This, that and the other

The enormous improvements in the bullpen, with manager Brandon Hyde finally able to trust the unit in any situation, ranks No. 1 on the list of reasons why the Orioles are so much better in 2022. However, the tightened defense also has earned props.

The Orioles began last night’s game in Cincinnati ranked fourth in the majors with 45 defensive runs saved per Sports Info Solutions.

How does that compare to the recent past?

Hold onto your bucket hats.

They were 24th with -30 DRS in 2021, tied for 16th with one DRS in the shortened 2020 season, were 28th with -53 DRS in 2019, and were 28th with -42 DRS in 2018.

Jorge Mateo was tied for second among shortstops and ranked 8th overall in the majors with 10 DRS. Ramón Urías was tied for fifth among third basemen with eight. Cedric Mullins was fourth among center fielders with seven.

Adley Rutschman was tied for ninth among major league catchers with five DRS, and he ranked fifth with a 50 percent strike rate and in the top seven percent with two catcher framing runs, per Statcast.

Ryan Mountcastle led the American League and was second among major league first basemen with four outs above average, according to Statcast. Trey Mancini was tied for second in the AL and for third with three OAA.

There was a time when Mountcastle and Mancini were 1-2 in the league. A teammate brought it up to me while addressing the perception that Mancini was below-average in the field.

I was challenged to name the top two and shrugged. The teammate pointed at the nameplates above their lockers, doing it with gusto.

Point made.

* Terrin Vavra hasn’t been in the lineup for the first four games since the Orioles recalled him from Triple-A Norfolk. The streak could end tonight with the Reds starting right-hander Tyler Mahle.

Vavra bats from the left side. Three of the starters faced since his arrival were left-handers, including Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan on the first night.

There was zero chance that Hyde was going to expose Vavra to the American League’s All-Star starter and perhaps the frontrunner for the Cy Young Award. Why do that to the kid?

Yes, Rougned Odor also bats from the left side and he started last night against Cincinnati southpaw Mike Minor. Odor isn’t making his major league debut. And Hyde did emphasis that his first priority is winning games.

The Orioles aren’t 30 games out of the wild card race. Welcome to 2022.

Asked about Vavra again yesterday, Hyde told the assembled media, “Looking to get him in there the next couple of days. Had him ready off the bench yesterday to pinch-hit in a big spot. Same thing tonight. Yeah, he might be in there tomorrow. We’ll see.”

I could be way off here, but “might be” makes me think that it’s happening. Otherwise, why dangle that carrot and yank it away?

Hyde downplayed the chances that Rylan Bannon would be in the lineup in Chicago, despite the infielder’s family making the trip. You just had to be paying attention. He also seemed to tap the brakes on Vavra, who pinch-ran last night. It was noticeable.

I’m guilty of wondering, if he wasn’t going to play much, why the Orioles didn’t just recall Richie Martin, who also plays shortstop. Vavra has the position on his resume, but count how many times he's manned it since the Orioles acquired him from the Rockies.

Twice with Double-A Bowie last summer.

Hyde dismissed the idea that Vavra would back up Mullins in center, reminding us that the roster also contains Austin Hays and Ryan McKenna.

Sitting Odor tonight against a right-hander would be a change from the usual lineup. Maybe the designated hitter spot comes into play, though it requires removing someone else who otherwise would start.

The Reds are starting another lefty on Sunday, Nick Lodolo, so tonight presents the best opportunity for Vavra before the trip to Texas.

* The Orioles sent Norfolk outfielder DJ Stewart and Bowie third baseman Coby Mayo to the Florida Complex League yesterday on injury rehab assignments.

Stewart went 2-for-3 with a run scored and Mayo went 0-for-2 with a walk and run scored.

Stewart, who was the designated hitter, is recovering from a calf injury and a setback. He’s batting .321/.455/.585 with two doubles and four home runs in 20 games with the Tides, none since June 26.

Almost forgotten is how Stewart broke camp with the Orioles. He went 0-for-3 in three pinch-hitting appearances in the first series and was optioned.

Mayo, the No. 6 prospect in the system per, is on the injured list after leaving a July 1 game with back spasms. He’s 2-for-12 with a home run and seven strikeouts since joining the Baysox from High-A Aberdeen.

Shortstop Jackson Holliday, the first-overall pick in the MLB Draft, reported to the FCL on Thursday but the Orioles haven’t decided when he’ll make his debut.

* If you wondered what happened to minor league catcher Beau Taylor, who could serve as Austin Wynns’ double in the movies, the Orioles released him on July 18.

The Athletics signed Taylor yesterday to a minor league contract. They drafted him in the fifth round in 2011 out of the University of Central Florida.

The Blue Jays selected Taylor off waivers on Aug. 16, 2019, and the Athletics selected him a month later.

Taylor signed with the Orioles in March. They were seeking to improve their catching depth with Rutschman sidelined by a strained right triceps.

Norfolk’s roster includes catchers Jacob Nottingham, Anthony Bemboom and Brett Cumberland.

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