NEW YORK - Who’s ready for opener day?
The Orioles are breaking out a bullpen game, as it used to be called, in the first week of the season. Three days into it.
Nate Karns makes sense as a former starter who didn’t exceed two innings in his spring training appearances and is handled with care after missing the 2018 season with an elbow injury. Stretch him out and he could be slotted into a more traditional role, but in the meantime, let him cover the early portion and be the first to touch the baton.
Left-hander John Means might be the next man up under other circumstances to counter the right-handed Karns, but the Yankees’ lineup leans so heavily to the right that manager Brandon Hyde instead could choose Jimmy Yacabonis or Miguel Castro.
Mike Wright threw 19 pitches Thursday and should be available.
Karns hasn’t appeared in a major league game since May 19 in Minnesota, when he threw 72 pitches in five innings for the Royals with only one run allowed, went on the disabled list two days later and underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in July.
Today marks the sixth career start for Karns against the Yankees. He’s allowed eight runs and struck out 35 batters in 26 2/3 innings. He’s surrendered four runs and struck out 22 in 16 2/3 innings in the Bronx.
* The Yankees are starting left-handers James Paxton and J.A. Happ in the final two games of the series. Hyde took the bold step Thursday of lifting Chris Davis for a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning with lefty fireballer Aroldis Chapman on the mound. Does he sit Davis today or Sunday?
Davis is 1-for-5 against Paxton. Means little. He’s 4-for-25 with two doubles, two home runs and 12 strikeouts against Happ. Could mean a little more.
How Hyde handles Davis is one of the most griping storylines of the 2019 season. It gained intrigue the moment that Renato Núñez stepped out of the dugout and onto the on-deck circle in the ninth.
Can’t recall many instances in the past where Davis was taken out of a game. It happened on opening day 2019.
The Orioles from top to bottom desperately want Davis to become a feared hitter again in the middle of the order. Someone that opposing managers must account for and adjust to, especially in the later innings. But he’s going to be pushed down the order, and maybe to the bench, until he gets back to that level.
If he does.
Hyde and the front office are going to be patient because some changes can’t happen overnight, or through an entire spring training, and Davis exhibits the occasional signs of a potential breakout. Like taking the ball to the opposite field. And the man does know how to work a count, constantly getting ahead but inevitably getting no return for it.
In one of his strikeouts on Thursday, Davis was up 3-0 and took two pitches he thought were out of the strike zone. Then he went down swinging, which we’ve seen more times than Shawshank.
It’s become obvious that Davis can’t take any borderline pitches. He has to expand his zone, no longer able to trust his keen eye, because umpires simply won’t give him those calls.
Be aggressive early in the count. Be aggressive late in it.
Or be on the bench.
* Meanwhile, the Orioles released the “breaking camp” rosters of their four full-season affiliates, which are subject to change before the first game. No shockers except that reliever Cody Carroll is listed under extended spring training/rehab instead of being in the Triple-A Norfolk bullpen.
The Tides’ infielders are listed as Christopher Bostick, Ryan Mountcastle, Jace Peterson, Jack Reinheimer, Zach Vincej and Stevie Wilkerson, which proves again that they’re short on prospects at the higher levels of their system.
No knock on these guys. It’s just a fact that there are signings here to plug holes and improve the depth.
Mountcastle is going to get most of his starts at first base.
MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski provided more information on the rosters here.
* I wrote yesterday about the Orioles signing outfielder Mason Williams to a minor league deal. He’s on Norfolk’s roster.
The Orioles were determined to find another outfielder while Austin Hays is on the injured list with a sprained left thumb. Williams used to be one of the Yankees’ top prospects, but he hasn’t lived up to the status. And not because of the 2013 DUI arrest. His skills just haven’t made him an established major leaguer.
Baseball America ranked Williams as the No. 32 prospect in all of baseball in 2013.
Williams’ first major league home run came in his debut on June 12, 2015 at Camden Yards. A two-run shot of Ubaldo Jiménez in the fourth inning.
Who remembers it?