SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles completed their workout Monday morning at the Ed Smith Stadium complex with rounds of batting practice against a pitching machine, the velocity dialed up but nowhere near the level of competitiveness that suggested there was more at stake than bragging rights.
One ball cleared the tall fence on the Camden Yards replica field and bounced off an awning above a door to the baseball operations building. An impressive distance past the foul pole in right.
Chris Davis strolled out of the cage and waited for his next turn.
If only the winning team had been decided by longest drive. But alas, there was much more to this “game,” a method to the madness that pulls players further into the analytic age and unifies them.
“I don’t want to talk about it. We didn’t come out on top today. It was sketchy,” Davis said later, unable to suppress a grin.
“The big emphasis this year for the stay-back guys is it’s not a day off, and I think over the years in spring training when you don’t make the road trip it’s kind of joked about as a spa day. You’re not playing in the game, you don’t have everybody there, so you’re not getting as many reps as you would on a regular day. But really, those should be your work days.
“One of the things that we’ve done the past couple days is we’ve had this competition after BP, after our ground balls and we get all our work in, to keep us sharp and keep us in a game mindset. And it’s basically situations. So we do runner on first and third, one out, infield in. Stuff like that.”
Davis and infielder José Iglesias were anointed captains and picked their teams three days ago. Davis’ side won yesterday and got an earful this morning.
“They were talking a lot of trash,” Davis said. “I still feel like there were some shady scoring decisions. But it’s good. It makes you focus on the game and the task at hand. You can’t simulate real game speed or experience, but it gives you the opportunity to get in that mindset and practice it. And I think it promotes competition and chemistry.
“You have to think about it. We have a ton of guys in camp right now, some of which are meeting for the first time. We need everything that we can to try to get to know one another, try to get the ball rolling as far as that’s concerned, and it’s been good.”
The most recent player to join the Orioles, utility infielder Andrew Velazquez, made friends and earned a camp honor by flashing power nobody knew he possessed.
“The first day, Team Davis won and our MVP was Velazquez, and it was awesome because he basically just showed up,” Davis said. “I’d say if we went nine rounds, he didn’t show up for the first seven, and the last two swings he hit a ball on the top of the cages (beyond center field) and a ball over the batter’s eye. So he was our MVP the first day.”
Davis described himself as coach, motivator and team spirit leader.
Also, a collector of data.
“With all the technology we have at our fingertips now, I think there’s a concentrated effort to start introducing those things, and that’s what some of the idea is behind Rapsodo,” he said.
“It’s measuring exit velocity, launch angle, RPMs. It can be a little overwhelming, but I think it’s good to have that available if you want to start to dive in. I think that’s their way of introducing some of their stuff, and it’s been pretty good.”
The ball that bounced off the awning was trumped by a couple of swings from Trey Mancini, who hit the concrete overhang on the baseball operations building. A shot to the opposite field.
A shot that caused players surrounding the cage to roar their approval.
“Trey hit a ball, his last swing, over the batter’s eye,” Davis said. “I played with Mark Reynolds, Manny (Machado) the last few years he was here, even Schoopy (Jonathan Schoop). I played with guys who had some juice and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ball hit as far as he hit that one today.
“He goes, ‘That’s all I’ve got right there,’ and I’m like, ‘Brother, that’s all you need. That’s leaving any park on any day. It doesn’t matter.’”
No one was going through the motions this morning, even with manager Brandon Hyde already in Clearwater for the game against the Phillies.
This was serious stuff, but also a way to incorporate fun into it.
“It’s good because you’re not just taking swings, and I think that’s one thing that’s not really talked about is, you get so many reps in spring training, you take BP so much, that sometimes it can kind of become routine,” Davis said. “Not to say that you’re not invested in what you’re doing, but you’re maybe not as focused as you should be, and those are the reps that kind of make or break a player.
“For me, it’s not the reps where you’re concentrating on what you’re working on and there’s a focus. There’s the reps that are just reps. They’re empty. So I think it’s good to kind of remind guys, ‘Hey, pay attention to what you’re doing and have a purpose for what you’re doing.’
“That’s the second day. There’s no telling where this thing is going. I feel like we started out really hot. There was a steak dinner on the line. There’s no telling what’s going to happen now.
“I think I owe Hanser (Alberto) a car. He’s really excited.”