Lineup speculation, pitching decisions and more

The first lineup of 2021 spring training will be posted later this morning, with Trey Mancini the only confirmed player in it. Manager Brandon Hyde said that Mancini will be the first baseman.

The rest can be speculated.

The Orioles are home, which usually puts more starters on the field. They had Hanser Alberto leading off and playing second base last year in the first game at Ed Smith Stadium. Mancini was in right field, Chris Davis at first base, Pedro Severino behind the plate, Dwight Smith Jr. in left field, José Iglesias at shortstop and Rio Ruiz at third base.

Don’t read too much into a Feb. 28 lineup, but it will be interesting to see whether Austin Hays or Cedric Mullins is the center fielder. Hyde could introduce his new double play combination of Freddy Galvis and Yolmer Sánchez.

Davis is supposed to get plenty of at-bats. Do they begin today as the designated hitter?

The Pirates are starting right-hander Chad Kuhl, a ninth-round pick in 2013 out of the University of Delaware who made 11 appearances last season and posted a 4.27 ERA and a 1.360 WHIP in 46 1/3 innings. He averaged 5.4 walks per nine innings.

Kuhl missed the 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Hyde has chosen Thomas Eshelman as his starter. A tougher call is whether to carry 13 or 14 pitchers on opening day.

“I think we’re going to wait until probably the last possible day,” Hyde said. “I think we’re going to see what our rotation looks like, see how many length guys we have in our bullpen. That’s why we’re planning on stretching these guys out as much as possible, to give some flexibility in our pitching staff. But we’ll see how the starters throw, see which guys we take with us.

“I think it’s going to be an end of the camp decision on 13 or 14.”

Going with 13 would further diminish the chances for Rule 5 picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells. It’s already difficult to evaluate them with so many pitchers in camp and the new rules implemented by Major League Baseball for health and safety reasons.

“I think it’s a lot more challenging to see everybody in game situations this year,” Hyde said. “We have one less day, but also the lack of the split squads. Even though split squads are a grind for everybody, they help out with getting guys innings on the mound. So no split squad, an added day off, we’re just going to have to be as creative as we possibly can on back fields to really get a good look.

“We’re also going to schedule some B games against other teams.”

Diplan-Delivers-Orange-ST-sidebar.jpgThe available relievers today behind Eshelman include Fernando Abad, Eric Hanhold, Josh Rogers, Isaac Mattson, Marcos Diplán and Conner Greene. Spenser Watkins also could toss an inning.

The Tigers drafted Watkins, 28, in the 30th round in 2014 out of Western Oregon University and he pitched in their organization through the 2019 season, going 41-27 with a 3.88 ERA and 1.323 WHIP in 116 games (96 starts). He has a 7.61 ERA and 1.691 WHIP in 86 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level.

Pitching for Double-A Erie in July 2019, Watkins carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning against Richmond despite a 40-minute rain delay. Ryder Jones doubled with two outs.

Anyway, he also could pitch today.

Hyde offered his early impressions yesterday of catcher Nick Ciuffo, a first-round pick of the Rays in 2013 who signed in December as a minor league free agent. Ciuffo is 8-for-43 with a double and home run in 19 career games.

“Really good defender, former high pick that has been in Tampa’s system and just a really good defender behind the plate,” Hyde said. “A veteran guy that’s caught a lot of games, been around a little bit. Left-handed bat, always a plus. I haven’t seen him play much, so I’m reserving my opinion for later on, but he looks good in defensive drills and throws well. Seems like a really good communicator with our pitchers, so I think he’s going to be valuable in camp.”

Today is a lot more meaningful to me than the first exhibition game. Former public relations director Monica Barlow left us exactly seven years ago after her courageous and inspiring 4 1/2-year fight with Stage 4 lung cancer.

I can’t believe it’s been so long.

I’ve written many stories about Monica, sharing memories of that day and comments from the Orioles who knew, loved and respected her. How the 2014 division-winning season was dedicated to her.

But I’m also reminded of what reliever Tommy Hunter told me as I gathered quotes for an article about the first anniversary of her death.

“The more you think about it, the more you realize how much of an impact she had on our day-to-day lives, how much she was around to help, and you just hope and pray that you see more people like her. She’s missed and that legacy definitely lives on,” Hunter said.

“She’s looking down on us and wishing us the best and she’d probably punch me in the stomach right now if she knew I was talking about her. Let’s be real. That’s the truth. And she’d probably kick you in both shins for writing something. It’s sad, but it’s also something you can look back and smile on.”

The smiles come more easily now, but I’ll never stop missing her.

“She had an impact on quite a few people’s lives,” Hunter said. “It’s pretty inspiring and it’s something where you look in the mirror and if you can affect and impact as many people as she did, then I think you lived a happy and healthy life.”

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