Ruiz and roster rumblings as Orioles approach opener

A roster that holds 36 players in camp and must be pared to 26 apparently won’t undergo its final cuts today. Maybe some light trimming, maybe nothing. But manager Brandon Hyde indicated yesterday that there probably won’t be 10 moves.

The Orioles weren’t likely to break camp without a utility player on the roster. Now they’re basically carrying two with Pat Valaika and Ramón Urías.

Still counts in my book if one of them is starting at second base.

A second baseman who appeals to the Orioles could join them this week and again torch the projections, but a three-man bench on a team carrying 14 pitchers can hold a super-utility guy.

A team stressing the importance of versatility has to cover its assets.

Rio Ruiz is not a utility candidate. Don’t let yesterday’s start at second base fool you. He’s only played two innings at the position on the professional level, not counting exhibitions, though infield shifts can move him to the right side. Not the same catalogue of responsibilities.

Want to know how many times he’s played shortstop? Zero times. Don’t try to sell me on the idea that the Orioles can keep Ruiz and Maikel Franco on the same roster by moving the former all around the infield.

Ruiz-Swings-White-ST-Sidebar.jpgRuiz can also be the first baseman and designated hitter. So can Franco. There isn’t a known DH on the roster with DJ Stewart destined for the injured list.

As long as Anthony Santander avoids the IL with his sore oblique, he could be the DH one day, Ryan Mountcastle the next, maybe Austin Hays or Cedric Mullins or Trey Mancini. The other rotation on the club besides starting pitchers.

Ruiz and a backup catcher can join a third reserve for a particular game, whether it’s Valaika or Urías. Again, in the current state of the roster. A new second baseman changes it.

The Orioles could go to 13 pitchers later after taking the figurative temperature of the team and insert a fourth reserve.

If you’re wondering about Ruiz in the outfield, he’s played one inning in left field in the majors and made 19 starts in left and 11 in right in the minors. So, if he has to, he’d probably be serviceable in an emergency.

Ruiz ran down a popup in foul territory for the first out of yesterday’s game. The ball always finds you. He also covered first base on Mitch Keller’s sacrifice bunt in the second inning, and fielded Jason Delay’s grounder and stepped on the bag for the force to end the fourth.

Maybe he’s a natural.

More confirmation is needed on the opening day roster, but two big admissions came over the weekend with a five-man rotation and 14-man pitching staff. The Orioles are taking nine relievers to Boston. They can get plenty of length from Wade LeBlanc if he’s in the bullpen, César Valdez if he isn’t closing and newcomer Adam Plutko.

Rule 5s Tyler Wells and Mac Sceroler also can work in long relief with their starter backgrounds. I’m not convinced that the Orioles are keeping both of them and limiting the club’s flexibility, but this would be the season to try it.

Can’t option a Rule 5 pick without passing him through waivers and offering him back to his former team.

Of course, it only takes a couple of Nestor Cortes Jr. and Pedro Araujo type implosions in April to bring more changes. Otherwise, the Orioles can just deal with the growing pains as a non-contender.

It didn’t work in 1997 when they finally had to bail on Rule 5 pitcher Mike Johnson and trade him to the Expos rather than continue to stash him and try to clinch the division. He had a 7.94 ERA and 1.714 WHIP in 14 games, including five starts, and surrendered 12 home runs in 39 2/3 innings.

The Expos sent pitcher Everett Stull to the Orioles as the player to be named later, and I still have his jersey.

Not really.

Recent developments also further confirmed that the inability of the media to watch workouts, B games and intrasquads on the back fields makes it much harder to grade players and their chances of being on the team. Matt Harvey and Bruce Zimmermann strengthened their cases with their innings accumulated outside the Grapefruit League.

Also would have been nice to watch Ruiz take ground balls at second.

Harvey wasn’t signed to a minor league deal to be the No. 2 starter. Zimmermann seemed more likely to work in bulk relief if he made the club - special emphasis on “if.”

The nine scoreless innings and only one hit allowed didn’t hurt his cause, of course, but he also impressed out of public view. And that’s really true with Harvey as he kept working on his two-seamer and the adjustments first made at the training facility in New Jersey.

No one knows whether Harvey really is primed for a bigtime comeback, but I’d be more skeptical if he hadn’t made any changes from the post-Mets version and just happened to piece together a decent spring training. But it didn’t stop the avalanche of “jokes” on Twitter after Hyde named him the second starter. It was excessive, even for that forum.

Harvey can get the last laugh, beginning with Saturday’s assignment in Boston.

“I really didn’t know what to expect coming in,” he said. “Like I said over and over, each time I picked up a ball, each bullpen and then each outing just got better and better and more comfortable. Able to trust that and really just go out there and pitch.

“I think coming into camp, obviously knowing I had to make the team, I knew I needed to work every single day and get on board with what they were doing, which was pretty easy at the time because they were doing almost exactly what the guys up in New Jersey were showing me and having me do. My job was to go out and prepare for every start and stay healthy and just try to get better and better each time.

“I’m obviously extremely excited about Game 2. Growing up in Connecticut, it’s not too far from home. So, you know, playing in that ballpark is something special. Obviously excited about that.”

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