SARASOTA, Fla. - The shifting of players to various positions in camp bumped Rio Ruiz to the bench yesterday after he started at third base the previous afternoon in Bradenton.
He’s also played first base in a game.
He hasn’t stopped hitting.
Ruiz singled twice against the Pirates and is 7-for-12 with a double, RBI and run scored. He’s driving the ball to the opposite field. Nothing cheap about his production.
“I like the way he’s swinging the bat,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “He’s off to a good start results-wise.”
Third base isn’t the property of one player. Ruiz might earn more opportunities after appearing in 127 games last summer and working his way back to Baltimore following a surprise option in late July.
Ruiz was able to join his wife, Michelle, for the birth of their son, but the Orioles didn’t base their decision on his family situation. It was purely baseball related.
The expectation that Hanser Alberto will be used more regularly at second base this year opens up third, where Renato Núñez made another start yesterday. Utility candidates also could broaden the field.
Ruiz might have first dibs, given that he brings fewer concerns about his glove work.
“I’m going to give Rio every opportunity to win a job this spring,” Hyde said. “I don’t think anything’s set in stone. I really like the way especially he came on in the second half last year when he came back up after we sent him out.
“I thought he was solid for us defensively all year. That’s going to be a big thing is being able to catch the ball defensively, so I want him to continue to focus on that. But he’s going to have every opportunity to get playing time and win a job.”
The Orioles keep winning games, running their record to 5-4 yesterday with their fourth victory in a row.
Can they field a competitive lineup in the American League East if certain pieces - OK, a lot of them - fall into place?
“Absolutely,” said Chris Davis, “and I think there are guys that are close, maybe even ready to step up to the plate, no pun intended, and take the next step in their career at the major league level.
“I definitely think we have the guys to compete night in and night out. It’s just going to be a matter of sustainability. It’s tough. It’s tough when you’re doing it the way that we’re doing it, with so many young guys that have little to no experience. If somebody goes down and those are the guys that we’re leaning on.
“I like the way we’re playing right now. I think we’re doing things the right way and we’re headed in the right direction.”
Davis is expected to stay back in Sarasota today while the Orioles return to Clearwater for another game against the Phillies. He’s reached base nine times in 11 plate appearances with two singles, three home runs and four walks.
Asked whether one of the changes since last season has been getting more sleep, the father of three young daughters replied, “Definitely not getting more sleep.”
“I think a lot of it is just kind of peace of mind, the fact that I feel stronger and know I’m stronger. In the box I’m not trying to do too much. I don’t feel like I have to generate a lot of power and for me that’s kind of always been my Achilles’ heel, trying to go up there and generate power, trying to do too much.
“Most of the time in my career when I’ve had success it’s been because I made it a little bit more simple. I’m not going up there and over-swinging. I just try to get a good pitch to hit and put a nice, easy swing on it. So I think that alone gives me peace of mind to go up there and just try to see the ball.
“I feel good, I feel comfortable. A little tired right now, but ... maybe I’ll take a nap right now. I don’t know.”
For the “relax it’s spring training” crowd: Davis was 7-for-37 with 19 strikeouts last spring, 6-for-28 with 10 strikeouts in 2018, 8-for-41 with 16 strikeouts in 2017 and 10-for-52 with 18 strikeouts in 2016.
Yes, it’s spring training. But let’s not act like he’s been locked in past years and then suddenly lost it back in Baltimore.