Hyde said. “Hitting the ball hard to all fields, playing really good defense. He’s off to a really good start in this camp.”
Cowser had one of the big swings of the game that set up O’Hearn’s blast over the center field fence.
“That was nice to see, for sure,” Hyde said. “Obviously, the ball’s really carrying to left, left-center today, but he squared up really well and stayed on it. Good to see him drive the baseball.”
Hyde said he thought Santander did a great job at first base.
“He was in the right spot on a cut and relay in the gap, made a few ground ball plays, caught a tough popup,” Hyde said. “Was good to see him out there.”