Roster reductions out of team’s control, Stewart’s rotation candidacy

Camp reductions aren’t supposed to happen due to injury.

The Orioles would prefer maintaining control of the process, but it keeps slipping from their grasp.

Forty-five players in the pool are supposed to be competing for spots on the 30-man roster for opening day. The rest are headed to the alternate camp in Bowie, with the Orioles having the freedom to call upon them.

They were counting on Anthony Santander and Dwight Smith Jr. being at Fenway Park for the opener, but the odds keep shrinking as the two outfielders are withheld from workouts and intrasquad games.

Richie Martin had a chance to serve as a backup middle infielder, but he’s headed to the injured list, whether it’s 10 days or 45, with a small fracture in his right wrist.

Dillon Tate had an opportunity to join an expanded bullpen, but his right elbow is badly swollen after being hit by a comebacker and he needs a quick recovery to remain in the hunt.

Ty Blach was a longshot to make the rotation, but his ability to work multiple innings kept him in contention for a bullpen role. Elbow soreness and an MRI has led him to seek a second opinion, and it doesn’t sound good.

José Iglesias is a health riddle as long as his back soreness restricts his mobility. The Orioles are going to be careful with their starting shortstop, but he was able to take live batting practice yesterday and hit a couple line drives into the outfield.

Valaika-Takes-Grounder-ST-sidebar.jpgMartin’s injury makes it easier for the Orioles to carry Pat Valaika, Andrew Velazquez and Stevie Wilkerson as utility players. Martin was supposed to be the starting shortstop at Triple-A Norfolk before the cancellation of the minor league season. His development just took another hit.

Asher Wojciechowski, Chandler Shepherd, Mychal Givens, Tanner Scott, Travis Lakins Sr., Cole Sulser, Shawn Armstrong and David Hess threw live batting practice yesterday during the media’s two-hour access. Wilkerson, Pedro Severino, Cedric Mullins, Rio Ruiz, Mason Williams, Renato Núñez, DJ Stewart, Austin Hays, Chris Davis, Bryan Holaday and Chance Sisco took turns in the box.

Lakins and Sulser were stretched out for multiple innings.

Some players worked out earlier in the day and had already left the ballpark.

Manager Brandon Hyde could slot Wojciechowski into the fourth spot in the rotation based on previous usage of John Means, Alex Cobb and Wade LeBlanc in intrasquad games. The fifth spot might become a tussle between Tommy Milone and Kohl Stewart.

Stewart signed a split contract in late December that was supposed to pay $800,000 if he stuck in the majors.

The Twins selected Stewart with the fourth overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of St. Pius X High School in Houston. He went 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA and 1.418 WHIP in eight games (four starts) as a rookie in 2018 and 2-2 with a 6.39 ERA and 1.461 WHIP in nine games (two starts) last summer.

Biceps soreness prevented Stewart from making more than one spring appearance with the Orioles, but he was stretched out to four innings Friday night. It feels like he’s sneaking up on the competition.

Hyde just has to decide how to use him.

“I’ve only seen him throw a few times,” Hyde said. “The three times I’ve seen him throw against hitters, it’s been impressive. I wish we had a longer look at him in spring training, but he couldn’t get out there. This guy was the No. 4 pick overall. He’s got top-of-the-first-round-type talent and velocity. We saw that (Friday) night, throwing 95. Got a nice cutter, he’s got a nice slider.

“He doesn’t have a ton of major league experience. I just want to see him more. We’ll wait for days and get him back out there.”

There are challenges to bringing along a pitcher at a slower pace with no minor league season, leaving the bullpen as one alternative.

Stewart might not need it.

“We’ve got 30 guys we can play with for the first however long, so we can be creative there,” Hyde said. “But he’s up to four innings. It’s not like we’re babying him along. We’re going to continue to build on that. You’ve got somebody who’s throwing four innings right now, you talk about four days from now, that’s five innings, and the season starts you’re up to possibly 85 pitches.

“I think with the 30-man roster we can help the guy along, but I don’t see him in that light right now. I think he’s a guy who’s built up.”

Pitching coach Doug Brocail concedes that Stewart is more “high-risk,” knowing that the right-hander was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic at age 9. Stewart wears a Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) device in his back uniform pocket.

“Probably doesn’t recover as fast as other guys,” Brocail said, “so we have to make sure that we space him out and make sure that he has time to recover.

“Recovery in this shortened spring 2.0 really kind of puts limitations on certain guys. He’s a guy that I have to watch closely. He’s a guy that has to communicate on a daily basis. Ask him the questions we have to ask to make sure he’s feeling great.

“He’s been fine. We had to hold back one outing, he had a little cramp in his calf, and after what happened to Ty there was no way I was going to let him go. He wasn’t real happy with me. I’m OK with that. It’s my decision to hold him out. He was fine, pitched (Friday) night. It just sets him back one day and that’s not going to be a problem. We can make that day up.”

Brocail has his own health considerations, with a heart procedure in 2006 and his asthma making him potentially at risk to participate in the 2020 season.

He spoke with his wife and daughters and felt confident that he made the right decision after arriving at Camden Yards.

“I will tell you that the Baltimore Orioles have done ... I don’t know what’s going on in other camps, but I can’t imagine that it’s any better anywhere else,” Brocail said. “They have gone out of their way. We’ve got admittance trailers out front. Our medical staff, our doctors, have really sat us down and talked about what can go wrong and what can’t go wrong.

“Obviously, being higher risk because of the heart and the asthma, I wear my mask more than anybody, even though I have it off my face right now. But other than right now, I don’t think half the guys know that I have a goatee and not a beard. I am in my mask all day every day.”

He’s also been known to double up on the masks.

“You can’t breathe,” he said, “but nothing’s getting in.”

“Very anal about washing my hands, not going to my mouth. Thank God I don’t dip,” he said.

“When you have the mask on there’s nothing you can do. There’s nobody spitting. It’s funny because you’ll see a guy warming up and he’ll go to spit and he’s like, ‘Oh God, I can’t spit.’ So guys are going out of their way to wear their masks so that guys like myself don’t get put in any more danger than what we could be in.

“The conversation with the girls and my wife was one of, if I feel at any time that I’m at risk I’ll probably come home. If we came into camp and a few days went by and six guys came up with COVID and I was around it, I probably still wouldn’t be here. That being said, it would kill me. It’s baseball season, this is what we do and we’re going to do it and we’re going to be careful about it and I’m going to be smart about it.

“Hyder talked to us. The entire coaching staff felt that if any time we become uncomfortable with it, our decisions can change and he won’t hold anything against us. So I think all I did was say, ‘Hey, baseball’s starting up again and I’m leaving in two days.’ I think the girls understand that. They also know that I am going to be very careful. I wore a mask the entire time we were off, wore gloves when I went anywhere. I keep my distance.”

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