Season shutdowns slow evaluation process for Orioles

The perk of a last-place team being able to audition and evaluate younger players while looking ahead to next spring training crumbles with each injury.

The Orioles won’t win any Gold Gloves for catching breaks.

Jorge López made a good impression as a reliever, but only for eight games before a sprained ankle put him on the shelf for the remainder of the season. A freakish injury sustained while performing the routine task of covering first base on a ground ball.

Jorge Mateo appeared in 32 games with the Orioles after they claimed him off waivers from the Padres, and reports of his blazing speed weren’t exaggerated. He legged out a triple in the time it usually takes to start your car.

Mateo-Slaps-Mancini's-Hand-Gray-Sidebar.jpgThe Orioles were able to give Mateo the starts that never came to him in other organizations. They want to determine whether he’s a piece in the rebuild. If he can be the regular shortstop or second baseman, or at least serve in a super utility role with his outfield experience and plus arm.

The lower-back discomfort that began cutting into his time worsened and the Orioles placed him on the 60-day injured list yesterday with right lumbar inflammation. There aren’t enough games remaining to get him healthy and playing again, and the move freed up a 40-man roster spot for infielder Pat Valaika.

No one said it, but Mateo seems to have earned a chance to make the club next spring based on his tools - 80-grade speed doesn’t grow on trees - and improved results at the plate. However, the Orioles really wanted to keep him in the lineup.

They know what they’ve got in Valaika. This is the time to check on the newbies.

Reliever Tanner Scott isn’t new, but the knee injury that surfaced on July 31 in Detroit and forced him onto the IL seemed to wreck his season. And now the Orioles need to measure exactly how much of Scott’s decline can be attributed to it.

Manager Brandon Hyde believes it was a significant contributor, that it explains why Scott registered a 2.78 ERA and 1.374 WHIP in the first half and a 9.82 ERA and 1.964 WHIP after the All-Star break.

Scott technically can return in 2021, but he won’t. Hyde indicated that Scott’s will miss the rest of the season, which includes his 5.17 ERA and 1.574 WHIP in 62 appearances and an average of 6.2 walks and 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

“His first half was so good and getting left-handers and right-handers out,” Hyde said. “Pitched in big spots, he had a ton of strikeouts. So, I know he wasn’t getting the results he wanted the last month or two and I think he was trying to grind through it to finish on a strong note and the knee just didn’t allow him to do that.”

Scott is first-time eligible for arbitration over the winter after making $580,000. He was one of the more popular trade chips at the deadline, but no offer tempted executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias to part with him.

Doesn’t sound like a non-tender candidate to me.

Paul Fry also was targeted by other teams and he’s also arbitration-eligible after making $581,000. He always seems to be tied to Scott based on their friendship, the market for them at the deadline and how they’ve often been the only left-handers in the bullpen.

It’s happening again here because the Orioles didn’t recall Fry after placing Scott on the IL.

Fernando Abad is the only left-hander in the bullpen on an expanded roster. Did anyone make that prediction back in March?

May?

Fry was optioned with his ERA at 6.08 and WHIP at 1.521 in 52 appearances. The 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings were just slightly below his 2020 career high of 11.9, but his 6.7 walks easily ranked as his worst.

Norfolk manager Gary Kendall didn’t use Fry last night in a 7-2 win. Fry followed a poor showing on Friday, with four runs in two-thirds of an inning, by allowing one run and two hits with a walk and a strikeout in one inning Sunday in Durham.

The report on Fry apparently was more favorable than his line, with a few plays not made behind him. The Orioles are searching for encouraging signs because they’d like to recall him.

Rookie Bruce Zimmermann is pitching Saturday at Double-A Bowie, perhaps for multiple innings, and has a chance to rejoin the Orioles later this month. Any evaluations on him must take into account the long layoff from facing major league hitters.

Hunter Harvey had a light bullpen session yesterday, which sounds like one step above playing catch on flat ground. But an important one because he’s back on a mound.

Whether he comes back to the Orioles in 2021 is unknown. Either way, it’s much too late to pinpoint if he can be a real contributor in high-leverage situations next season.

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