Austin Hays led off the top of the first inning tonight with a fly ball to the right field warning track. It bounced. It rolled. No one was around to retrieve it.
Mark it down as F-9.
Stevie Wilkerson was the only outfielder for the “home” team in the intrasquad game at Camden Yards. He played center field. Flanked by two ghost defenders.
DJ Stewart played left field and Hays was in center for the “visiting” team, which settled for a 3-3 tie as the last few innings dissolved into live batting practice.
Among the other interesting position decisions from manager Brandon Hyde were Andrew Velazquez at shortstop in place of José Iglesias, who’s unavailable due to back soreness, and Dilson Herrera at first base. Renato Núñez was the third baseman and Hanser Alberto started at second.
He was better tonight, even with one outfielder.
Pat Valaika played second base for the visitors, with Chris Davis at first base, Richie Martin at shortstop and Rio Ruiz at third. Pedro Severino caught Milone, who began the bottom of the first inning by striking out Alberto and Núñez.
Milone and Eshelman retired the side in order in the first. Ruiz legged out a double against Eshelman with one out in the second, with Wilkerson making a sliding stop on a liner toward right-center.
Valaika also reached second as the next batter, but only because Wilkerson misplayed his fly ball to deep center field. The press box was missing an official scorer to decide hit or error.
I’m going with error. The ball hit Wilkerson’s glove.
Ruiz stopped at third and scored on Martin’s grounder to Núñez. The relaxed rules in an intrasquad game allowed Hyde to halt the inning with two outs after Austin Wynns fouled off a pitch.
The guy calling balls and strikes stood behind the mound while wearing a mask. Relievers carried bags to the mound with their own baseballs. Members of the grounds crew and assorted team employees sat in the stands with executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias situated behind the plate as usual.
The netting is still up to protect fans, though seats will be empty at least to begin the truncated season.
But this still felt like baseball. More than we’ve seen in a long time.
Milone struck out three of the first four batters he faced and fielded a comebacker before Velazquez lined a single into left-center field with two outs in the bottom of the second. Milone struck out Bryan Holaday, who served as the designated hitter.
Alberto flied out to begin the bottom of the third, but Núñez launched a ball to the concourse walkway in left-center and offered up a couple of imaginary high-fives as he rounded the bases. Sisco singled, took second on a fly ball and scored on Wilkerson’s single into center field for a 2-1 lead.
Hays and Stewart lined back-to-back singles off Eshelman with one out in the top of the third, but Davis flied to center and Severino grounded out. Tanner Scott replaced Eshelman, who allowed one run and three hits in three innings.
The run was unearned because of the Wilkerson error, if that’s how it’s judged. And keep in mind that the second ended on a foul ball, so that’s 2 2/3 innings if you’re picky.
Eshelman did some throwing in the bullpen after leaving the game.
Scott struck out two batters while retiring the side in order.
Milone was allowed to work four innings and he allowed three runs and six hits, including Sisco’s RBI double in the fourth, with five strikeouts. Núñez was called out on a scorching liner to right field in the fourth. Looked like a hit from the press box, but Hyde gets to decide.
What counts is how Núñez kept crushing the ball.
The game allowed Velazquez to show off his range at shortstop. He backhanded Valaika’s grounder in the fourth and easily made the throw to first base.
It also allowed Hunter Harvey to strike out Velazquez during his 1-2-3 inning. And his hair was perfect.
The first walk was issued by Hanhold, who lost Wynns leading off the top of the fifth. Hays followed with his home run, the ball getting out in about three seconds.
Davis grounded into the shift, flied out, reached on a wild pitch while striking out and struck out again.
Miguel Castro wore an orange jersey while pitching for the team wearing white, which batted out of order. The fielders returned to the clubhouse while it happened. Because why not?
The scene felt more like an extended side session for Castro, which is all he’s been doing in camp.
David Hess got the same treatment and struck out Davis. Cole Sulser took his turn. This intrasquad game no longer seemed like the real fake thing.
Still counts as baseball. Summer camp style.