NORTH PORT, Fla. - Chandler Shepherd got in his work this afternoon and that’s the main point of an exhibition start on Feb. 22.
Shepherd, vying for a spot in the backend of the Orioles rotation, completed two innings against the Braves before Ty Blach replaced him. He allowed three runs and two hits with two walks and no strikeouts.
The Braves filled their lineup with regulars, though they removed Freddie Freeman after one at-bat.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of names in that lineup that I’ve been watching on TV for a long time,” Shepherd said. “Yeah, it was super cool, but at the end of the day, I just had to go out and focus on what I was working on in my game. It’s cool to get that opportunity, but I’ve got to go out and take advantage of my outings.”
The first four Braves reached base in the first inning and they scored three times while Jay Flaa warmed in the bullpen.
Ronald Acuña Jr. reached on an infield hit, with third baseman Renato Núñez making a nice backhanded stop at the line but throwing late. Shepherd walked the next two batters, including Ozzie Albies on four pitches, and Acuña scored after Austin Hays failed to make a diving catch on Adam Duvall’s shallow fly ball to center field.
Sacrifice flies by Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte increased the lead to 3-0.
The results were much better in the second, with Shepherd retiring the side in order on 10 pitches - eight of them strikes. Two line drives to left fielder Ryan Mountcastle and a grounder to Núñez, whose throw almost pulled Pat Valaika off the bag.
Thirty-four pitches for Shepherd, who started the final game of the 2019 season in Boston and came off the 40-man roster the following day.
“Walks hurt you,” he said. “I got myself into a jam there early, but overall I was happy with it. There’s a few things we mentioned before that I was working really hard on toward the end of the year and through the offseason to come in here, and kind of just shows today that I need to continue obviously every day to keep improving on those things.”
Shepherd focused on his conditioning in the offseason, “better eating habits” enabling him to drop weight. Now he’s trying to strengthen his bid for a job in the rotation.
“All of us here competing for spots would love to have as many opportunities as possible,” he said. “I think everyone has the same mentality. We’re all trying to get better and take advantage of those opportunities whenever you get the ball.”
Félix Hernández, making his Braves debut, retired six of the seven batters he faced.
The Braves took a 4-0 lead in the third inning on Duvall’s double play grounder after back-to-back singles off Blach. Rob Zastryzny allowed a run in the fifth on Peter O’Brien’s sacrifice fly after a walk and single.
Mountcastle singled in the fourth inning and Valaika and Williams opened the fifth with singles off left-hander Grant Dayton.
Martin walked to load the bases with one out. Hays’ scorching line drive hooked foul, missing an extra-base hit by a few feet, before he struck out on a high fastball with the count full. Santander popped up the next pitch.
Update: The Orioles are losing 5-0, but Adley Rutschman pinch-hit for Santander in the eighth inning. A reason to sit up straight and pay attention.
Rutschman struck out on five pitches, unable to check his swing on the last one thrown by Sarasota native Chad Sobotka.
Cedric Mullins walked and stole second base in the inning.
Update II: The Orioles lost 5-0. Branden Kline tossed a scoreless eighth, with a strikeout, after walking the leadoff batter.
“I guess we won’t go undefeated in the Grapefruit League this year,” manager Brandon Hyde quipped.
Shepherd impressed in the second inning after struggling in the first.
“I just thought he was overdoing things in that first inning and lacked some command, but kind of found it there in the second inning, so that was good to see,” Hyde said. “I don’t know if he was trying too hard or what it was, but had a tough time repeating his mechanics and throwing strikes in the first.”
Players tend to try a little too hard early in spring training games, which must be taken into account when evaluating them.
“Those things do happen,” he said. “It’s first day of games and so you hope that it wears off quickly. But yeah, timing was off offensively. We didn’t barrel many baseball and we walked five guys, which is an area we need to improve on.
“It’s a lot of guys trying to win a job and maybe trying too hard at times.”
Hyde will break out a different lineup for Sunday’s home opener against the Red Sox. It probably won’t include Rutschman, but at least he got into today’s game.
“Good to get him an at-bat,” Hyde said. “We’ll sprinkle some at-bats in over the course of the next few weeks. It was good to give him a little taste of what big league spring training’s like and he should relax as he continues to take ABs.”
Hyde didn’t get a chance to check the radar readings on Carroll’s fastball, but he liked what he saw from the reliever.
“That was good stuff, and I saw him in the Fall League throw like that,” Hyde said. “I haven’t seen the velos yet, but the ball was coming out of his hand good and I liked the slider/split that he features. So that was a good inning by him.
“Kline, besides the leadoff walk, which we need to get better at, had good stuff also.”
The Orioles had four hits, all singles.
Asked how he thought CoolToday Park played today, Hyde said, “It’s a big park, the wind was blowing in. It played really big today. Not that we tested it much. We tested shallow right well.”