SARASOTA, Fla. - The workout held today for Orioles outfielder DJ Stewart looked simple in nature. He did some light running on the dirt cart path along one of the practice fields, increasing his speed and intensity as the minutes passed.
For a player coming off ankle surgery in October and unwilling to surrender the hope of being ready for opening day, each step taken by Stewart is an important achievement.
Stewart, the former first-round draft pick out of Florida State University, underwent a microfracture procedure on the right ankle in Los Angeles. The club announced that he was expected to return to baseball activities toward the end of spring training.
“It’s good, feeling good,” Stewart said this morning. “I’ve gone through the progression. Getting a little sore and stuff with new movements, but that’s kind of been the process throughout the entire rehab. Whenever we introduce something new - not new to me necessarily doing it, but new since the surgery - it gets a little bit sore after. But it will go away the second time I do it. So it’s been good.
“After the surgery, I was able to start rehabbing a month after they fully took off the cast. Doing physical therapy. But as far as lifting and stuff, I was able to do upper body and kind of keeping myself on track and keeping the offseason as normal as I could.”
Stewart sprained the ankle on June 5 in Arlington, Texas, after colliding with Hanser Alberto while chasing a foul ball. He came off the injured list, was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk and didn’t return to the Orioles until Aug. 6.
The pain never really subsided and Stewart understood that he’d need to undergo a procedure after the season. The only question was the exact nature of it.
“We knew that there was something going on just because after the injury, even when I came back, it wasn’t feeling right,” he said. “We did the MRI process and stuff and couldn’t really see anything, so it was a thing where we wanted to get another MRI after the season. I was able to just play through it, but knowing that something wasn’t completely right. So we got another MRI.
“I was going to have surgery regardless because I knew at that point I already had bone spurs in there and stuff, but didn’t know what exactly was really, really hurting me, because I had the bone spurs previous to that injury. So after we got the MRI, knowing that we were going to have surgery, we just narrowed down exactly what was bothering me since the injury.”
Stewart can’t engage in the outfield competition until he’s fully healthy. Until he’s doing more than running drills. Thinking about opening day isn’t a productive endeavor.
“I’ve got to see how the progression goes,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve really had a significant injury and had surgery, so kind of weighing the process. I have my timetable of when I’m supposed to hit every single day and you have to see how it reacts to those things.
“To be able to be myself again and just be injury-free and not have any pain anymore already is a plus for me, but I’m not going to say I’m going to be ready or I’m not going to be ready. It just kind of depends on how it reacts.
“I don’t want to play hurt anymore, so I’m OK with taking that process and being slower with it so that I’m 100 percent when I come back.”
Stewart, who batted .238 with a .698 OPS in 44 games and had a second stint on the injured list with a concussion, must practice patience while his teammates are full-go in camp.
“That’s something I have never really been great at, so it’s been a good test for me and I’m liking the process of learning it,” he said. “Just because last year, when I came back, I wasn’t necessarily healthy all the way and wasn’t able to be myself. Now I don’t want to do that again. I want to give the best version of myself and I think I showed that right before I got called up, with the May that I had.
“I think that’s the type of player I am, so if I’m healthy I can do that.”
* The Orioles expanded their bullpen for spring training side sessions, now enabling six pitchers to throw simultaneously. It used to hold four mounds.
The same three Edgertronic high-speed cameras were set up behind the pitchers.
Hunter Harvey, Dean Kremer, Rule 5 pick Michael Rucker, Wade LeBlanc and John Means threw in the first group. Asher Wojciechowski, Eric Hanhold, Alex Wells, Richard Bleier, Rule 5 pick Brandon Bailey and Evan Phillips were lumped in the second group. Mychal Givens, Travis Lakins, Shawn Armstrong, Cole Sulser, Keegan Akin and Zac Lowther threw in the third group.
Asked about Akin, one of the top prospects in the organization, manager Brandon Hyde said, “It was what I’ve heard about is he’s a strike-thrower that has got multiple pitches. Not afraid. It’s such a small look, 15 pitches in a bullpen with no pressure, but I think we’re excited about Keegan and think he could be a quality starter in the big leagues.”
Adley Rutschman caught Phillips and Sulser.
Austin Wynns caught Harvey, who will be put on a normal pitching schedule despite his injury past.
“I think we’re just going to continue to monitor him and make sure that we’re doing everything for Hunter that he needs,” Hyde said. “If he does need an extra day, we’ll give it to him. But it’s just going to be a lot of communication back and forth.
“The main goal, not just with Hunter, with everybody, is to break camp healthy and so that’s our No. 1 priority.”
Seventeen of the 35 pitchers in camp threw in the bullpen.
“I thought it was a great workout,” Hyde said. “I thought there was a lot of energy and guys got their work in. It was a solid first day.”
It began with Hyde gathering his players for a lengthy meeting.
“We talked a little bit about expectations in camp,” he said. “Talked a little bit about last year, also, but just kind of what we’re expecting going forward. The opportunity that these guys have. Like we talked about last year, looking for guys to step up and really continue to improve. And I thought the message went well.
“There’s a lot of bounceback type guys here and guys that are going to pitch with a chip in their shoulder. I think we saw that today.”
The expanded bullpen with six mounds makes it easier for pitchers to get in their work, but innings also can be build up via intrasquad and B games.
“There’s a lot of ways,” Hyde said. “We’re already planning that out. So many things happen in camp that you don’t want to plan too far ahead, but we are planning if in case we do need some B games and we do need some more intrasquad to get guys a fair look and get guys up in their innings.”
Brady Rodgers didn’t throw today due to some mild arm soreness.
“Just backed off him a little bit,” Hyde said.
Orioles pitchers and catchers gather at Ed Smith Stadium before the first workout of spring training.
Left-hander Wade LeBlanc chats with coach Tim Cossins at Orioles camp in Sarasota, Fla.
Coach Jose Flores catches up with Miguel Castro as he warms up.
Pitchers Hunter Harvey and Tanner Scott head to the bullpen at Ed Smith Stadium.