Some early camp observations before today's exhibition opener

SARASOTA, Fla. – The 10th day of Orioles spring training also brings the first exhibition game. Blowing past another mile marker. A home game for a team that wants to do more traveling in the playoffs after October’s brief stay in Arlington, Texas.

Corbin Burnes is the surprise starter this afternoon against the Red Sox in Sarasota. Manager Brandon Hyde explained that Burnes is lined up in camp to pitch today. And Burnes obviously had some input in it.

He wanted to ball on the stadium mound instead of a back field. And Hyde clearly has no qualms about a division opponent seeing Burnes.

Yeah, let’s do away with that concern. Teams have scouts and video, and certainly a working knowledge of an ace like Burnes. There are no secrets here.

The lineup will be posted later this morning, along with other pitchers available behind Burnes. We only know that Adley Rutschman is catching, but many of the regulars are expected to play. It’s the first game and it’s airing on MASN. Don’t hold back.

The Red Sox are starting right-hander Garrett Whitlock. Their fans would prefer Blake Snell.

Here are a few observations from camp before fake games become an obsession and we forget that live batting practice and bullpen sessions were a big deal:

* Jackson Holliday definitely is prepping to play second base.

We knew it was happening. The Orioles know what he can do at shortstop. They need him to get more comfortable at the other middle infield position.

Holliday is a tremendous athlete and exceptionally hard worker. He isn’t going to stumble at the switch.

One of the more common sights here is Jackson taking ground balls at second, on the back fields and on the stadium field.

* Teammates are excited to have Dillon Tate back.

Guys on the 2022 club remember how important he was to the bullpen. The sinker and slider can be nasty. He’s a weapon when he’s healthy.

Guys on the 2023 club appreciated how many pitchers stepped up, whether to replace Tate, closer Félix Bautista or somebody else. But they also let their imaginations run wild thinking about Tate’s potential impact.

It also helps that he looks good.

* Cedric Mullins resembles the pre-injury version of himself.

Again, it’s early, but Mullins isn’t restricted in his movements after twice going on the injured list last year with adductor/groin strains.

He’s running like Mullins. He’s hitting for power like Mullins, slamming one ball off the upper-left corner of the scoreboard.

The lineup is so much better with a productive and dangerous Mullins leading off against right-handers or moving down against lefties but able to defend himself.

* Players are angry about the Division Series sweep but ready to move past it.

The sting lingered. Some players used it for fuel, others refused to let it serve as motivation.

But they all felt it. And they experienced varying lengths of time to recover.

“I’d say probably a few weeks,” said Dean Kremer, who took the loss in Game 3. “And once I started getting back in the gym, started getting back to throwing, kind of refreshed and focusing more on this year.”

“That’s something that sticks with you for a long time,” said catcher Adley Rutschman. “You learn from last year, and that’s never not going to sting.”

“You don’t necessarily have to stop thinking about it,” said infielder Gunnar Henderson. “Don’t let it eat you. But I just use it for fuel for this year and, hopefully, a longer postseason push.”

Manager Brandon Hyde said it was “probably too long.”

“We feel like there was some unfinished business there at the end of the year,” he said. “I think it’s motivating for all of us in that building of defending the American League East, getting back to the postseason, playing deeper into the postseason. But we’ve got to get there first, and that’s not easy to do. I don’t take that for granted.”

* No one is worried about Henderson’s oblique.

The word sends chills down the spine. Sore obliques are never a day-to-day situation. And aggravating it can lead to lengthy stays on the injured list.

Henderson felt the twinge in January. He’s still in slow-play mode. But he’s getting closer to full activity.

The reigning American League Rookie of the Year doesn’t expect to miss many exhibition games, especially on a schedule where regulars aren’t going back-to-back this early.

* No one is worried about John Means.

Means isn’t hurt. He’s just a month behind the other starters.

The left-hander won’t be ready for Opening Day. The math doesn’t lie. But the club is hoping for a quick return in April.

Means must build up before he’s cleared to join the active roster. The Orioles have sufficient starter depth but aren’t necessarily done with the pitching market.

Never hurts to check it, when there isn’t an AT&T Network outage.

* No one seems panicked over Kyle Bradish.

The Orioles stated their stance with Bradish. Get him ready for 2024.

They expect him to pitch, which means they expect the platelet-rich plasma injection to work.

Bradish will play catch from 90 feet today. He says the elbow feels good and he’s encouraged by his recovery between sessions. Hyde also sounds optimistic.

So far, so good. But anytime you hear “sprain” and “UCL,” there’s bound to be some cringing.

The Orioles have collective fingers crossed that the only setback is losing Bradish on the Opening Day roster.

* Yennier Cano is still filthy.

This isn't a hygiene issue.

Cano was a standout in live batting practice, inducing some ugly swings in his one inning of work.

Holliday and Heston Kjerstad were two of the batters flailing, just trying to get a piece of the ball, before a grounder to the right side and nubber in front of the plate, respectively.

Craig Kimbrel is the undisputed closer. The role won’t be shared unless he’s unavailable or really struggling. But it’s nice to know that Cano can be a dominant set-up man or viable option in the ninth.

Feels like a luxury.

* We’re no closer to figuring out roster composition.

Four natural outfielders or five?

An extra infielder or no?

Does Holliday break camp with the team?

In the middle of it is Jorge Mateo, who’s trying to convert from starting shortstop to super-utility player. Being able to trust him as a backup in center and left field could impact the final camp cuts.

I’ll need to be convinced that a fifth natural outfielder isn’t necessary. Who’s handling left field at Camden Yards if Austin Hays is in center or on the bench? We’re talking Mateo, Kjerstad if he's the fourth guy or Ryan O’Hearn. Colton Cowser and Ryan McKenna are the better defenders but they’d have to beat out Kjerstad in this scenario.

Sam Hilliard becomes a dark horse. I’ve heard Kyle Stowers described that way, too, which is interesting – but not inaccurate – for a player who made the team out of spring training in 2023.

Confused? You aren’t alone.

* Wandisson Charles is a popular dark horse pick to make the club.

I don’t see it happening, but he’s creating a bit of a fuss with his triple-digit velocity.

My issue is the 7.9 walks per nine innings over seven minor league seasons. He averaged 8.4 in 28 games last summer with Norfolk, when he posted a 5.70 ERA and 1.600 WHIP.

But man, he was good with Double-A Bowie.

Charles, 27, also averages 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings and only 0.5 home runs surrendered. People are quick to make Cano and Bautista comparisons.

Let the Orioles’ pitching instructors keep working with him. Perhaps he debuts later in the summer.

Doing so on March 28 just seems like a reach.

* Former infielders love Holliday and Henderson.

Brian Roberts and Mike Bordick have talked about them while serving as guest instructors at camp. Physical specimens with enormous talent.

J.J. Hardy has arrived in camp as a guest instructor, and he offered the same high praise yesterday while standing in the clubhouse.

Holliday attracts the same observations about his youthful face and powerful build, as if they don’t match. Like he’s photoshopped.

And Holliday is bigger and stronger this spring. He didn’t reach his physical ceiling at age 19.

* I’m confused by Albert and Andrew Suárez.

It’s also spring training for me.

Albert is a right-hander who signed with the Orioles in September and hasn’t played in the majors since 2017 with the Giants. He’s been pitching in Japan and Korea and has started and worked in relief.

Andrew is a left-hander who signed on Jan. 30 after 13 relief appearances with the Cardinals last summer. He pitched for the Giants from 2018-20, making 29 starts in his first season and 25 relief appearances over the next two, with only two starts.

He’s also pitched in Japan and Korea.

That isn’t helping with my confusion.

* We never got to know Peyton Burdick.

The Orioles acquired Burdick from the Marlins on Feb. 14 for the always popular cash considerations.

Burdick was designated for assignment five days later when the Orioles acquired pitcher Kaleb Ort from the Phillies for, you guessed it, cash considerations.

(The Orioles are a cash considerations cow.)

I never saw Burdick but I heard that he was throwing on one of the back fields on the first day of workouts. I trust my source.

I still haven’t spoken to shortstop Diego Castillo, who was claimed on waivers from the Phillies Feb. 16, designated for assignment two days later and outrighted Tuesday. I’m afraid to get too attached.

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