Cleaning out my notebook

ARLINGTON, Texas - So much for a quiet and relaxing off-day.

Nelson Cruz found out that he’s leading all designated hitters in All-Star voting. Then, he learned that Major League Baseball named him the American League’s Player of the Week. Then, he gripped a bat without pain in his left hand.

Johan Santana opted out of his minor league deal with the Orioles and landed on their 15-day disabled list. He could be pitching for them in a couple of weeks.

How would the Orioles make room for him? Good question.

hunter nym pitching sidebar.jpgHow will they make room for reliever Tommy Hunter, who should be activated no later than June 9? Good question.

Do you get the feeling that Brad Brach and Preston Guilmet are battling for one opening in the bullpen?

T.J. McFarland’s spot may be safe because manager Buck Showalter likes having a left-hander in long relief on nights that the starter is right-handed. Zach Britton is the closer and Brian Matusz works more in a specialist role or in one-inning spurts.

Would the Orioles consider 13 pitchers?

“I don’t think so,” Showalter replied. “I like the construction of our bullpen with Tommy in it. We’ve covered some areas that we were challenged with. We brought in Guilmet and Mac, we have some length there. With Tommy adding to it, I think we’ll still have some length there. I’m looking forward to Tommy coming back.”

Hunter is in Texas and will throw a bullpen session today. Matt Wieters will play catch again in the outfield.

Cruz is a career .294/.356/.555 hitter in 400 games in Arlington. Just saying...

Showalter didn’t spend yesterday re-evaluating his club.

“No,” he said. “Sometimes, you can get too close to it. That’s why every time I see a scout friend that’s here, I kind of pick their brain, tell me what you see. We get so close to it every day that I leave... we’re grinding the games. I’ll leave that to the other people to bring something to my attention.”

Caleb Joseph started back-to-back games against the Astros over the weekend before Nick Hundley moved behind the plate for Sunday’s series finale. How does Showalter choose his catcher?

It’s not a coincidence that Joseph started against two left-handers. Hundley has odd splits. He’s a career .198/.275/.314 hitter against southpaws and a .252/.302/.413 hitter versus right-handers.

“I wanted to make sure that Nick gets to see all our starters, kind of get a feel for them,” Showalter said. “Caleb had been sitting a while. Gave him a couple back-to-back days.

“I like Caleb a little bit better against left-handed pitching. We’re still feeling our way around with Nick.”

Bench coach John Russell works with the catchers. Here’s his take on Hundley:

“Good. He’s got a good idea of what he’s doing. It’s tough coming in the first couple months of the season - a new staff, a new system and trying to get to know everybody, get to know the starters. I thought he’s handled it pretty well.

“He’s got a good mind. He’s caught for a while now, so he has a good baseball mind and catcher’s mind of how to work through a game. Now, it’s just continuing to learn our pitchers, what their strengths are, their weaknesses, what they need to work on and what’s going to be helpful for him to help them. So far, he’s done a nice job. After he’s here for a little while, it’ll be even easier for him because he’ll know the guys better.”

Remember that great running catch from Nick Markakis on Saturday night in Houston, with Chris Tillman on the mound and three Astros on base in the second inning? First base coach Wayne Kirby, who coaches the outfielders, moved Markakis closer to the line before the pitch.

One of those subtle moments in a game that goes unnoticed and deserves mention.

“No. 1, (Jose) Altuve is an aggressive little hitter,” Kirby said. “Tillman threw a first-pitch fastball and he missed, and when runners are in scoring position, you get one shot to go over that wall. I caught Nick a little bit in the gap, got his attention and moved him over. That was all.

“Sometimes, you get caught up in the game. We move on counts a lot, depending on the hitter. That’s why I always survey the outfield, because in my mind, I know what I would do and that’s one of the reasons why you pay attention. You have to pay attention because sometimes they get caught up in the game, sometimes with the at-bats, not knowing the counts. And that’s one of the reasons why Bobby (Dickerson) and myself are on the top shelf. We make sure our defense stays in line.

“No matter what you write on paper - put a guy two steps in the gap - once you get the visual, it might not look that way. So we make the adjustments after they get on the field.”

Kirby knew that Markakis would run down Altuve’s fly ball.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Once you put them straight up and that ball stays in the air, that ball’s got to go on the line for it to fall in. He’s going to catch the ball.

“What the defensive metrics don’t understand is a guy who can have good jumps off the ball. No one can gauge that. Nick sees the ball off the bat well and that’s a sign of a good outfielder. Seeing the ball go away, seeing the ball hit and as soon as the ball’s hit, his reaction time is right where it needs to be.

“He’s got one drop step and it’s full speed, instead of taking a lot of steps. He’s ready to go.”

How would shortstop J.J. Hardy describe the Orioles’ season through 55 games?

“It’s been, I don’t know, inconsistent,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries, we’ve played good at times, we’ve played bad at times. It’s a long season. I think at any point in any season we’ve probably played similar to what we’re doing.”

The online betting site Bovada has adjusted the odds of the Orioles winning the World Series from 33/1 on May 1 to 25/1. Cruz is 7/1 to win AL MVP.

Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon is 2-5 with a 5.67 ERA in 11 starts at Triple-A Norfolk, with 69 hits allowed in 54 innings. He’s walked 11, struck out 35, hit three batters and surrendered nine home runs. However, Yoon turned in his best start Saturday night, holding Pawtucket to one run and six hits in seven innings, with no walks and five strikeouts.

In his previous outing against Lehigh Valley, Yoon allowed three runs and four hits in seven innings, with one walk and six strikeouts. The improvement is evident. However, the Orioles still don’t think he’s ready to pitch in the majors.

One minor leaguer who’s really got Showalter’s attention is Single-A Delmarva reliever Jon Keller, a 22nd-round pick in 2013 out of the University of Tampa. Keller is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 14 relief appearances, with 17 hits, nine walks, 39 strikeouts and no home runs allowed in 30 innings. His fastball has been clocked at 94-96 mph.

While we’re down in the minors, catcher Chance Sisco is regarded as one of the organization’s top prospects among position players. Sisco, a second-round pick last year out of Santiago (Calif.) High School, has eight hits in his last four games and is batting .287 at Delmarva.

Shorebirds pitching coach Alan Mills is making a strong impression throughout the organization. Mills, who spent the previous two seasons at short-season Single-A Aberdeen, was under consideration for the Orioles bullpen coach job before they hired Dom Chiti.

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