Orioles outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. said he could have played tonight, the discomfort in his right quadriceps muscle vanishing since he came out of yesterday’s game. Manager Brandon Hyde wants to avoid using him in the series opener against the White Sox and likely will return him to the lineup on Tuesday.
“Leg’s feeling fine, feeling better than it did yesterday,” Smith said. “I was walking around fine this morning. I’m available tonight.”
Smith is on the bench with the White Sox starting left-hander Manny Bañuelos, but it’s more about caution than matchups.
“I expected that they were going to give me a day and see how my body reacted the next morning,” Smith said. “Just take it from there day to day. I should be in there tomorrow.”
Smith was scratched from the April 14 lineup in Boston due to a similar issue with his leg, but he pinch-hit later in the game.
“I’ve been dealing with the same thing for the past week,” he said. “I’ve been playing through it and it has its days where it feels better and some days it doesn’t. But I feel fine right now.”
“I think that was positive,” Hyde said. “Smitty came in and felt a lot better than yesterday and that’s what we were hoping for. I’d like to keep him out of the game today, but he told me he’s available to pinch-hit and said he feels a lot better, so good news on that.”
Taking a break tonight should ensure his inclusion in Tuesday’s lineup against right-hander Iván Nova.
“I’m getting all the treatment today,” he said, “and then move on like normal and just do whatever out there in BP.”
The Orioles are thin on natural outfielders with Cedric Mullins optioned this afternoon to Triple-A Norfolk and utility player Stevie Wilkerson taking his spot on the 25-man roster. Wilkerson is an infielder who’s been learning the outfield and he’s in left tonight.
Mullins was 6-for-64 this season and had gone 1-for-33 before a single in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader.
“Cedric’s off to kind of a tough start offensively,” Hyde said. “Love the way he was playing defense. He’s really contributed defensively. We just felt like from a confidence standpoint we’d like to see him go down there and work on some things, get some more at-bats. But yeah, he’s been scuffling. He’s a big part of our club going forward and in the future and we want to see him have success.
“We thought the best thing for him was to go down there and kind of clean slate the season, work on a few things offensively and hopefully come back up here soon.”
Hyde kept going back to the confidence factor as one reason why the Orioles made the roster move. Give Mullins a reset, let him start to feel good again at the plate and see some results.
“This is a tough game and this game can beat you up,” Hyde said. “When you don’t have maybe the major league experience or the confidence or something to go to where you can look back and say, ‘This is how I dealt with it at this time in my career,’ I think there’s a lot of pressure that you put on yourself. You want to succeed and sometimes the best thing to do for players like that is to ...
“There’s a lot of great players that have been sent back to Triple-A, a lot of great players. That’s part of the game and that’s just part of your development and learning to deal with adversity and fighting through tough times and maybe going down there to recharge and restart something, figure something out, go back to something that worked and then come back up here and hopefully have a long career.”
Mullins slashed .151/.262/.377 in 17 exhibition games, but Hyde doesn’t necessarily believe in the carryover effect.
“Guys have tough spring trainings and have good starts to the year,” he said. “That might just be coincidence. But he just got off to a tough start this year and never got going. There are some things that we’d like to see him work on offensively, but the main thing is confidence. When you scuffle for a while you can press. It gets mental. And we just thought the best thing for him was to go down there in a different environment, a little less pressure and just work on taking great at-bats and compete at the plate at the Triple-A level and hopefully get back up here soon.”
Mullins will get plenty of at-bats from both sides of the plate.
“We talked about a lot of things,” Hyde said. “When you go back down to Triple-A, we talked about competing at the plate, work on your mechanics, work on your swing stuff in the cage, but when the game starts to compete against the guy on the mound, whether it’s right-handed or left-handed, whatever it may be.
“It’s going to be a nice, fresh start for Cedric and like I said, I hope he comes back soon.”
Wilkerson made a nice comeback after the Orioles designated him for assignment on March 23. He was 18-for-57 (.316) with the Tides, homering twice and driving in 10 runs.
“Stevie’s been playing well down there,” Hyde said. “Stevie adds some versatility for us. A guy who can play multiple spot, can play outfield positions as well as infield positions. With our roster, you look, (Trey) Mancini’s played almost every inning, (Jonathan) Villar has played almost every inning. Smitty came down with a quad yesterday, so I think the more versatile we can be to allow to rest guys is going to be beneficial.
“I want to keep Villar and Mancini healthy all year. Same as everybody else. And Stevie is a guy who can play multiple spots. He’s going to play a lot. He switch-hits. That’s a big factor, as well. But he also got off to a really good start in Norfolk, so I hope he continues to swing the bat well here.”
Joey Rickard is in center field tonight and should get most of the starts. Wilkerson provides another option, though his experience mostly is confined to two starts with Norfolk before the Orioles selected his contract.
“We don’t have much experience in center field right now,” Hyde said. “That’s why it’s a little bit of a blow. Cedric played really well in center field. It’s an important position obviously and so now we’re going to give Joey ... Stevie might get some opportunities out there and we’re going to see what they can do out in center field.”
Lacking viable options in the minors didn’t drag out the process with Mullins. The Orioles weren’t going to rush into a decision based on a few weeks.
“We were sticking with Cedric until we felt like it was the right thing to do for him,” Hyde said.
“You’ve got to be real careful when you short-sample size stuff,” Hyde said. “We want to give guys opportunities to have some at-bats and give some time for guys to work out of struggles. Not be so quick in decision making.
“I think the best decision makers are the ones that are patient through the process and aren’t emotional and reacting to any tough games or tough series, but kind of see bodies of work and stick with guys and then at some point make a decision. But not make snap decisions. I feel like we’ve done a good job of that here.”
Left-hander John Means is starting Wednesday night against the White Sox.
Reliever Nate Karns is being checked today by the club’s medical staff due to more tightness in his right forearm. He’s supposed to play catch soon and have a bullpen session before returning to his rehab assignment.
Hyde said Alex Cobb suggested the idea of throwing a simulated game this afternoon rather than a regular bullpen session. Rio Ruiz was one of the hitters facing Cobb, who could start Friday or Saturday in Minnesota.
“Cobber wanted to face some hitters, he wanted to make it a little more game-like,” Hyde said. “Having that little bit of a layoff there, he felt like he was pretty rusty and he hadn’t had any game situations in a couple of weeks. You can throw all the sides you want, but it’s different when there’s hitters in the box and he said he wanted to face some hitters and make it more game-like and include that in his side session before his next start.
“I thought he looked good. Checked with the guys after. His back feels good. Thought he had good stuff. Cobber is his worst critic and he’s tough on himself. We just want to keep Alex healthy. When he brought this up to us we thought it was a really good idea to face some hitters and make it game-like.”
Update: James McCann broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning with a three-run homer off David Hess.
Update II: José Abreu added an RBI single in the fifth. Trey Mancini had an RBI double in the bottom half.
Update III: Abreu hit a two-run homer off Tanner Scott in the seventh and another run scored on Richie Martin’s second error of the night to give Chicago a 7-1 lead. McCann made it 8-1 with an RBI single.
Update IV: Miguel Castro allowed four runs in the eighth, an inning that included three wild pitches, and Chicago leads 12-1.