Three early reflections on 2022

The Orioles are off today and again on Thursday, and they don’t return home until next Monday. They’re 5 ½ games behind for the last wild card after losing back-to-back series.

We live in the present, think ahead to what’s coming and occasionally glance back at the past.

I’m doing all of it simultaneously, which can be dizzying.

There will be two drives into D.C. this week that I dread. The traffic, the 10-mile walk from the parking garage, where media pays over $40, to the ballpark. Followed by the 10-mile walk to the press box, which sits so high that I spend nine innings watching the game on a monitor and dodging airplanes.

At least I’ll get my steps.

The Orioles make their last trip to Toronto this weekend for another huge series. Who knows where they’ll be situated in the race?

The time for reflection comes after the last out of the season, whether on Oct. 5 or in the playoffs. But here’s a head start. With more to come.

We didn’t see Matt Harvey.
The final roster moves aren’t necessarily made, but Harvey would need to be placed on the 40-man. And the assumption is that the next pitcher to arrive would be Grayson Rodriguez. Or Spenser Watkins, who’s on the 40-man and was optioned last week.

Watkins needs to stay down at least 15 days unless replacing an injured player.

Rodriguez made another rehab start yesterday at Double-A Bowie and allowed four runs in 2 2/3 innings, with one hit, three walks and seven strikeouts. That’s three games for Rodriguez, beginning with one at High-A Aberdeen. He needs to be stretched out of he’s going to start for the Orioles.

That’s a mighty big “if.”

Meanwhile, the Orioles signed Harvey to a minor league deal on April 8, let him serve out his 60-game suspension and kept giving him the ball at Triple-A Norfolk. They did him a solid. Not sure how many other teams were interested in Harvey or willing to start the clock on the suspension.

The Orioles appreciated what he did for them in 2021 – his clubhouse leadership, his insistence on pitching as much as he could despite a knee injury and dwindling motivation on a bad team. They remembered the good, forgave a past that didn’t involve them, and brought him back.

Harvey was veteran insurance and the rotation never felt set, beginning with John Means’ elbow injury and ensuing surgery after two starts.

Bruce Zimmermann broke camp with the team and was optioned. Tyler Wells was inserted after being a Rule 5 reliever last summer, did well and injured his oblique. Watkins was injured and later optioned. Kyle Bradish was promoted and later injured. Austin Voth was claimed off waivers from the Nationals and worked his way from the bullpen to a starting role. Dean Kremer was injured while warming in the bullpen on the third day of the season and didn’t start until June 5.

Chris Ellis and Bryan Baker made two starts, and DL Hall, Mike Baumann, Denyi Reyes and Keegan Akin one apiece.

The Orioles never turned to Harvey. Just kept letting him start among some of the prospects in Triple-A.

Now he’s on the seven-day injured list with right knee inflammation. His last start was Sept. 2, when he shut out Lehigh Valley over six innings to lower his ERA with the Tides to 4.31 in 10 games.

His signing felt like a big deal, even though it was a minor league contract. And then … nothing. Which often happens. We fuss and then we forget.

We saw Gunnar Henderson.
The chances seemed remote after only five games played last year in Double-A and his 21st birthday not arriving until June 29.

Henderson seemed more likely to finish out the year in Triple-A and compete for a spot on the 2023 opening day roster, perhaps arriving side-by-side with Jordan Westburg.

What was the motivation to put him on the 40-man early?

Funny how sports work sometimes.

Henderson dominated at two levels. He rose to No. 1 prospect status. The Orioles contended and needed a bat to give a lagging offense a smack in the rump. The defense on the left side was exceptional. And the new collective bargaining agreement included provisions aimed at curbing service time manipulation.

Makes more sense now, but not so much back in March.

Henderson is playing every day and he’s contributing. Spring training won’t be an audition. The Orioles just need to decide where he’s starting.

We didn’t see much of Yusniel Diaz.
Diaz finally made his major league debut, but he was filling in while the Orioles reset their roster after trading Trey Mancini on Aug. 2. He struck out in his only plate appearance.

Diaz began yesterday batting .237 with a .665 OPS with Norfolk. Exhibition games are teasers. Injuries happen, the bat goes cold, and you wonder again whether he stays on the 40-man roster.

The outfield depth also works against him. Kyle Stowers is in the majors. Colton Cowser is in Triple-A one year after being the fifth-overall selection in the draft. Ryan McKenna doesn’t play a lot, but his speed, defense and versatility are valued.

Diaz was supposed to get a long look a few years ago. The cancellation of the 2020 season due to the pandemic was a setback. Multiple injuries last year, including a left shoulder strain in the Arizona Fall League, also were setbacks. And now, in 2022, he may be stuck on just the one plate appearance.

The current front office didn’t trade for Diaz. Space must be made on the 40-man after the season for anyone on the 60-day injured list, most notably John Means, along with some prospects who need be protected in the Rule 5 draft.

Rodriguez is one of them, but he might make it later this month or early October.

Starter Drew Rom and infielder Joey Ortiz are counted among the prospects who won’t be left unprotected.

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