I haven’t seen a ground ball hit in three weeks, but I’ve been fielding a bunch of questions from home.
When will the season start? Will there actually be a season? How many games will be played?
Are you still wearing that same T-shirt?
(Sorry, that last one is from my fiancée.)
There are legitimate curiosities and concerns about the impact of a prolonged interruption. What’s missing are solid answers.
Can Chris Davis pick up where he left off in spring training?
Davis regained his approach and his stroke down in Sarasota. Reminders of a short sample size were countered by comparisons to his past springs and the magnitude of his struggles.
Maybe it was the “good” weight gained at home that contributed to Davis collecting seven hits in 15 at-bats, with three home runs, nine RBIs, nine walks and seven runs scored. The 1.682 OPS jumps off the page, similar to how baseballs were jumping off his bat.
Davis might be able to maintain his roll by keeping the same mindset. Being more aggressive at the plate, which still can lead to a high number of walks. Going to the opposite field. Keeping the added muscle that seems to have increased his confidence.
A more immediate concern is keeping his family safe. A father of three young daughters isn’t sitting at home calculating his OPS.
“I am confident that I can pick up where I left off,” Davis said yesterday in a conference call.
“I think that’s one of the, if you’re optimistic, which I’ve been trying to be, I feel like that’s something that I can look at as a positive. While I didn’t get to continue to go out there and get regular game at-bats, I know once we start up again I’ll have an opportunity to go back out there and get more comfortable, get more at-bats, get more of a feel for where I want to be. But it was nice to see some results and to give me a little peace of mind that what I’m doing this offseason really worked and to just continue doing that. And that’s what I’ve done.”
Can Pat Valaika still become this year’s version of Hanser Alberto?
No one is expecting Valaika to post a .398 average against left-handers, but it wasn’t supposed to happen with Alberto and he ranked second in the majors.
The real comparisons come from the waiver wire, which Valaika called home for much of the offseason. The post office began forwarding his mail to it.
Alberto certainly could relate. He was claimed twice by the Orioles, who did the same with Valaika a year later.
The shifting between second and third base allowed Alberto to appear in 139 games. Valaika is more likely to stay in a utility role if he makes the club.
Manager Brandon Hyde played Valaika at every infield position in camp. The former Rockies ninth-rounder proved capable in the field and gained further notice by tying Davis for the team lead with three home runs while slashing .333/.379/.704 in 11 games.
The Orioles wanted to carry two utility-type players on their 26-man roster, which could expand to 29 for the first month of the season. Valaika and Andrew Velázquez left camp as the leaders in the competition.
Valaika would have to be placed on the 40-man roster.
Are players headed to the injured list now able to avoid it?
Let’s just say the chances improve the longer that baseball is put on hold. Otherwise, the only games played on the first day of April are the guessing variety.
The three players in mind - outfielders Trey Mancini and DJ Stewart and reliever Evan Phillips - are dealing with separate issues. Mancini has the most serious health crisis, undergoing a surgical procedure on March 12 to remove a malignant tumor in his colon. He’s out of the hospital and feeling much better, but treatments and the uncertainties linked to his recovery prevent anyone from mapping out the course of his immediate baseball future.
Phillips remains shut down on the recommendation of Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who provided a second opinion in March after examining the reliever’s right elbow. He hasn’t been cleared to throw, but is able to exercise at home.
Getting Phillips back on a mound isn’t the lone hurdle. He logged only 1 2/3 innings in spring training. Making the opening day roster, even in its expanded form, seems like a longshot.
Stewart was a lock to go on the injured list following his ankle surgery in October. Now he’s ready for games that don’t exist.
The Orioles could accelerate his at-bats, ignore the lack of real ones in the Grapefruit League, and stick him in left or right field.
“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 on March 20. “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.”