SARASOTA, Fla. - Tommy Milone is new to the Orioles after agreeing to a minor league deal earlier this month. He’s learning about his teammates, and his comfort zone has been expanded in workouts and clubhouse conversations.
Today’s start enabled Milone to confirm what he already knew about Austin Hays.
Anything hit in his general vicinity is likely to be caught. And the kid can hit, too.
Milone retired the Pirates in order in the top of the first inning because Hays raced into right-center field and made a sensational diving grab to rob Kevin Newman.
Hays jumped to his feet and ran off the field, a huge relief to an organization that needs to keep him healthy. Then he robbed Newman again in the fourth by charging a sinking liner and making a sliding catch, and retrieved Jacob Stallings’ double later in the inning and fired the ball to Pat Valaika, who threw home for the out.
Batting leadoff again today, Hays also doubled twice and drove in two runs before Cedric Mullins pinch-ran for him.
“When I was with Seattle last year we came over to Baltimore and he was playing center at that point,” Milone said. “I think it was later in the season and he made a couple of amazing catches, so it wasn’t anything new. It’s nice to have him behind me, though.”
Colin Moran, nephew of former Orioles outfielder B.J. Surhoff, led off the second inning with a double, but Milone struck out the next three batters for a scoreless appearance in his debut.
“Command could have been a little bit better, and the more I pitch, the more I get out there in those kinds of situations and stuff, the better that will get,” Milone said. “But happy with that first one. Kind of get that one under my belt and now we can move forward in anticipation of getting out there.”
Milone threw 23 pitches, 16 for strikes, as he tries to break camp in the rotation. The Pirates couldn’t time the changeup and kept catching air.
“That’s by far my best off-speed pitch, so obviously that’s a pitch I feel like is probably going to be there most of the time,” he said. “I’ve got to mix in the slider and the curveball to kind of give them some other looks. So I think that’s one thing that I’ll probably work on throughout the course of camp. And obviously continue with fastball command and move it all around.”
Milone’s past experience in the majors works in his favor. Track records carry weight as pitchers jockey for position in the rotation race.
It applies to Milone and it applies to lefty Wade LeBlanc.
“It does factor in,” said manager Brandon Hyde.
“A lot of times, like we’ve talked about a lot, spring training sometimes is a difficult look, especially with a veteran-type guy. You don’t really go on results. I remember last year (Andrew) Cashner and (Dylan) Bundy didn’t throw very well in spring training, especially early, and they kind of ramped it up as the spring went along. Sometimes it just takes who have been around a little bit longer to feel like they’re game-ready.
“So yeah, I think that we’re definitely going to go on what they have done in the past and their track record. Just really want them to get their proper buildup and get ready for the season.”
Milone is entering his 10th major league season and just turned 33 earlier this month.
“Experience is something that I feel like can always help you, because I feel like I’ve been in all kinds of situations in the big leagues and the minor league everywhere that I’ve pitched,” he said. “When you get guys on base or maybe you’re not feeling right, I’ve been in those situations before, so I can kind of navigate through.
“Some days that doesn’t work out, but some days I’ve been able to navigate through the tough times and kind of salvage an outing because of that.”
Valaika hit a two-run homer in the third inning, his second of the spring, after Ryan Mountcastle led off with a double against Pirates closer Keone Kela. Hays doubled and scored on Anthony Santander’s sacrifice fly for a 3-0 lead.
The Orioles batted around in the fourth. Valaika had an RBI single, Hays delivered his two-run double, Mullins raced home on Santander’s bloop double to center and Trey Mancini followed with a run-scoring single for a 9-0 lead.
Mychal Givens made his spring debut rather than throw a bullpen session, and he retired the side in order with a strikeout.
Rule 5 pick Michael Rucker was spared a run on the 8-4-2 putout.
Davis has been retired once in seven plate appearances, but he flied to deep left-center field.
Update: Davis homered to left field leading off the fifth inning. Mountcastle homered to left with one out.
The Orioles have nine extra-base hits in five innings and lead 11-0.
Mountcastle ended his day with two doubles, a home run, three RBIs and three runs scored.
“I just tried to go up there and play my game and be aggressive and swing at good pitches,” he said.
“I’ve got to come out here and perform, play my game. I’m not going to try to press too hard to be like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to be amazing every day,’ but I’m going to go out there and play my game and if that’s good enough, then great. If not, then I’m going to keep working.”
It was more than good enough today, and it happened after another pregame chat with Davis around the batting cage.
“I talked to him a little bit today, just about what he was thinking and what I was thinking at the plate. He looks really good right now. He looks relaxed. He’s putting some barrels on balls, for sure,” Mountcastle said.
“He’s got a lot of experience. Just seeing what he has to say and I give him my two cents every now and then, too. Just learning from everybody around here is definitely good.”
Mountcastle is going to make his major league debut in 2020 and he’s going to play in the same outfield as Hays. Two big-time prospects trying to push the Orioles through their rebuild and into contender status.
“I’ve played with him for a while and he’s always been an amazing player,” Mountcastle said. “Makes spectacular plays in the field. He’s a really good hitter. To play alongside him is definitely going to be fun.”
Update II: Martin Cervenka hit a two-run homer and the Orioles pounded out 19 hits in a 13-0 win over the Pirates.
“I thought we did a lot of things as a group really well,” Hyde said. “Ran the bases extremely well early. Had one miscue defensively, but besides that we were really solid with a bunch of really nice plays. And we had really good at-bats all the way through the order.
“I think that was the best I’ve seen Ryan swing the bat, not just this spring training but last spring training, also. He swung the bat with some confidence and was on time with the fastball. He hit a couple sliders for his doubles.”
What makes Mountcastle’s swing work for him?
“He’s got huge power,” Hyde replied. “I’m just getting a look at him right now. You watch him in BP, he can really drive the ball the middle of the field. Generates a ton of bat speed. He’s strong. He’s trying to get the ball in the air and when he catches it on the barrel it usually goes a long way. There’s a lot of things to like about his swing. Now it’s just about getting at-bats.”
Hyde might have been more impressed with a Davis foul ball than anything else the first baseman did today.
“I told him before the base hit, the 1-1 swing that he fouled straight back, I told him I did not see a swing like that the entire season last year or spring training,” he said. “And that was on a foul ball. Then he gets a base hit and then he feels good and hits a ball out to left on a great swing.
“He looks like he’s really locked in and ready to swing the bat right now, and that’s what we wanted to see.”
The swing path is the same. “It’s the aggressiveness in the box, the presence in the box,” Hyde said.
“You can tell on his takes that he’s in swing mode and letting his vision of the ball and the strike-zone awareness stop him on a pitch outside of the zone, but he’s ready to hit every pitch.”