SARASOTA, Fla. - With the first off-day now behind us, we’re ready for the first night game and another opportunity to catch up on sleep. No alarms are set unless you enjoy watching the sun rise.
The clubhouse opens to the media at 1 p.m., followed by the traditional posting of the lineup and the drive to Fort Myers for a 6:05 p.m. game against the Red Sox.
Ubaldo Jiménez makes his third start after allowing one run in two innings against the Yankees and no runs in three innings against the Rays. Tonight marks his second road game and probably a tougher lineup than he’s faced in his previous outings.
The list of players who are having a bad week include Dariel Álvarez, Parker Bridwell and Jason García, who were optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, and Richard Rodriguez, Yermin Mercedes and Jed Bradley, who were reassigned to minor league camp.
None of them were projected to head north with the team, but it’s still a blow to be removed from the roster in the second week of March.
For Álvarez, it’s necessary to get him on a mound right away and begin the conversion to reliever. The Orioles are convinced that he can pitch in the majors, perhaps by next season.
Mercedes can gain a measure of satisfaction from being a late addition to the camp roster. He wasn’t planning on it and benefitted from Austin Wynn’s ankle injury, so the days spent at the Ed Smith Stadium complex were a blessing.
Manager Buck Showalter received confirmation that Mercedes can hit, the first hint coming when the Dominican native batted a combined .345/.404/.570 last summer at Single-A Delmarva and Frederick. He tends to swing from the heels until getting two strikes, then adjusts his stance and makes solid contact, suggesting that he’s capable of doing it anytime the mood ... wait for it ... strikes.
Mercedes, who turned 24 last month, is blessed with a strong arm, but the rest of his work behind the plate doesn’t grade highly. The Orioles will continue to tutor him, of course, but also wonder whether he’s destined to change positions. There’s plenty of time to figure it out.
Bradley is gone after three scoreless innings, but he shouldn’t be forgotten. He’s a nice left-handed bullpen piece at Norfolk who could make it to Camden Yards over the summer. Same with Richard Bleier, one of the optionable relievers that became a priority. He may leave camp to pitch for Team Israel, which has advanced to the next round of the World Baseball Classic, and the Orioles are expected to option him later this month, but he improves the depth.
“He’s an interesting guy,” Showalter said of Bleier, who posted a 1.96 ERA in 23 innings last year with the Yankees. “Some guys pitch better as they go to better levels and the hitters are more aggressive. When he’s faced better competition, he’s been very competitive, so he’s an interesting guy for us. And he’s got options.
“We’ve got so many moveable pieces that we haven’t had in the past. We really were painted in a corner a lot last year and the year before. That’s something we really wanted to get better at this year. Especially with that 10-day DL and all the stuff that’s different this year. That time you spent after a game or before a game thinking about where you’re going if this happens and that happens ...
“We were talking about the rotations in Double-A and Triple-A in our meetings. Do you take, for instance, a guy who might be a long reliever who pitches four innings and we need to bring somebody up the next day, if that guy’s starting down there and it falls on the wrong day, we’ve got a problem. So we might take that guy and make sure he’s not a starter unless we want to go down that road. But we were looking at their rotation and they’re going to be six or seven deep. I think they may end up with a six-man rotation there.”
T.J. McFarland’s departure opened the door for other left-handed relievers. McFarland chose the Diamondbacks over the Orioles on a minor league deal, figuring he could get back to the majors quicker with them. There’s a rule that prohibited the Orioles from selecting his contract before May 15 because they released him this spring.
Logan Ondrusek is another guy who’s having a bad week. A sore right elbow, an MRI-arthrogram and a team that’s waiting for find out if the discomfort is a sign of something worse than a day-to-day situation. We’ll be told about it later today.
Ondrusek had a shot at filling one of the two available bullpen spots, but those hopes are fading. An ankle injury sustained in a fielding drill kept him from pitching until March 3 and his second appearance included a two-run homer in Lakeland and elbow pain.
Gabriel Ynoa was supposed to pitch Wednesday, but he warmed in the bullpen for the Dominican Republic the previous day and couldn’t be used without risking injury. The Orioles loaned him to their opponent, a nice gesture, and it sort of backfired. Not a good week. But he’s probably available tonight.
Meanwhile, we’ve been butchering Ynoa’s last name and we need to correct the mistake, even if it ruins a good pun.
It’s pronounced “ee-know-uh,” so please act accordingly.
My first name is still pronounced “Rock.”