Orioles outfielder DJ Stewart hasn’t played since March 5 due to a hamstring injury. He isn’t in today’s lineup and could remain out at least during the early portion of the week. A “mild tweak,” as it was described, is taking a significant amount of time to heal.
Stewart is cleared to bat in intrasquad games. However, the Orioles don’t want to turn him loose on the bases and risk a setback. Hamstrings require patience.
Opening day is less than two weeks away and Stewart has appeared in only three games, hitting two home runs. When does it become probable rather than possible that he starts the 2021 season on the 10-day injured list?
“It’s becoming more and more challenging,” manager Brandon Hyde said in his Zoom call. “He was out there doing some drills with us this morning. He’s just not 100 percent yet and I’m not going to put him on the field in a game until he’s 100 percent, so we’ll see.
“I think as the days get closer, it’s becoming a little bit more challenging because he needs to play in some games before we break.”
Reliever Hunter Harvey is on the 60-day injured list with an oblique strain. First baseman Chris Davis apparently will go on the 10-day or 60-day IL after being shut down with a lower back strain following the Feb. 28 exhibition opener.
Putting Stewart on the IL makes it more important for the utility players to possess the skills needed to handle the outfield. And it becomes much easier to carry both Maikel Franco and Rio Ruiz on the 26-man roster - if the former is able to convince Hyde that he’s ready.
Franco is making his debut this afternoon.
“He’s going to get a couple at-bats today,” Hyde said. “His spring is really short, so I think health, if we feel like he’s ready. He looks great physically, played well in the intrasquad game yesterday. It’s a little bit tougher at this time just because you’re trying to ramp up a guy and not the usual spring training where you have five or six days of baserunning, things like that to kind of get in game shape. And we’re trying to catch him up as much as we possibly can.
“If we can get him caught up and we feel like he’s ready to help us on opening day, then we’ll make that decision.”
The utility competition won’t have to be narrowed to one winner. Any combination of Pat Valaika, Ramón Urías and Stevie Wilkerson could make it, though it’s easier to carry the first two because they’re on the 40-man.
Hyde said there are “a lot of question marks” regarding the composition of the active roster.
“It’s not just one specific area,” he said. “We have question marks rotation, we have question marks bullpen, we have question marks as it comes to some of our extra infielders. So I think we have a lot of things to still finalize before we leave.
A final call also must be made on Félix Hernández, who’s sidelined with a sore right elbow but able to play catch and showing improvement as he continues to receive treatments.
“He’s feeling a little bit better every day,” Hyde said. “We don’t have him slated to pitch in any game yet, just because we need to get him on the mound again first before he sees any game action. But he’s playing catch and he is feeling better.
“I think we have a lot of decisions to make pitching-wise,” Hyde said. “We have two Rule 5 guys (Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells), we have a rotation that’s not set. We have a lot of guys for 13 or 14 spots. Still might carry 14 pitchers, might carry 13. Who knows at this point? So we have a lot of things to figure out here this last week.”
Yolmer Sánchez is making his first start at shortstop, a position he’s played in 16 major league games.
“We’re just trying to be as versatile as we possibly can,” Hyde said. “Yolmer’s got some history of playing short, not a ton, but I talked to him about it probably a week ago and the more guys you can have play short, the more guys you can have play in the middle of the field, the better. Just want to see what he looks like over there.”
Hyde wants to stretch out Valdez for bulk relief and perhaps more and it isn’t a complicated process. Valdez started in winter ball.
Valdez has appeared in only two Grapefruit League games totaling two scoreless innings with five strikeouts. He’s getting work on the back fields.
For the Twins
Luis Arraez 3B
Kyle Garlick RF
Max Kepler CF
Jorge Polanco 2B
Ryan Jeffers C
Jake Cave DH
Alex Kirilloff LF
Willians Astudillo 1B
JT Riddle SS
J.A. Happ LHP