Martin back on field after fracturing wrist

Infielder Richie Martin’s fractured right wrist must have healed. He’s playing winter ball.

Confirmation that doesn’t require industry sources. Just access to a roster and statistics.

Martin is in Puerto Rico with Criollos de Caguas. In his first four games, the former Rule 5 pick was 3-for-15 with two doubles, an RBI, a walk and three runs scored.

He was 2-for-6 in his first two games and 2-for-11 after three. The third must have been rough.

Martin should be full-go in spring training based on his progress and able to compete for a starting or utility job. The Orioles are in the market for an infielder who can replace José Iglesias at shortstop and they’ve got 2019 Gold Glove winner Yolmer Sánchez as the favorite to replace Hanser Alberto at second base. But Sánchez also is capable of playing third.

The Orioles signed Pat Valaika for $875,000 if he’s in the majors and $300,000 if he’s in the minors to avoid arbitration, and he’s also in the mix. But don’t forget about Martin, whose 2020 season was lost after he dived back into first base during a July intrasquad game at Camden Yards and sustained his injury.

Martin was trying to avoid Austin Wynns’ pickoff throw and collided with Chris Davis.

Watching from the press box, I saw Martin hold his left hand while walking off the field and assumed, using my reporter instincts, that he injured the left hand. Turns out, he had a torn fingernail and laceration.

Attempts to play catch the following day revealed a more serious issue. Martin felt pain in his throwing hand, underwent X-rays and headed for the injured list.

Thumbnail image for Martin-Swings-Triple-Gray-Sidebar.jpgMartin slashed .208/.260/.322 last year in 120 games as a rookie, but went 11-for-29 with two doubles and two home runs in September. The Orioles wanted him to play shortstop every day at Triple-A Norfolk prior to the cancellation of the minor league season and gave him a chance to earn a bench role on opening day.

“He had a great offseason from a work standpoint,” manager Brandon Hyde said after announcing the injury to the media in a Zoom conference call. “He’s making huge strides. We were just talking about how much he’s improved defensively yesterday morning and I like the swing adjustments that he’s been making. That was a disappointing evening and talking this morning, he’s pretty down about it.”

Reliever Dillon Tate joined Martin on the injured list after being hit on the elbow by a Valaika comebacker on the same night. Such a 2020 moment.

Tate registered a 3.24 ERA and 0.840 WHIP in 12 games and didn’t pitch after Sept. 20 because of a sprained right finger. One home run allowed, two trips to the injured list.

It would be a stunner if a healthy Tate didn’t make the opening day roster. Martin might have to work harder to secure his spot based on the competition and the expectation that the Orioles are going outside to find their shortstop - the latter component being out of his control.

Sanchez’s arrival, Valaika’s return and the re-signing of Stevie Wilkerson to a minor league deal threaten to box out Martin. Ramón Urías and Rylan Bannon are on the 40-man roster. The Orioles could try to bring back Alberto, a non-tender at the deadline.

This is what matters for Martin right now: He’s healthy and able to play.

Also important is the way his manager has been encouraged by his progress late last season and at summer training camp. Hyde has always defended Martin’s work at shortstop, referencing the eye test and shoving aside the unflattering metrics.

Hyde is a crucial guy to have in your corner.

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