SARASOTA, Fla. - The early success and signs of a lasting impression by left-hander Jayson Aquino takes me back to that day early in camp when he threw a side session with the sound of ball popping mitt accompanied by whispers from executive vice president Dan Duquette and bullpen coach Alan Mills.
Duquette commented on how Aquino’s dedication to improving his breaking ball was evident and Mills smiled and nodded. This isn’t the same pitcher whose contract was purchased from the Cardinals in April 2016. The same pitcher who seemed to be on the 40-man roster bubble, with a real chance to hear another popping sound.
Aquino is the highlight of camp, per manager Buck Showalter’s ratings. He’s turned in four scoreless innings with one hit and six strikeouts in road games against the Pirates and Phillies.
Showalter has noticed an improved presentation from Aquino. Better body language, more confidence - maybe the product of his first three major league appearances last summer.
“I think that taste of the big leagues last season just spiked my confidence,” he said through interpreter Ramon Alarcon, “so I’m totally confident over here at spring training and focused on my work.”
Aquino, 24, has devoted most of his attention to his curveball. He’s got a plus changeup and a fastball he can run up there at 93 mph on a good day. He needed to have less trouble with the curve.
“That was something I was working on,” he said. “As soon as the season was over, I started playing winter league ball and I started working on my curveball. I already have the slider, but the curveball was something I was trying to develop and I definitely was working on it as soon as the season was over.”
Aquino allowed one hit over 2 1/3 scoreless innings in his three appearances with the Orioles in 2016. He made 19 starts among his 20 appearances at Double-A Bowie and pitched in relief in five games at Triple-A Norfolk, going a combined 7-10 with a 3.72 ERA in 128 1/3 innings.
His bullpen days may be nearing an end. Showalter said Aquino will be in someone’s rotation this summer.
“Whatever role they decide for me, I’m more than happy to go ahead and do it,” he said. “I feel confident that I can do the job as a starter, so I’m looking forward to that opportunity.”
He should be looking forward to staying in one place. Aquino was traded by the Rockies in February 2015, had his contract purchased by the Pirates three months later, had his contract purchased by the Indians in July and was selected off waivers by the Cardinals in December.
The Orioles will be in two places today with split-squad games against the Twins in Sarasota and the Yankees in Tampa. The road game starts at 6:35 p.m. and I’m pretty sure manager Buck Showalter is going to hit traffic.
Neither game airs on MASN, which kills the theory that every Rosa has its Thorne. But MLB Network will broadcast the night game in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. television markets.