Santander on WBC experience, Bautista tinkers with mechanics, Hyde talks about latest cuts

SARASOTA, Fla. – Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander walked into the clubhouse this morning wearing a gray sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head and a pair of shades covering his eyes. The smile was unmistakable, though. It gave away his identity.

So did the teammates who rushed over to hug Santander and ask how it felt to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. He had stories to share, usually starting with how incredible it was for him.

“Like a dream,” he said, as the media gathered at his locker. “Oh my God, unbelievable experience. I’m very grateful and happy for the opportunity. That’s something that I’ll never forget, being there, playing like a kid in big situations. It’s amazing. Something really, really good.

“Feel really proud to be able to wear that jersey, representing the whole country, family, my hometown. That’s something that, as a player you never forget that big moment. The most important thing is we bring some happiness to our people back there. Even though we didn’t get to the final, I feel so proud of the team, the chemistry that we got. That was awesome. To be able to share the clubhouse with big names like Miggy (Miguel Cabrera), (José) Altuva, Salvador (Pérez) and learn from them. That was also a great experience.”

Santander was 6-for-17 with two home runs and five RBIs before Team USA eliminated Venezuela in the quarterfinals.  

“I prepared really good before the tournament,” he said. “Honestly, I didn’t get surprised by the result. … I’m excited that I did good to be able to help my team win at least the first couple games. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the result we wanted, but that was a great experience.”

Altuve fractured his thumb after being hit by a pitch, and Mets closer Edwin Díaz will miss the entire season after tearing the patellar tendon in his right knee. Santander made it back in good health and defended the tournament.

“Injuries are always going to be there. It can happen even here in spring training,” he said.

“I think the World Baseball Classic is good for baseball. It’s something that you’re always going to be proud representing and giving everything you’ve got for your country. I think that you should continuing doing that stuff because injuries can happen anywhere. … I’m pretty sure those guys are feeling OK because they were representing their country and giving the best they’ve got.”

Getting ready for Opening Day will be done now in a much calmer environment. Santander will shift his focus back to the Orioles and their quest to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

“Keeping the same mentality,” Santander said. “I know it won’t be the same atmosphere, but just be ready. Prepare myself to be able to compete every day and help the team win. That’s the most important, especially early in the season.”

Santander wishes that he could have kept playing in Miami – he wouldn’t predict a winner tonight between USA and Japan, showing little interest in the outcome or whether he’d root for anyone – but he missed his Orioles teammates.

“These are my brothers,” he said. “I’m going to spend 162 games with those guys. Happy to be back and just get back to playing spring training games, backfield ABs, and get ready for the season.”

Manager Brandon Hyde returned Santander to the lineup this afternoon, using him as the designated hitter. He said Santander will get a few more innings at first base over the final week.

“Great to have Santander back,” Hyde said. “So proud of him. It was great to see him. Super happy for him and his family. Do what he did on a big stage like that, getting national exposure. He’s earned it.”

* Closer Félix Bautista is the latest Orioles pitcher to do some experimenting on the mound in the final days of camp.

Bautista walked the bases loaded yesterday in two-thirds of an inning in Clearwater before Rule 5 reliever Andrew Politi replaced him and stranded the runners.

The Orioles have found that Bautitsta’s legs and hands are raised higher when throwing his four-seam fastball, but the hands are held lower on his splitter, which could tip off hitters.

“For yesterday’s outing, I was trying to focus on something specific that I had been working on in the bullpen prior to the game, so I tried to carry that over to the game. That’s what was different yesterday,” he said this morning via translator Brandon Quinones.

“Usually when I throw my fastball and splitter, they tend to come out in a slightly different way. Yesterday, I was trying to work a little with some of my mechanics to try to get those to look ever more similar coming out of my hand when I do throw them. So, making some minor adjustments to the way I throw my fastball and splitter.

“It is something that I want to keep working on because I know that during the season it will end up benefitting me. Hitters know there’s little things they can find that will give them an advantage, so anything that I can do to take that away from them and help me out, I think I want to keep working on.”

Kyle Gibson revealed after his last start that he tweaked his delivery to become more athletic moving down the mound, unlocking his legs and becoming less rigid and stiff. Tyler Wells said he kept his glove closer to his body to create better timing and improve the consistency of his pitches during his start in Tampa, and Kyle Bradish mentioned yesterday in Clearwater that he was messing with a new set position with his hands.

Bautista is removing the doubts about his availability for Opening Day. He’s gone 2 2/3 innings with no runs allowed and no discomfort.

“I feel really good,” he said. “Thankfully my arm is responding well, my knee is responding well, my body overall is just responding really well, so I feel really good.”

The Orioles could get Bautista into two more games before breaking camp and reach their targeted workload.

* Five players were cut from the camp roster yesterday, including left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, who began the 2022 season as the No. 4 starter.

“I thought he threw the ball well in spring and it was good to see him get stretched out,” Hyde said. “It’s that time of camp where our starters are getting a little bit longer and kind of narrowing down our numbers a little bit. But I thought Zimm showed well and hopefully he gets off to a good start in Norfolk. I’m sure we’ll see him at some point this season.”

The move with Zimmermann also spoke to the increased pitching depth this spring.

“We’re in the business of trying to win games,” Hyde said. “We’re going to make the best decisions we can for who we feel like is going to open the season in the rotation, but that could change quickly. As we know, you need more than five starters, and we feel really good about Zim being part of our starting group. He’s just going to start the year in Norfolk.”

Left-handed reliever Nick Vespi also was optioned. He was brought along carefully after undergoing hernia surgery in January, pitching in only three games.

“He got off to a late start, and we feel like he needs more appearances,” Hyde said. “He’ll start the year in Triple-A and hopefully build off the great year in had in Norfolk last year, and did well for us when he came up.

“These are all tough decisions we have to make. We just feel like Nick needs more appearances.”

First baseman Lewin Díaz hasn’t played since being scratched from last Tuesday’s lineup with a sore shoulder. He was reassigned yesterday.

“Another guy that kind of had his spring cut short a little bit, missing the last week or so because of the shoulder,” Hyde said. “Another instance where we’re just trying to narrow down our numbers right now.”

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