A look at some non-roster invitees pushing for spots

SARASOTA, Fla. - After Monday’s off day, the Orioles resume spring training games tonight when they host Atlanta at 6:05 p.m. at Ed Smith Stadium.

They have played 17 games, going 8-6-3, and they have 16 left in Florida, plus the exhibition game at the Naval Academy against the New York Mets on March 24. Opening day is March 26 in Baltimore versus the New York Yankees.

At this point, several non-roster players are posting good stats and making solid impressions. They are pushing for roster spots. Here is a look at four in that group.

Hanhold-Pitch-White-ST-sidebar.jpgERIC HANHOLD

The righty reliever has thrown five scoreless innings in five games. He’s given up just two hits with two walks, eight strikeouts and a .118 average against.

Hanhold doesn’t have overwhelming minor league numbers, but perhaps at age 26, he is just coming into his own. The Orioles claimed him from the Mets on waivers last Sept. 16. He was designated for assignment on Jan. 7 and six days later he was outrighted to Triple-A. The way he’s throwing he could make his way onto the Orioles roster.

Manager Brandon Hyde on Hanhold: ” Eric is 6-6 and throws 96, 97 (mph) with a really good changeup. I like the ride on his fastball. It’s 96 and plays up. It’s a funky, real tall (arm) slot that gives hitters trouble. He’s another one in the mix.”

Hanhold has a 4.64 minors career ERA with a 2.98 walk rate and 7.39 strikeout rate. He pitched in the majors for just 2 1/3 innings with the 2018 Mets and gave up two runs.

An interesting note on Hanhold: When the Brewers drafted him in round six in 2015, his signing scout was John Shelby III, the son of former Oriole John “T-bone” Shelby.

THOMAS ESHELMAN

Throwing his fastball about 10 mph slower than Hanhold, Eshelman has been solid in three spring games, the latest a start Friday against the Yankees. Over eight innings, he has allowed four hits and two runs with one walk and six strikeouts. He’s 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA.

Eshelman, 25, pitched in 10 games for the 2019 Orioles, going 1-2 with a 6.50 ERA. He was also DFA and outrighted off the roster, and that happened early last September. Eshelman set an NCAA record when, as a freshman at Cal State-Fullerton, his walk rate was 0.23. For his college career he walked 17 over 363 innings, a rate of 0.43 per nine.

Said Hyde: “I’ve been impressed with Eshelman. I like the way he mixes speeds. I feel like he’s got more on his fastball this year. I like the way he threw off the plate in to set up other stuff away. I think Thomas is pitching with a lot of confidence. He’s pitching with something to prove. And I feel like he’s made improvements from last year. Last year’s experience has helped him out a lot. I think he feels like he can pitch at this level, and he’s pitching like that right now.”

BRUCE ZIMMERMANN

The Baltimorean turned 26 last month. He attended Loyola High School and Towson University before transferring to Mount Olive (N.C.) College. The Braves drafted him from that school in round five of 2017 and traded him to Baltimore on July 31, 2018. He was solid last year at Double-A Bowie.

Over three spring games, Zimmermann has a 4.70 ERA, allowing four runs and eight hits over 7 2/3 innings with two walks and nine strikeouts.

Zimmermann was quite impressive last Saturday against Tampa Bay. He threw three scoreless, allowing one hit with one walk and three strikeouts. He retired the last seven batters he faced that afternoon in Port Charlotte. He’s building some momentum with each outing, it seems.

Said Zimmermann: “It’s been exciting, that’s for sure, going out there and seeing those names in the box that I’ve been watching for the past three or four years. To be at this level you’ve got to pitch well, and to know that I can go out there and do that every five days right now, that’s a big confidence boost, and I just want to keep building on the outings. Obviously, I want to stay here as long as possible and it’s great to still be up here with the team and taking full advantage of the opportunity that they’re giving me right now.”

PAT VALAIKA

Valaika’s offseason wasn’t as active as that of Hanser Alberto last year, but it was active. The Orioles claimed him off waivers from Colorado on Oct. 30. On Jan. 16, after he was DFA by the Orioles, Arizona claimed him. After he was DFA by the Diamondbacks, the Orioles claimed him again on Jan. 30. On Feb. 11 they outrighted him off the 40-man to Triple-A.

In spring games he is batting .375 (9-for-24) with a double, three homers and five RBIs. His three homers ties Chris Davis for the team lead, and no other Oriole has more than one home run.

In 84 Triple-A games in the Pacific Coast League in 2019 he batted .320 with 26 doubles, 22 homers and 75 RBIs, along with a .952 OPS. Through parts of four seasons with Colorado, he is batting .214/.256/.400 with a career .752 OPS against lefty pitching and .569 versus right-handers.

In his minor league career he’s made starts all over the infield, with the most coming at shortstop (289) and second base (138). He’s only played two career games in the outfield, so unlike others battling for a utility job or jobs, he doesn’t have outfield on the resume to any extent.

Said Valaika: “I think, over the years, I’ve developed some power. I’m not, by any means, trying to hit home runs. I think they’re just a byproduct of a good swing. The more good swings I can take, that’s what I’m trying to do.

“In this line of work, I’m taking it day by day and not going to focus on the future. There’s a lot of things that are out of my control that I can’t do anything about, so all I can control is my effort and my attitude and how I approach each day. That’s what I’m going to do.”

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