Notes on Cobb, Núñez, Alberto, Castro and Martin

A few thoughts on the Orioles after they completed a 2-4 road trip, playing four consecutive one-run games, and reach another off-day today prior to division battles with the Blue Jays and Red Sox at Camden Yards:

The information on starter Alex Cobb is scarce, to say the least.

No one is talking much about him, the assumption being that there’s nothing new to pass along.

Cobb is rehabbing in Sarasota after soreness in his lower back forced him onto the injured list - his third trip since reporting to spring training. He also had some discomfort in his hip and underwent an MRI before leaving the team again.

Manager Brandon Hyde had little to say on the subject when asked in one of his media scrums in Houston. He remains focused on the players on the active roster and checks the minor league reports, with special attention given to the upper levels.

Cobb isn’t pitching and won’t be rejoining the Orioles anytime soon. As far as we know.

Did anyone back in March predict that Renato Núñez would lead the team in home runs with 16 through the first 65 games? Or that Dwight Smith Jr. would lead in RBIs with 41?

Núñez is on the All-Star ballot among the designated hitters, the power a nice element but also accompanied by a .241/.294/.496 slash line. He ranked among the team leaders last season with a .336 OBP.

A sore biceps muscle in spring training made Núñez a candidate for the injured list. He hasn’t played much in the infield, where he’s rated below average at the corners. He’s totaled only one inning at third base. But he’s destroying baseballs as the DH and fills a need on the club.

The Orioles certainly have noticed him, but he doesn’t register on a national scale. He has a quiet personality - quite engaging when approached, but otherwise happy to stay in the background - and he’s playing for a last-place team in a full rebuild.

“I think Noonie’s always hit in Triple-A and he’s getting an opportunity to get every day at-bats,” Hyde said. “I know the last couple months when he came over here last year, he swung the bat pretty well, and this year, he’s swinging the bat even better. So he’s obviously been tapping into his power at the big league level.

“Really swinging the bat well, especially against left-handers. So I just think Noonie’s getting a chance and he’s obviously a quiet guy, but I just think he’s getting an opportunity to play.”

For how much longer?

Mark Trumbo’s injury rehab assignment ends on June 16 and the Orioles must decide whether to activate him from the injured list if he’s deemed ready. And if so, can they fit him on a team with a three-man bench that already has a primary designated hitter.

As I wrote yesterday, Trumbo is in Baltimore today to have his knee checked by head athletic trainer Brian Ebel.

The rotation strung together five quality starts in a row on the trip and the Orioles could feel a little braver and go with a seven-man bullpen. A fourth reserve would make it much easier to carry Trumbo and Núñez.

Ryan Mountcastle is a complication for later. The Orioles seem inclined to keep him at Triple-A due to his age and inexperience, and because they might want to experiment with him in the outfield.

Núñez could become a trade chip if a club is looking for a bat, especially one that’s slashing .291/.349/.620 against left-handers. The Orioles could appreciate the same qualities and hold onto him, but the defensive limitations really stand out on a club full of first base/DH/corner outfield types.

Hanser-Alberto-Celebrates-Home-Run-vs-NYY-White-Sidebar.jpgSpeaking of assaults on left-handed pitching, Hanser Alberto had three singles yesterday off Wade Miley and leads the majors with a .425 average versus southpaws with 34 hits in 80 at-bats.

Did anyone make this March prediction?

Alberto is 23-for-103 (.223) against right-handers.

The four-out save Saturday by Miguel Castro was important on a few fronts.

Castro locked down the club’s 20th win of the season. No late-inning gut punches. Let the music play in the clubhouse.

It also extended Castro’s streak of scoreless outings to five and his ERA has fallen from 7.40 to 5.35. He’s worked multiple innings in four of the games.

Castro’s fastball touched 100 mph in Denver and has been 98-99 mph. He’s really good when able to mix in his slider and changeup. And when he can throw strikes, of course.

Hyde keeps searching for relievers that he can trust. He’s fond of left-hander Richard Bleier for that reason. Castro needs to become that guy and give Hyde more options over the course of a game.

Castro is out of minor league options, so another slump again leaves the club in a bind.

Rule 5 pick Richie Martin might have been better at the plate than in the field on the road trip. However, he’s been worth a roster spot simply with his ability to play shortstop.

The exceptions are the fielding error against the Rangers that ignited a six-run ninth and yesterday’s off-target throw. He’s been covering lots of ground and allows the Orioles to more easily shift without fear of being exposed.

Count how many times Martin has ranged across the bag against a left-handed hitter to backhand the ball and throw across his body for the out. Watch how he took a throw from catcher Pedro Severino yesterday on the left field side of the bag and made a sweeping tag on Tony Kemp.

The Orioles have preached the importance of defense to Martin since he arrived in camp, wanting him to relax and not worry so much about going hitless. The glove would make it easier to carry him for an entire season.

Martin understands it. But he also can’t accept being an automatic out and has put in the extra work with hitting coach Don Long and assistant Howie Clark.

A single in the third inning yesterday was Martin’s sixth hit in 18 at-bats this month. He homered Wednesday and also walked twice - seeing eight pitches in one at-bat - and his two-run shot in the ninth inning Saturday provided much-needed insurance.

“More on time with the fastball,” Hyde said. “We talked about that before. Early in the year, I thought he got beat with the heater a lot. Just had a tough time getting his foot down and being on time, and as of late he’s starting to get his foot down earlier, barrel’s getting to the ball out in front. Much better at-bats from Richie.

“He’s making a huge jump and not easy to do. And he’s playing really good defense. We just want him to compete at the plate and he’s been doing that.”

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