Two players who weren’t assured of making the club out of spring training, though Núñez being out of options improved his chances.
Smith wasn’t in the organization until a March 8 trade between the Orioles and Blue Jays. Former executive Dan Duquette claimed Núñez off waivers from the Rangers on May 13, 2018, hoping that he’d be able to handle third base after the inevitable trade of Manny Machado and return of Tim Beckham to shortstop.
The bat always played in the minors, where Núñez hit .297/.366/.432 last summer in 63 games at the Triple-A level and totaled 28 doubles, three triples, 29 homers and 96 RBIs with Single-A Stockton back in 2014.
Núñez isn’t known for having an accurate arm, though no one questions its strength. A biceps injury kept him off third base in spring training and he hasn’t played the position this season, making back-to-back starts at first base last week in St. Petersburg, Fla. while Chris Davis was ill.
Manager Brandon Hyde will take the offensive production from Núñez, who appeared in 60 games last season and ranked among the club leaders with a .336 on-base percentage. Hyde is a big believer in trying to raise the confidence level of his players, which, if done, should enable them to enjoy longer and more productive careers.
“He’s getting an opportunity to play in the big leagues,” Hyde said. “Got a little bit of an opportunity to play when he came over here last year. Always hit in the minor leagues, always hit in Triple-A. So him and Smitty, kind of Triple-A type guys that are getting an opportunity to play a lot and gaining confidence.”
Núñez belted three home runs in Saturday’s doubleheader and has hit safely in 14 of his last 16 games, posting a .344 average in that span.
“Nunie’s swings are aggressive and Nunie’s looking to do damage and he’s always hit and now he’s figuring some things out, where he’s staying on some breaking balls that he wasn’t early,” Hyde said. “He’s back-spinning the ball and it’s awesome to see.”
* The Orioles held an opponent without a home run for only the second time in 23 games.
Though the Orioles lead the pack in home runs allowed this season with 57, the game’s muscle is being flexed throughout the majors. It’s a record-setting pace that’s prompted some players to theorize that the baseballs are different.
Hyde isn’t ready to hop aboard the conspiracy ship.
“I think there’s all different kinds of factors,” he said. “Some of it is guys are being trained to hit the ball in the air more. That’s no secret, right? Guys are pitching at the top of the zone more, guys are looking to hit the ball in the air more, there’s not as many 88 mph sinkerball/slider guys here in the big leagues anymore. So it’s velo, it’s four-seam and guys are looking to drive the ball. Training their swings.
“We were taught to train to get above the ball, try to backspin and cut the ball in half. Now guys are working underneath the ball more and hitting the ball on more of an upswing. With that being said, the balls are flying and this is a really good park to hit in and it’s already warm and it’s April. Yeah, I think it’s a lot of factors.”
* The Orioles and Twins posted almost identical lines yesterday.
The Twins outscored the Orioles 4-3, but both teams had nine hits, committed an error and left nine men on base.
The Orioles have lost nine straight games to the Twins and are 3-14 since the beginning of 2017.
Jesús Sucre is a career .370 hitter in 46 at-bats against the Twins, his highest average versus any opponent with a minimum of 10 at-bats.
Trey Mancini has scored at least one run in 17 games, tying Nick Markakis (2009) for the club record within the first 23 games of a season.
It might depend on whether they’re used in relief before Wednesday.
Means was slated to start Friday night in Minnesota following the off-day, but the doubleheader might have nixed those plans.
Ynoa will be the 34th player used by the Orioles if he gets into a game.
Hyde said Cobb’s back felt good yesterday after the veteran started Game 2 of Saturday’s doubleheader.
* If you’re wondering what happened to veteran infielder Alcides Escobar, who was granted his release late in Orioles camp, he went 5-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs scored yesterday for Triple-A Charlotte in its game at Norfolk and raised his average to .393 with a .986 OPS.
* Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias returned to Baltimore over the weekend after concluding a scouting trip leading into the June amateur draft.
I’ve heard that the Orioles still aren’t committed to taking Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman or prep shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. with the first overall pick.
The choice appears to come down to those two and scouts offer differing opinions on how the Orioles should proceed.
One talent evaluator from outside the organization offered up Padres’ shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. as a comparison while endorsing Witt. Others think Rutschman should be a slam dunk and someone who can make an immediate impact.