The Orioles were supposed to be playing split-squad games tonight against the Twins and Red Sox. The latter would have provided the final division opponent before opening day and the last road trip in the Grapefruit League.
I never made it to Fort Myers this spring and that’s got to be a first for me. And I’ve been covering spring training since 1997 in Fort Lauderdale.
I missed the Feb. 25 trip to the Red Sox complex because the Orioles also had a home game against the Rays. I was walking to my car on March 12 for the drive to the Twins’ complex when both team buses rolled back into the lot and emptied.
There wouldn’t be a game that night. Or any day or night while Major League Baseball joined other sports in shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This isn’t about me, but I also missed two Clearwater trips and the best food found in any media lunchroom. But I did get stuck making the worst drive of the spring, to Dunedin, where I had to skip lunch because manager Brandon Hyde’s pregame media session was pushed back and he dropped some news on us regarding Alex Cobb’s blister.
By the time I filed my early notes, the first pitch of the game already had been thrown.
But again, this isn’t about me.
Hyde was available to the media yesterday for the first time since the Dunedin game on March 11 that the Orioles lost 14-2. He isn’t able to share much because he doesn’t know much. Same as everyone else.
We learned that Hyde is in Sarasota instead of Baltimore or his home in Chicago. If that matters. He isn’t on standby in case camp reopens suddenly and workouts begin again.
He’s hunkered down with his family, but also in steady contact with executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, other front office staff, the medical team and his players.
Conference calls and FaceTiming have replaced the usual clubhouse and closed-door meetings. Pitchers are working out separately back home, starters and relievers given their own set of plans.
Hyde confirmed that no one on the team is undergoing a medical procedure. It’s noteworthy because reliever Evan Phillips was shut down earlier in the month with elbow soreness and received a second opinion from Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles.
If ElAttrache sounds familiar, it’s because he performed ligament surgery on Manny Machado’s knees and examined Zack Britton’s strained forearm. It was in all the blogs.
DJ Stewart had ankle surgery in October and wasn’t expected to be ready for opening day, but that could change with the date moved back at least a few months.
Stewart didn’t play in an exhibition game, but he was taking batting practice and hitting in simulated games.
“With DJ with the time off, it’s going to help him a little bit in that he’s going to be able to finish his rehab,” Hyde said. “He’s progressed very well. I think he was right on track or a little bit ahead of schedule with the injury, so we expect him to be ready to go whenever we start playing again.”
The Orioles might need a right fielder after Trey Mancini underwent surgery on March 12 to remove a malignant tumor from his colon. They’re waiting for more test results and obviously are more concerned about his ordeal than filling a position.
The business side of it will be addressed much later. Stewart would be an interesting candidate considering that he didn’t play in any Grapefruit League games.
Just how important are those at-bats?
The Orioles keep providing reminders that every team in baseball is going through the same worries and disruptions caused by the virus. However, it just feels like more of an issue to a rebuilding club that really needs its prospects to keep developing.
“I think it is impactful in that there’s a lot of development to be had by a lot of players, obviously,” Hyde said. “This can cripple the development a little bit in that you want guys to get innings, you want guys to get at-bats, you want the guys to go through full seasons. That’s really important, especially early on in understanding what it takes to live through a full season and to compete for a full season, so that’s going to be cut short. But it’s something that everybody is dealing with.
“There’s 30 teams that are going through the same thing and it’s not ideal and it’s going to be tough, but everyone’s going to get through it and we’re going to be fine. And if guys have to miss some time and miss some innings and at-bats in 2020, we’ll roll with it and we’ll go from there. But from a player development standpoint, yeah, you want guys to rack up the at-bats and you want pitchers to have meaningful innings and right now they just can’t do that.”