Three thoughts on Orioles as they continue road trip

While the Orioles opened a three-game series last night in Detroit on the backend of their two-city road trip, I returned home from St. Louis, checked the top of my head, ignored the gel and jotted down a few observations.

Jorge López is the closer, but Félix Bautista is the trusted backup

López rejoined the team yesterday in Detroit after three days on the bereavement list. In his absence, Bautista recorded two saves in the St. Louis series and fired nine fastballs Thursday afternoon in triple digits. A few others were clocked at 99 mph.

Bautista is a rookie who turns 27 next month and came to the organization as a free-agent signing in August 2016, one year after the Marlins released him. He made 11 appearances at Single-A Aberdeen last summer, reached two other levels in the system and landed on the 40-man roster to protect him in a Rule 5 draft that never materialized due to the lockout.

A high walk rate raised some red flags. Bautista figured to go back to Triple-A Norfolk and sharpen his command, but the Orioles broke camp with him and now he’s pitching in high leverage situations.

A closer on a rebuilding team isn’t viewed as a high priority, but the Orioles still value wins, and taking two of three games at Busch Stadium energized them during a period when they easily could have collapsed. They had plenty of excuses with the injuries, an almost empty bench and Thursday’s pitching predicament.

Having two power arms for the late innings, along with the other relievers exceeding expectations, is quite the reversal from past seasons under manager Brandon Hyde, who used to pick up the bullpen phone with a knot in his stomach.

Is it sustainable? Stick around and find out.

Jorge Mateo made sense then and he does now

Three organizations couldn’t give Mateo regular starts and determine whether he was more than just a toolsy player with unfulfilled potential. A three-time top 100 prospect turned journeyman infielder. His only shot to make it in a utility role.

The Orioles claimed Mateo on waivers last August and made him the everyday shortstop in 2022. They could afford to do it, and not in a financial way. Mateo wasn’t going to cost a rebuilding team the pennant if he failed. He wasn’t taking up valuable space on the roster.

The audition could last as long as necessary. No rush to judgement.

Mateo needs to become more consistent making the routine play, but he’s stacking up highlights over the first two months, twice running down popups with his back to the infield and doubling off a runner at first base. He’s thrown out runners from the edge of the outfield grass. He’s beat the shift himself by ranging far to his right to reach a ground ball and throw across his body, as he did to Corey Dickerson Thursday leading off the bottom of the ninth inning.

If Dickerson reaches base with no outs in a 3-2 game, perhaps it’s a different outcome for Bautista and the Orioles.

Mateo also hit his second home run, a 399-footer with a 102 mph exit velocity. His hitting streak reached nine games last night.

Hyde wants to rest Mateo and tried on Wednesday, but Ryan Mountcastle was scratched from the lineup with a sore left wrist. Mateo moved from a thin bench to shortstop and went 1-for-4 with a run scored.

The time has arrived to figure out Rylan Bannon

Bannon is the fourth of five players acquired from the Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade to reach the majors, leaving Triple-A Norfolk outfielder Yusniel Diaz sitting alone in the waiting room.

The Orioles summoned Bannon to St. Louis for the taxi squad and “strengthened” the bench, if that’s an accurate term considering the one healthy reserve, by recalling him prior to Thursday’s game and optioning left-hander Paul Fry.

Bannon, 26, responded with a diving stop and throw to rob Nolan Arenado in the first inning and a single on the first pitch thrown to him. Rather than dip his toe into the major league waters, Bannon executed a splendid cannonball.  

The only reason to keep Bannon away from third base is to give Tyler Nevin more starts at the corner. Learn more about these guys.

Nevin got a brief look in 2021. Bannon stayed with Norfolk, went on an impressive home run streak and batted only .177/.297/.370 in 340 plate appearances.

Bannon isn’t physically imposing at a listed 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, but don’t hold it against him. This isn’t a power-lifting competition. And the Orioles have come up short at third base with the combination of Kelvin Gutiérrez, Ramón Urías and Chris Owings (one start). Gutiérrez was outrighted to Norfolk.

The position seems to be Bannon’s best shot at playing in the majors. He also has experience at second, but that’s it. He isn’t a utility guy.

Rougned Odor returned to the lineup last night and plays second against right-handers. Mateo, Urías and Chris Owings can work into the platoon. Nevin is needed at first base with Mountcastle on the injured list.

Keep running Bannon out there.

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