Some examples of what does and doesn't matter in Orioles' camp

I’m flying back into Sarasota this afternoon, with the only off-day of spring training allowing for a later arrival time.

The Twins have three off-days and the Rays have two. How did the Orioles miss out on this?

No rainouts so far, and just one split-squad game with a delayed start while the other was halted early.

The camp roster is down to 51 players after the Orioles optioned left-hander Drew Rom on Monday and optioned shortstop Joey Ortiz and reassigned shortstop Jackson Holliday, infielder Connor Norby and pitcher Kyle Dowdy the following day.

Rom was a long shot to make the Opening Day roster and appeared in only one exhibition game, with the rest of his work done on the back fields. He’s returning to Triple-A Norfolk, with the possibility of making his major league debut this summer.

Ortiz, Norby, Holliday and Dowdy were longer shots, and especially the 19-year-old Holliday, who went 5-for-13 with a double and four walks and kept confirming everything the Orioles thought when selecting him first overall in last year’s draft.   

Norby was 7-for-25 with three doubles. Ortiz was 3-for-12 with a double, triple and plus skills at shortstop. They’re approaching their major league debuts.

With 15 days left before the Orioles begin their season in Boston, let’s take another look at how some players are stacking up in a few categories.

Helping his cause: Keegan Akin
The left-hander wasn’t handed a job when he reported to camp. He had to earn it.

Boy, has he earned it.

Akin is exhibiting some of the best stuff on the staff, as manager Brandon Hyde points out. The numbers back it up, and they matter as he battles to make the club.

No runs allowed in three appearances spanning five innings. Only three hits and one walk, with five strikeouts. Opponents batting .176 against him.

I’m pretty sure he’d have to sink through the mound and disappear to be omitted from the Opening Day roster.

It doesn’t matter: Gunnar Henderson
Relax, people.

I see you on Twitter, wringing your hands while somehow able to type that Henderson is 2-for-21 with nine strikeouts. And wondering why the media isn’t making a huge deal over it. Or any deal over it.

It’s noted. It also seems insignificant in the big picture.

Henderson is the starting third baseman. He’s plus-plus anywhere you put him on the left side of the infield. And he’s going to hit. Trust me. And trust his manager.

“You know, I just think he’s honestly pressing a little bit,” Hyde told the assembled media yesterday. “I didn’t see his game (Monday). I was at the other place (North Port), but I think he’s got a typical young person’s spring, honestly. I just want him to relax and play. He’s such a good player, he’s going to be fine. I think he’s just having young-guy at-bats right now. He’s trying to get hits, and I’m not worried about it.”

Some wrist soreness early in camp cost Henderson live at-bats. He’s going through his progression.

Helping his cause: Terrin Vavra
The only way to stop Vavra is to make his left shoulder sore.

He’s healthy again and still looking like a utility guy on Opening Day. He’s played multiple positions, keeps working out at first base and keeps reaching base.

Vavra is batting .409 with a 1.144 OPS in eight games. He has two doubles, a triple and homer, and yesterday drove in his fifth run.

I had Vavra on my mock 26-man roster, but he wasn’t a lock. Maybe a mock lock, but that doesn’t count.

Anyway, the roster has room for Vavra and Kyle Stowers, for those who ask. The only threat would be a non-roster left-handed-hitting first baseman, and yes, a few are making loud noises.

Helping their cause: Ryan O’Hearn, Franchy Cordero, Lewin Díaz and Josh Lester.
O’Hearn is 9-for-19 with a double and home run, but he’s day-to-day with a sore knee. Happened on a play in the outfield that I missed while making a quick stop home.

Cordero is 11-for-23 (.478) with two doubles, a triple, two home runs and seven RBIs in nine games. Díaz has cooled and was scratched yesterday with left shoulder soreness but is 5-for-20 with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs in 10 games, and Hyde keeps praising his defense.

Per the stats, Díaz has fallen behind the others and missing any time now could be a dagger.

Lester had one hit in 12 at-bats and suddenly no one can get him out. He was 3-for-4 with two triples yesterday in Bradenton and is 12-for-31 (.387) with a team-leading nine RBIs and a 1.069 OPS.

(He has 16 triples in seven minor league seasons, so it does happen on occasion.)

Also, Lester is absolutely scalding the ball, bashing like it owes him money. Keeps reaching triple figures in exit velocity, doing it four times yesterday with room to spare.

“He's squaring up almost everything right now,” Hyde told the media in Bradenton, “and it's fun to watch."

Perhaps it doesn’t matter for any of them. But there’s no question that the cause is helped by their performances.

It doesn’t matter – yet: Jorge Mateo
Mateo is 5-for-23 (.217) in nine games. His speed and defense keep him at shortstop while the Orioles try to get him back to that 31-game form last summer when he was a real threat at the plate.

The final offensive product included a .221/.267/.379 line in 533 plate appearances, but Mateo also led the American League with 35 steals, and the bases are bigger this year. Imagine the possibilities.

Size won’t matter if Mateo can’t make it to first.

He’s aware of the alternatives at shortstop. Everyone is aware. He’ll need to do better or the Orioles could begin rearranging the infield. But we aren’t there yet.

Helping his cause: Heston Kjerstad
This one seems like a trick because Kjerstad isn’t breaking camp with the team. He has no shot at it. But Kjerstad had another hit yesterday and is 12-for-27  (.444) with a double, triple, three home runs and eight runs scored.

I wasn’t there, but I saw video of Kjerstad hitting a home run in North Port off a building beyond the right field fence. He’s tied with Austin Hays for the team lead – in homers, not hitting buildings. I think he’s alone atop that list.

Why is any of this important if he isn’t going to Boston? Because it should be even easier for the Orioles to assign Kjerstad to Double-A Bowie after he batted .233/.312/.362 in 43 games with High-A Aberdeen.

Kjerstad was named Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League. He’s making jaws drop in spring training. Exactly what he needed to do.

It doesn’t matter: James McCann
McCann was 1-for-4 with a double yesterday but is 4-for-24 this spring.

In a related story, McCann is the backup catcher behind Adley Rutschman and nothing that happens down in Florida is an influencer. He has a stranglehold on the job.

Sure, he’d like to have better results, but what he does behind the plate is viewed as most important. The Orioles love how he works with the pitching staff and his presence in the clubhouse.

His .167 average is as important as whether the kitchen is serving chicken or beef noodle soup for lunch.

It doesn’t matter: Austin Hays
This is a reverse doesn’t matter.

Hays is 7-for-19 with three homers, seven RBIs and three walks in eight games. He was really good in the first half last season and slashed .220/.276/.349 in the second, with one home run after August.

The Orioles want to see more consistency, and so does Hays. Both are thrilled that he avoided the injured list, though Hays played hurt and keeps downplaying it.

Hays is starting in one of the outfield corners on Opening Day, with Hyde deciding whether it’s the Green Monster or the vast amount of territory in right. The latter makes more sense.

The spring stats, good or bad, don’t change a thing. But hey, if given the choice, always take the good ones.

Helping his cause: Bruce Zimmermann
The Baltimore native – points awarded to the media each time the local angle is referenced – tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings yesterday before the Pirates strung together a trio of two-out hits in the ninth and scored a run in the Orioles’ 7-6 win. Zimmermann also walked his only batter that inning before leaving the bases loaded.

The first hit in the ninth was a bloop single and the second was a sharp ground ball that got past diving third baseman César Prieto.

Zimmermann is trying to get back into the rotation after breaking camp last year as the No. 4 starter. He’s trying to settle into a long-relief role if his preference isn’t granted.

He’s had some impressive outings, including the three scoreless innings with one hit, no walks and three strikeouts against the Braves split squad.

Maybe it’s not enough to keep him out of Norfolk in April, but he hasn’t damaged the cause.

Helping his cause: Félix Bautista
Bautista was questionable for Opening Day while rehabbing his left knee and working to strengthen his right shoulder. Perhaps not at the exact same time, but he was busy with the training and medical staffs.

Bautista felt good during his bullpen sessions and his two live batting practice sessions. His debut was anticipated for Thursday but it happened yesterday, and the results were beyond encouraging: Bautista retired the side in order in 15 pitches with two strikeouts, and his fastball was clocked at 99 mph.

Unless there’s unexpected discomfort, Bautista will get the necessary innings and appearances and be the closer on March 30. And the bullpen will get a whole lot better while also costing a reliever a spot in it.

Helping his cause: Kyle Bradish
Bradish’s next turn was expected to be Thursday night but left-hander Cole Irvin is getting the ball. Hyde told the media yesterday that the club is just trying to line up some things before the opener and that’s it. Don’t read too much into it … except, of course we will.

Bradish could pitch in Thursday’s game or on a back field, which would “hide” him from the Blue Jays. 'Cause, you know – sarcasm alert - teams don’t have scouts or video.

Back to my original point: Bradish was spectacular in the second half but had to earn a job in camp because of the math. So many competitors for five spots. And he’s allowed two runs in nine innings – a pair of solo homers – and struck out 12 batters. Teams are batting .133 against him.

Line him up to start in the Red Sox series.

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