Spring training this, that and the other

SARASOTA, Fla. – Coby Mayo received a text message about his line drive Wednesday off the left-center field fence in Fort Myers. How he punctured the padding and left a hole.

Only a mild exaggeration given the violence of the collision.

Mayo’s ball was clocked at 109.9 mph off the bat. Manager Brandon Hyde marveled at the topspin on it. But recent Mayo talk seems to shift away from his work at the plate.

The Orioles are interested in his play at third base, which is getting solid reviews. This is their second look at him in major league camp.

“He’s improved his defense, which is great to see. I think he’s come a long way defensively,” Hyde said.

“I haven’t seen him take many at-bats, but the power in batting practice is ridiculously impressive. He’s a year older, maybe more mature with another year, but his defense has stood out. He’s made big strides defensively.”

That much was apparent Thursday in the top of the second inning when Mayo snared a sharp grounder from Pittsburgh’s Liover Peguero and flashed his plus arm to record the out. That ball could have eaten him alive, but Mayo fed it leather.

“You read and hear about all the success that Mayo had in the minor leagues last year, now you see some of the at-bats that he’s giving you here in the big leagues,” bench coach Fredi González said Monday after serving as manager in a split-squad game in Sarasota.

“I don’t know him real well, but I’ve see an improvement with his bat, I’ve seen a big improvement defensively at third base. That’s fun to see.”

Mayo went 0-for-3 Thursday but is 5-for-12 with three doubles, two RBIs and three walks. The .417/.563/.667 line catches the eye.

So, too, does his handling of a position where the Orioles want him to stick. He can play first base and prepared in the offseason for right field, but the hot corner is his current home.

There could be a pileup with Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg projected to receive most of the starts and Ramón Urías earning a Gold Glove in 2022. Tyler Nevin is fighting for a backup job and had seven hits in his first 12 at-bats.

“I don’t think (Mayo) worries about that, but he shouldn’t – who’s in front of him, who’s coming out, who’s blocking him,” González said. “I don’t think he worries about that.”

* What with the preoccupation with Kyle Bradish’s elbow injury, Gunnar Henderson’s sore oblique and John Means’ month-behind status, it’s easy to forget that Keegan Akin is returning from the back injury that removed him from the Orioles bullpen after June 28.

Akin tossed another scoreless inning Thursday, recording two strikeouts. He retired all three batters that he faced Sunday in Bradenton.

“I feel healthy and everything’s good,” he said.

His chances to make the club are another matter. He has one minor league option left, but he’s in the thick of the competition for the last few bullpen spots.

“The fastball velocity was there again (Thursday),” Hyde said. “Everything they’re doing in the training room has really helped to alleviate some of that, the strain with his back. I thought he had another really good outing.

“Keegan’s been a huge help to us when he’s been healthy. A guy who can go an inning or two innings, maybe three innings at times. It’s nice to see him back out there healthy and throwing the ball with the velocity that he can throw with.”

A big question is whether the Orioles need to carry a third left-hander after Cionel Pérez and Danny Coulombe. Bruce Zimmermann is a candidate for long relief, but Julio Teheran could bump him.

The importance of left versus right is diminished with the guys counted upon to consume innings.

Nick Vespi is trying to stay in the southpaw mix, and Andrew Suárez could be a dark-horse candidate. It’s early, but he retired all six batters he faced in the split-squad game against the Braves in North Port.

Right-handers Craig Kimbrel and Yennier Cano are certainties, and Mike Baumann and Jacob Webb are out of options. Dillon Tate’s pair of options might stay on the shelf if he’s in 2022 form.

* The Braves managed to cool off Tyler Nevin yesterday in North Port, retiring him three times, including a line drive at third baseman Austin Riley. Hard contact and no reward.

That’s been unusual, with Nevin going 7-for-12 before yesterday with good at-bats and some fortunate luck.

Nevin went 4-for-19 last spring with the Tigers, though he hit two home runs. He batted .200/.306/.316 with two homers in 41 games during the regular season, but over his last 19 games slashed .283/.400/.457 in 55 plate appearances.

“I honestly don’t think it’s very typical of me to get off to a start like this in spring,” he said. “I’m a big rhythm guy as far as just getting back in sync with the pitcher. I’ve had a couple fall my way, for sure, but with each at-bat I feel more comfortable.

“I finished the season really strong last year, and this offseason was just kind of riding that wave. I didn’t really feel like I was trying to make any major adjustments. I was really happy with where I was at, so I just wanted to keep that consistently going through. That’s really what spring training is about is getting back into your daily rhythm. Yeah, I’m happy with the progress so far.”

With his defensive skill set in the infield and outfield corners – he started in left yesterday – Nevin can’t be packaged as a super-utility player. But he can offer some pop from the right side of the plate and is a career .263/.354/.444 hitter against left-handers.

The lack of a minor league option could make it harder to remain in the organization, but Nevin just wants to complicate the Orioles’ final decisions before Opening Day.

“That’s all you can ever do,” he said. “I’ve learned my lesson trying to play GM in the past with certain roster situations. Bottom line is I feel confident enough with the player that I’ve become and I feel good enough that I can be a productive member of the team. I’m gonna let that shape out as it will. But all I can do is play the game and let the rest fall.”

The ball keeps falling for Nevin. He’s certainly stung a few, including his double and home run, but his third hit Thursday was a ground ball past the shortstop’s glove side.

“I’m living right,” Nevin said, smiling.

“They say you don’t want to waste them too early, but you’ve got to get there first. It’s more process-oriented this time of the year, but it is nice to get on base every time you can.”

(I'm heading home for a few days and returning Monday. Steve Melewski will be handling notes and game coverage for most of next week.)

This week we got a glimpse of what "Spring Breakou...
Wells, Zimmermann, Mountcastle, O'Hearn and Hollid...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/