Mancini playing first base in Sunday’s opener (and other notes)

The first exhibition lineup posted Sunday morning by Orioles manager Brandon Hyde will include Trey Mancini at first base.

The comeback has reached another important stage.

Mancini missed the entire 2020 season after undergoing surgery and chemotherapy treatments for Stage 3 colon cancer. His final at-bats came on March 2 before he left the team. He went 4-for-14 with two RBIs in five games.

Mancini-Shades-Orange-ST-sidebar.jpg“I’m going to play him at first, DH him some, especially the first couple weeks,” Hyde said. “I talk to him every single day, see how he’s doing every day. We’re just going to continue to communicate and I’ll have him in there every other day for a while, whether it be at first base or DH, and we’ll see how he feels. We’ll crank up the playing time if he feels well the last couple weeks.”

Hyde will keep Mancini away from the outfield until perhaps later in camp.

“Definitely not at the beginning,” Hyde said. “I want to play him as much at first base as possible.”

Thomas Eshelman is starting against the Pirates at Ed Smith Stadium. The available relievers include Fernando Abad, Eric Hanhold, Josh Rogers, Isaac Mattson, Marcos Diplán and Conner Greene.

“And then possibly some others,” Hyde said.

The game will run nine innings, but others likely will be shorter. The managers must agree upon it.

Playing between five and seven innings will force Hyde to get creative with his pitching. There could be activity on the back fields to build up the arms.

Abad, 35, signed as a minor league free agent in December. The Orioles made an offer at the 2019 Winter Meetings before he signed with the Nationals, tested positive for COVID-19 and didn’t pitch in the majors.

“Really good arm,” Hyde said. “Had a really good winter and he’s come in looking sharp. It’s a guy who’s been in relief for a while, has pitched for multiple teams. He’s got really good stuff. He’s a really tough at-bat versus a left-handed hitter. He’s got some weapons. Nice to have some experience there left-handed in our bullpen mix.”

Hyde didn’t dismiss the possibility of the veteran trio of Félix Hernández, Matt Harvey and Wade LeBlanc making the opening day roster. There could be room, though it would require some maneuvering because they’re invites.

“I think anything can happen,” he said. “You’d have to add all three to the (40-man) roster, I’ve seen that happen before, so I’m not going to count that out.”

The statistics won’t carry much weight due to the limited sample size as the Orioles determine whether to keep Hernández, Harvey and LeBlanc.

“But we will be looking at what their pitches look like, if they look healthy, the kind of swings that they’re getting from opposing hitters. I think all those types of things are going to be important. ... It’s not about ERA or that type of thing. We’re going to be looking at the kind of swings the opposing hitters are going to take off these guys.”

LeBlanc is in camp again as a non-roster invite and he’s recovered from the stress fracture in his left elbow that ended his 2020 season after only six starts.

“Feel pretty good,” he said today in his Zoom call. “Feels like it’s early in spring, but that’s part of it. The buildup process is a part of it every year, you deal with it. Just kind of getting used to the ups and downs - throw one inning and then you throw two, so on and so forth. Just dealing with the typical soreness of that stuff, but healthy-wise, feel really good.”

DJ Stewart changed his offseason routine in multiple ways. What he worked on and how he ate.

Trying to make the team as an extra outfielder and perhaps the designated hitter, Stewart said he’s lost 10-12 pounds “depending on the day” with the help of a personal chef. He’s also trying to do a better job chasing fly balls, which the increase in mobility and a new approach might accomplish.

Normal isn’t the way to describe his winter activity.

Stewart was sent home after the season with instructions designed to improve his chances of making the club and staying with it.

“My workouts were a little bit different this year,” Stewart said today in a Zoom conference call with the media. “I dropped some weight just to kind of benefit myself defensively in the outfield, something we talked about with (Mike) Elias and Hyder. Just things that would benefit me defensively.

“With my ankle surgery obviously last year, didn’t get the full offseason other than the quarantine break or whatever. But dropped some weight, tried to make a little bit of swing adjustments and stuff and kind of use the whole field. It was definitely different this year.”

Stewart is listed at 6-foot and 230 pounds, leading some observers to compare his build to a fullback’s rather than a professional baseball player’s.

“I lost the weight just adding more cardio and changing my diet,” he said. “I actually hired someone to cook meals for me, just to balance out the things that I was eating. Talked with some trainers and my agency. At the beginning of the offseason we did a whole week of what I normally would eat during the offseason to see my calorie intact and the calories I’m losing, as well, when I’m working out. Went from there to balance it out to where I’m actually eating more often, but it’s not as big of meals and eating healthier, as well. Just trying everything I can to be in the best shape that I can.

“It was difficult at first, just because I wasn’t used to it. Obviously with change, you’re not going to necessarily know how to react, how your body’s going to react, but actually as the offseason went on it got a lot easier for me, just knowing how to keep the weight off and getting what I need nutrition-wise to be able to have the energy and same amount of power, but also not eating as much. So it got easier as I got used to it, but it wasn’t the easiest thing at first.”

Baseball-Reference.com calculates Stewart’s dWAR at -0.5 and the mishaps have occurred in left and right. Improving became a priority. It was just a question of how to do it.

“One of the big things is just continuing to keep my feet moving,” he said. “A lot of times whenever I get into trouble, I get to the right spot where I need to be, but kind of in that last few seconds of it not moving my feet and kind of letting the ball get too deep on me, blocking myself off with my glove. So the biggest adjustment for me that I found is the most helpful for myself as far as fly balls is just continuing to have my feet moving. Even if there’s not someone on base, just acting like there is to keep my momentum going so I’m not stagnant out there.

“Whenever you get stagnant and the ball at the last second does something, it will kind of mess you up, so as long as my feet are moving ... And as far as ground balls and stuff like that, we had the minicamp that I came to, as well, and got some really good work in, got some tips from Stevie Wilkerson, who’s one of my best friends on the team. Just him playing all the different positions, being an infielder, kind of just talking things over and making it easier for myself so the ball’s not really jumping and moving on me.

“Just going out there and having fun, just playing, honestly. There’s a lot of outside things that have been said, but I know what I can do, I know I can play defense, so just looking for the opportunity and show you guys, show everyone.”

Releasing Renato Núñez opened the designated hitter spot, which Stewart could occupy rather than trying to push through a crowded outfield.

“I have a bunch of respect for guys who are really good at being DHs, just because you have to be engaged in the game even when you’re not on defense and can’t just let your at-bat that you just had or the one coming up really foreshadow or take over your mind,” Stewart said.

“You’ve got to be part of the game and let that at-bat go and look onto the next one. So if that is the case, it will be a different thing for me, an adjustment, but whatever is in the works for me to get on the field and help the team, I’m willing to do whatever.”

The Orioles hold one more minor league option on Stewart. He has a decent chance to head north on the 26-man roster, but Ryan Mountcastle and Anthony Santander have the inside track on starting at the outfield corners. Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins possess the athleticism and skills to handle any spot. Yusniel Diaz is one of the top position prospects in the organization and expected to debut this summer. Ryan McKenna could join him.

“It’s no different than any other spring training,” Stewart said. “It’s the same thing. We’ve had the same guys, we have other guys that have come into this organization. I can’t control what they do, I can only control myself, so I don’t look at it any differently. Go out there, play my game and have fun.”

Stewart returned from a demotion to the alternate camp site in Bowie and hit six home runs in six days, including some jaw-dropping tape measure shots. But he cooled down and finished with a .193/.355/.455 line in 31 games.

The former first-round pick is a career .224/.334/.433 hitter in parts of three major league seasons totaling 92 games.

“When I’m going well, I’m using the whole field,” Stewart said. “Last year, the home run thing was cool and everything, but to me that isn’t who I am. I’m more of a line drive, base hit guy. I know everyone sees the bigger build and everything, but you just look at me throughout my years in college, the years I’m going good I’m using the entire field. I’m not just pulling the ball.

“Yeah, it was cool to hit some out of the stadium, have my first hit by a home run and everything, but I feel like when I’m going the best, I’m using the whole field, left-center field, and I’m able to react to those pitches inside as opposed to maybe cheating or looking inside first, then going opposite field. I just don’t feel like that’s sustainable. So that’s one of the things I’ve been working on, trying to drive the ball to the opposite field and then if they come in, react to that.”

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