Making it through spring training healthy is a priority for the Orioles, but so is keeping players away from the injured list through the regular season.
Breaking camp with them is important. So is avoiding shutdowns and extended absences later.
Reliever Hunter Harvey talks about it every spring. Outfielder Anthony Santander came to the Orioles as a Rule 5 pick recovering from shoulder surgery and his last two seasons have been cut short, most recently due to the oblique strain in September that shelved him after 37 games.
Austin Hays wants to be in the lineup every day and doesn’t seem to care if it’s center field, left or right. But a fractured rib in August was the latest in a series of ailments that keep removing him from it.
Shoulder, ankle, thumb and hamstring injuries also can be found on his medical chart. The strained ligament in his thumb occurred after Hays slid into second base in March 2019 after the Orioles sent him to Twin Lakes Park, an act performed many times in the past without incident.
“It was nothing crazy,” Hays said in May 2019 while on his injury rehab assignment. “The same slide I’ve done a million times. For whatever reason, that one I just hit the bag wrong.”
Hays is going to maintain his aggressive approach in the field and on the bases. He was scaling fences while playing with the fractured rib.
The hope is that his body holds up and his luck changes, along with the number of starts he makes.
“I think it’s the most important thing in my career that I’ve had to prove, probably, up to this point,” Hays said Tuesday in a Zoom conference call. “I’ve proven that in a short span of time I can have success at the big league level and unfortunately, I’ve had some bad luck with injuries and just things that have gone awry, but hopefully those are all in the past and we don’t have to deal with that anymore. No more IL, DL stints and I can just play my game and put together 160 games, like how my 2017 season was, and I can show that I can perform at a high level for a full season.”
* Tracking the evolution of Santander’s baseball career is an interesting ride. Going back to his selection from the Indians organization in the Rule 5 draft - a Single-A outfielder coming off shoulder surgery stacking the odds higher against him - to Most Valuable Oriole in 2020.
From a player viewed perhaps as only a designated hitter to Gold Glove finalist in right field.
From prospect to trade chip.
“I’m more experienced, for sure,” he said. “Being surrounded a few years ago by players like Adam Jones, (Jonathan) Schoop, (Manny) Machado, that was such a great learning experience, something I’ll cherish forever. I was able to learn what they do on a daily basis, the little things and how they go about the game, the adjustments they have to make. It was a tremendous experience and I’m trying to use that now, trying to help the team win as many games as possible and help my teammates, be there for them.”
Santander’s growing command of the English language also should be lauded, because he’s worked hard at it and is proud.
The Orioles made translator Ramón Alarcón available for Tuesday’s Zoom call. Santander understood each question from the media and immediately gave his answer in Spanish in order to provide a more complete response, stepping back into his comfort zone but demonstrating again the tremendous strides that he’s made.
* The trade that brought second baseman/outfielder Jahmai Jones to the Orioles also got him closer to his Georgia home for spring training.
The Angels couldn’t provide the same conveniences.
“It’s amazing,” he said yesterday during his expansive Zoom call. “This is the first time I’ve actually been able to drive to spring training. So instead of having to take about a 5 1/2-hour flight from Georgia to Arizona - five hours, four hours, whatever it may be - I had a nice 7 1/2-hour straight shot down to Sarasota. So I absolutely loved it.
“I know my family, the minute I got traded, they were really excited for the opportunity to come see me play more. It’s really hard when, I’m one of six kids, so we have a lot of moving parts, and me being all the way out on the West Coast makes it a little difficult for everybody to come see me. So I know my mom and everybody is really excited to finally catch a game that’s not having to go all the way across from Georgia to California.
“A lot of our games are East Coast, wherever that may be, and they’ll definitely get opportunities to come see me play. I’m excited for it. Anytime my family gets to see me play, it’s a lot of fun. I know they came in Double-A to see me play in Chattanooga a couple times. Mobile, obviously, a couple times. So having your family get to watch you do what you love to do, I mean, that’s all I can ask for.”
* Manager Brandon Hyde is prepared for another summer of strict protocols and isolation, with the hope that it eases as the months move closer to fall.
It was mentally taxing over 60 games. Now the schedule is supposed to expand back to 162.
“There were a lot of times on the road where we didn’t leave the hotel. We just went hotel to the ballpark and back,” Hyde said.
“In Baltimore I didn’t really leave my hotel. I’d just go to the ballpark. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to be away from friends and family, not be able to go outside and do the things you want to do to get a little bit of a release in your downtime. And we’re up for that challenge again this year. We’ll see how this summer goes with the virus, and we’ll adhere to all the protocols like we did last year.
“Hopefully the protocols soften a little bit as we go along, but we’ll see.”
Hyde wasn’t able to bring his son Colton to the ballpark, slicing through a bond that’s been so important to the family. One of the lasting images of previous spring trainings was Hyde tossing baseballs to his son behind a protective screen on the half field, a quick batting practice session before or after workouts.
The regular season didn’t allow for a family reunion.
“It’s not easy,” Hyde said. “I saw my wife (Lisa) and kids, I think, two days in the three months that I was gone. It’s extremely hard for everybody.
“We do talk about as a team, try to rely on each other for help and somebody to talk to about things that, you miss your family. I think we’re in for more of that, especially to start this year, and that’s why the clubhouse environment, that’s why your coaching staff, that’s why you surround yourself with people who are a support system for you, because it is a lot different.”
* Hyde offered a long pause Sunday when asked whether it’s “adapt or die” for clubs regarding the use of analytics. Whether there’s no longer a choice, with so many younger players not really knowing any other way as the sport has evolved.
Is that fair to say?
“I think veteran players in this game now, at least the ones I’ve been around, understand that it’s a helpful tool, so they’ve investigated and looked into it to see how it could help them,” Hyde said. “They understand there’s information out there that’s going to help, either their pitch design or ...
“Analytics is kind of a broad term, right? It’s how guys can get more spin on their fastball or how guys can use their breaking ball differently. All these types of things that are under this analytics umbrella that I think, veteran players that are playing this game in today’s major league baseball have come around to know the information is useful. And now it’s how to apply it into their game. And I think you do get left behind if you’re not monitoring it closely.”
* Sarasota County Government’s annual report reveals that the Orioles have generated more than $511 million in cumulative economic impact in the state of Florida since 2015, which is the first year comprehensive data on the team’s impact became available.
The analysis measures the tourism impact created by the Orioles and their year-round spending and business operations. The most recent reporting period, despite the pandemic and camp shutdown on March 12, showed the Orioles provided a $49 million impact on Sarasota County and $59 million on the state of Florida.
“The tremendous public-private partnership between the Orioles, the State of Florida, Sarasota County, and the City of Sarasota has created a blueprint for success in integrating professional sports in the development of the communities they call home,” John Angelos, Orioles chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Our award-winning facility, year-round entertainment, and longstanding commitment to community has generated remarkable economic and civic benefit for the residents of Sarasota County and the state of Florida, a legacy we are proud to uphold year after year.”
Attendance at Ed Smith Stadium has exceeded one million since 2010. The Orioles also have donated more than $3.5 million to local charities that support “youth empowerment, education, the arts, hunger, fitness and healthy living,” as stated in the press release.
The Orioles are allowing fans into exhibition games this spring at 25 percent capacity.