The month of April gave left-hander Zac Lowther his first introduction to the majors with a surprise call-up and his scoreless ninth inning on April 25. Optioned back to the alternate training site, he rejoined the Orioles as a member of their taxi squad for the West Coast trip that resumes tonight in Seattle.
Good times for the pitcher MLBPipeline.com deems the No. 11 prospect in the organization.
The only downside to placing him on the taxi squad was his inability to start Triple-A Norfolk’s opening game Tuesday night in Jacksonville. He’s been peeled away from the Jumbo Shrimp.
The Orioles could have given the assignment to one of their young prospects, handed the ball to a veteran such as Thomas Eshelman or chosen someone like Conner Greene, who’s been in professional baseball since 2013 and never reached the majors. The decision apparently is Greene - Eshelman also is on the taxi squad - but Lowther can hop into Norfolk’s rotation after the Orioles return home following Wednesday’s game.
The opening day rosters aren’t set until Tuesday and can differ from the break-camp lists.
The Tides’ rotation also is going to include left-handers Keegan Akin and Alexander Wells, though we need to find out how they’ve progressed from their respective injuries. Akin cut his left index finger in a kitchen accident that required stitches. Wells reported to spring training with oblique soreness.
Spenser Watkins is a starter option, though he’s also pitched in relief in the minors. Left-hander Josh Rogers is recovered from a second elbow surgery and able to slot into the rotation. And the Tides have knuckleballer Mickey Jannis to challenge catchers Austin Wynns, Taylor Davis and Brett Cumberland.
Michael Baumann is staying back in Sarasota due to an undisclosed issue, but I don’t know whether he would have been assigned to Norfolk or Double-A Bowie. He made 13 appearances with the Baysox in 2019.
Bowie has a nice stable of starters led by DL Hall, the No. 4 prospect in the system per MLBPipeline.com. Having a 22-year-old headliner in Double-A, tabbed to start the opener in Altoona, is a nice look and gives the people what they want.
Roansy Contreras, one of the prospects obtained by the Pirates in the Jameson Taillon trade with the Yankees, is starting for the Curve.
There’s an intriguing prospect catching them, but let’s focus on the pitching here.
* Austin Hays is healthy again and hot at the plate. They tend to go hand-in-hand.
Hays homered twice in the Oakland series and was 2-for-4 yesterday with a walk. He has hits in nine of 12 games since leaving the injured list and is 10-for-33 since taking an 0-for-5 on April 23.
The average is up to .250 with an .800 OPS.
“I’m continuing to work on the same things I was doing in spring training,” he said yesterday in his Zoom call with the media. “For whatever reason, the first series in Boston I just felt slightly off, and then I felt kind of good in Miami, and then I felt off for a couple games. When we came back home I felt really good and, just every day, stuff I do in the cage with Don (Long) and what we talk about, trying to control the zone and be aggressive with pitches I can hit and not expand, give away outs.
“It’s the same things I’ve been trying to do early in my career now, just trying to establish myself in the big leagues. I haven’t really changed anything, I’m just starting to see some positive results now.”
* Anthony Santander is almost two full weeks removed from the ankle sprain that forced him on the injured list. He’s close to beginning baseball activities, with a target return about four weeks after the injury.
DJ Stewart remains the starter in right field with Santander gone, his latest opportunity to become more established in the majors and a regular presence in the lineup.
“Anytime I’m able to take the field, it’s a special time,” he said during Saturday’s Zoom call. “I don’t put any more emphasis on whether Tony’s out or not. I know that my ability, I’m able to play this game. Sometimes I let it get the best of me, just trying to do too much, but we want him back. The sooner the better. But I don’t let that affect me at all. I just go play my game.”
Stewart was 0-for-21 before homering Saturday afternoon. He lined a single into left field yesterday and drove Ramón Laureano to the fence with two outs in the eighth inning, a tremendous leaping catch denying him a go-ahead RBI.
The 2015 first-round pick has been working with Long on his contact point and to avoid over-striding.
The better at-bat Saturday actually might have occurred in the eighth inning on a double play grounder, just from being on time with a fastball. The hard contact.
“Just trying to simplify things like I do in the cage and have an easy stride, try to stay on top of the baseball,” he said.
“I feel like I’m trending in the right direction. A week ago I was feeling really good at the plate, felt like I was going to break out, but that’s the game of baseball. There’s ups, there’s downs, but can’t be too high, too low. I think I’m trending in the right direction, every day getting better.”
Manager Brandon Hyde agreed that the double play ball was more impressive.
“I was happy to see him get on a fastball,” Hyde said. “It’s just something he’s been struggling with is being on time with the four-seam fastball. They’re kind of attacking him with it. He hit the changeup for the homer, fouled a couple fastballs back in that at-bat and he was on time with a fastball his last at-bat.
“It’s something he’s working hard at, it’s something he’s aware of, and he’s doing a lot of high-velocity drills and things like that just to get him back on time with the fastball. It was nice to see him square one up late in the game.”
* Left-hander Tanner Scott followed two straight appearances where he walked the bases loaded by tossing scoreless innings in his last three outings. Only one hit allowed, but also two more walks.
Scott replaced Cole Sulser Saturday with one out in the seventh and induced a ground ball from Mitch Moreland and struck out Matt Chapman after running the count full to both hitters. He walked Tony Kemp with one out in the eighth, also with the count full, and Dillon Tate replaced him.
Only 13 of 25 pitches were strikes. Scott lowered his ERA to 2.31 in 12 appearances, but he’s walked 12 batters in 11 2/3 innings.
Scott still possesses the blazing fastball and nasty, dirt-diving slider. He also has his manager’s trust. He’s just trying to harness the lapses in control.
“I believe in the stuff and I think he’s got enormous upside of what kind of reliever he can be and he’s going to be. A little bit inconsistent right now, but when it’s on, it’s really on,” Hyde said.
“I was disappointed in the walk to Kemp. I told him that after. We’ve walked Kemp back-to-back nights with two really good left-handed pitchers. If Kemp beats you, he beats you, but a free pass there, I know he’s not trying to, but I’d like to see him try to put the ball in play there. I think Tanner’s just going to learn from these, just like Paul Fry has the last couple years, and he’s going to continue to be thrown into spots where we’re trying to win a game and I need him to get guys out.
“He wants the ball. I like everything about him. He just needs to execute at times a little bit better.”