By the time that the media descends upon the Ed Smith Stadium complex for spring training, three new coaches on manager Brandon Hyde’s staff will be familiar with every corner of it.
The coaches’ retreat that’s folded into the annual January minicamp in Sarasota enabled Fredi González, Anthony Sanders and Darren Holmes to become acclimated with the spacious facility. No need to waste valuable time later. Drills will run more smoothly.
This isn’t the old Fort Lauderdale complex with its two practice fields and thick fumes emanating from the adjoining airport. Taking a deep breath put you at risk of getting a fuel high.
The gas attacks extended outside of the food room.
The Sarasota operation gives Hyde and his staff access to the standard workout fields, plus artificial surface, Camden Yards replica and half fields. There’s also the row of bullpen mounds that allows for four side sessions to be done simultaneously.
“I think it’s a beautiful complex,” said Holmes, who spent the past five seasons as Rockies bullpen coach.
“For me, I’m an East Coast guy. It’s great to be back on the East Coast. It’s hard to compare. Colorado went way overboard. Maybe not overboard, but they have a home theatre. I mean, it’s a monster facility with nine-something fields. They house the minor leagues and major leagues at that facility. But I really like this facility.
“I think it’s laid out really good. It’s very conducive to getting your work in. They’ve done a good job. There’s a couple of fields out here where home plate’s in four different areas, so you can get a lot of work done. I really like it. I really like the area and I really like it here.”
Veteran Alex Cobb already has thrown off a bullpen mound at minicamp and each pain-free session brings him closer to a spot at the top half of the rotation.
Cobb made three starts in April before undergoing hip and knee surgeries in Nashville.
“That was a big miss for us last year,” Hyde said.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of experience on our club and one of the guys that has been in the American League East for a while and has had some nice major league years got hurt early in the year for us, and so it lost kind of a veteran presence, it lost a major league starter that can take some pressure off guys and takes pressure off our bullpen, and so obviously we want to keep him healthy.
“He’s a big part of us and it was exciting to see him throw and to hear that he feels really good.”
The importance of Cobb’s return jumped a couple of notches after the Orioles traded Dylan Bundy to the Angels. The rotation screamed for a veteran with a track record who could consume innings. Who could ease some of the strain on a bullpen that kept collapsing last season.
Bundy entered the offseason as a trade chip and became an Angel.
“I wasn’t surprised. I kind of knew that he was on the trading block and that something like that could happen,” said Asher Wojciechowski, who is expected to be one of the starters when the Orioles break camp.
“I was sad to see him go. Dylan and I got along well last year, but I’m also excited for him for that opportunity in L.A. and to pitch for that team. But yeah, it’s kind of waiting to see if and when it was going to happen, and when it did, it wasn’t too much of a shock.
“Now we’ve just got to adjust and keep on moving forward.”
The Orioles lost a veteran pitcher in the offseason, but they gained two Rule 5 picks. Brandon Bailey will compete for a starting job, with the bullpen a possibility if the Orioles don’t want to risk losing him. Michael Rucker, meanwhile, transitioned from starter to reliever last summer in the Cubs system and will be a consideration for either role.
Hyde and major league field coordinator Tim Cossins are familiar with Rucker.
Rucker spent the winter trying to become more familiar with the Orioles.
“It’s definitely been a little bit of a crash course,” he said.
“I haven’t had a whole lot of time to be brought up on the Orioles way, but I’ve definitely been reached out to by Holty (Chris Holt), the director of pitching, Doug (Brocail) and some other people in the organization and they’ve been nothing but welcoming and excited for me to contribute next year.”