Some Orioles observations halfway through spring training

SARASOTA, Fla. - Watching the Orioles play the back nine in spring training allows the observers - tanned unevenly from hours spent on the field and in outdoor media scrums - to draw their own conclusions on a few important subjects and others that might not warrant a mention.

Including those that should have been obvious before the first workout.

Here are a few:

Renato-Nunez-Throws-From-Third-Base-2018-Gray-Sidebar.jpgThe Orioles are serious about evaluating Renato Núñez again at third base.
They don’t want to surrender to a lineup that always places Núñez in the designated hitter role. He’s been starting at third base in exhibition games and took ground balls at the position on the Earl Weaver Little Field to close out Sunday’s workout.

No one else was there except for three instructors. Núñez was a party of one, with most of the balls slapped to his backhand side.

The Orioles would like to gain some flexibility at designated hitter, though they could do a lot worse than reserving it for a 30-home run hitter. They’ve already started to plot how they’re going to make room later for Ryan Mountcastle, whose major league debut will be delayed but not denied. And giving Hanser Alberto the everyday job at second base leaves Rio Ruiz without a dance partner at third.

Softening Núñez’s poor defensive reputation also could make him more attractive at the trade deadline, expanding the field of suitors to include the non-DH types. No one is saying it, but I’ll go there.

Hunter Harvey is on the team as long as he’s healthy.
This is one of the “duh” observations, but there may be a few people thinking he could be optioned.

The Orioles slow-played him due to the illness that clung to him for more than a week. He was held out of exhibition games until Monday afternoon, after he progressed from his bed to bullpen sessions, live batting practice and a simulated game.

Manager Brandon Hyde can’t endure another season of nightly bullpen implosions. Of his relievers posting a 5.79 ERA - which can’t be blamed solely on them, since carrying a heavy workload tends to break down the body.

“I think you saw last year what he brings, how much better our entire bullpen was when he was here and healthy,” Hyde said. “You saw it last year, he was able to pitch a high-leveraged inning, and you can kind of slot guys around that.

“I feel really good about it with him on the mound when the score’s close or we have the lead. You take your chances with a guy who throws 100 with that kind of stuff.”

You also take him north for opening day.

The Orioles are facing a tough decision with Dwight Smith Jr.
Smith is a nice left-handed bat to have on the bench and occasionally in left field and the roster can hold 26 players this season.

So what’s the issue?

Smith is a left fielder on a team that needs a backup center fielder and prefers to have its outfielders capable of handling all three spots.

Anthony Santander and Trey Mancini are the corner outfielders on this team. Smith is going to be hard-pressed to get a steady amount of starts.

The composition of the bench hasn’t been settled, and not only with names. Hyde is deciding if he wants two super-utility players or two extra outfielders.

An infielder’s ability to play center field - and be trusted at the position - factors into it.

Hyde can take this discussion in so many directions. He’s got Cedric Mullins and Mason Williams in camp as true outfielders with a ton of experience in center. Smith can be more easily carried despite his restrictions. Smith also can survive if Hyde is comfortable with, say, Stevie Wilkerson or Andrew Velazquez as an occasional replacement for Austin Hays.

Both players have made starts in center field in spring training.

Smith has one minor league option left and is trying to convince the Orioles to overlook it.

Austin Hays and Hanser Alberto are the leadoff options.
Alberto moves up to first in the order when Hays isn’t in it.

Split-squad games put Hays and Alberto in the leadoff spots on the same day.

How much more obvious can it get?

Hays should get most of the opportunities as the everyday center fielder. There isn’t much competition.

It won’t be Núñez, Mancini, Santander, Chris Davis, Ruiz, José Iglesias or the catcher.

There isn’t a prototypical candidate for the job. The Orioles always have to think outside the batter’s box.

The Orioles are going to be more aggressive on the bases.
The 14 stolen bases haven’t come by accident.

The green light has been flashing, enabling Hyde and his staff to determine which players can be trusted with it.

This isn’t a track team, but Hays is going to infuse more speed into the games. Mullins is enhancing his value with a more aggressive approach, taking better advantage of his skills.

Velazquez stole three bases in one game. He could head north in a super-utility role.

It’s about more than just speed. The Orioles have conducted drills designed to get better jumps. And they want to run smarter.

Resist the urge to break for third base with two outs and the team down by a run. There’s aggressive and then there’s reckless.

The Orioles climbed to 11th in the majors last season with 84 steals, but 40 belonged to Jonathan Villar and he’s gone.

They won’t stand for it.

They’re going to run.

Three more players have changed their names because that’s what happens in spring training.
Remember the Mike Wright Jr. experiment that lasted one season before he switched back? And how Wilkerson became “Stevie,” as he was known before joining the Orioles?

We’ve learned in camp that left-hander Alex Wells prefers to go by “Alexander.” It was used for the first time in the announcement that the Orioles reassigned him to minor league camp.

Probably not how he wanted it to surface, but at least it’s out there.

Tom Eshelman wants to be called “Thomas,” and the media obliged Sunday during his relief outing in Clearwater.

Pitcher Travis Lakins came into a recent game with the public address announcer referring to him as “Travis Lakins Sr.” That’s how it read on the scoreboard Monday as he worked a scoreless ninth inning.

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