Shortened spring training schedule had noteworthy moments

SARASOTA, Fla. - So the Orioles’ spring training schedule came to an end when Major League Baseball made its announcements on Thursday afternoon. They finished with a Grapefruit League record of 9-7-3. They got in 19 games and had 15 more remaining, including the now canceled game at the Naval Academy.

The Orioles produced a winning spring training record for the third time in the last four years and fifth time in the past eight. In 2019, they were 12-17-3 in the spring.

Here is a look back at this year’s abbreviated schedule and some ups and downs it produced.

Tough start and end: Some good days were coming but spring games started with and later ended with a dud. The Orioles began their Grapefruit League schedule on Feb. 22 at the Braves’ new CoolToday Park and had a cool day at the plate. The Orioles were held to four hits - all singles - in a 5-0 loss. Felix Hernandez pitched the first two innings for the Braves and the O’s were down 3-0 after the first inning.

The last game turned out to be Wednesday’s 14-2 loss to Toronto in Dunedin. The Orioles trailed 9-1 after the second inning as the Blue Jays hit three homers and four doubles in the first two innings off right-hander Thomas Eshelman.

Offensive explosion: The Orioles scored 10 or more runs four times in Florida, with three of those occasions coming on back-to-back-to-back days. It started with a 13-0 win over Pittsburgh in Sarasota on Feb. 27. Ryan Mountcastle went 3-for-3 with two doubles, a homer and three RBIs and Chris Davis hit his second spring home run.

The next day the Orioles played Pittsburgh in Bradenton and won 11-4. Richie Martin had three hits, including a three-run double, and drove in four runs. The next day the Orioles whipped Miami 12-6 at home as Davis homered again and got off to a .714 batting-average start through that game.

By scoring 36 runs in that three-game stretch, through that point in the spring the Orioles led the Grapefruit League in hits (96) and total bases (156). They had connected on 12 home runs, tied for the most in the GL, and their .296 batting average was second-best among the teams in Florida. They were 11-for-11 in stolen-base attempts.

What a relief: The O’s bullpen had a good spring. Heading into that last game versus Toronto, right-handers Shawn Armstrong, Miguel Castro, Eric Hanhold, Hunter Harvey and Branden Kline combined for 20 2/3 scoreless innings. But Harvey and Hanhold gave up homers that afternoon at TD Ballpark.

Still, over the previous nine games, the O’s bullpen had pitched to a 1.87 ERA. In 53 innings, they allowed 37 hits with 14 walks and 59 strikeouts.

Hanhold, Cody Carroll and others had good springs and will give the brass a lot of tough bullpen decisions whenever it comes time to set the opening day 26-man roster.

Davis-C-Cage-ST-sidebar.jpgDavis looked good: And we’re not talking about Taylor, but rather Chris. He of the .179/.276/.326 batting line from 2019. The guy who hit just 12 homers. The guy who has seen his homer and RBI totals drop every year since 2015.

He looked good in live batting practice sessions and it continued when the games started. What does it mean? Anything significant?

During coverage on in a game in West Palm Beach, executive vice-president and general manager Mike Elias sat in with me for a few innings. I asked him if Davis’ strong spring start could carry into the regular season.

“I don’t know,” said Elias. “I’m hoping so. As a scout and a talent evaluator, and our coaches will agree, he just does look better. The way he’s going about things, the way he’s managing things, the way the ball is coming off his bat.

“I would hope to think that translates, but spring training is spring training. Sometimes the lights go on and pitchers are working on attack plans and advanced analytics comes out where they are pitching with attack plans. Teams aren’t doing that as much in spring training. But this was exactly what I was hoping to see from him on March 3.”

So those were a few things noteworthy during spring training 2020. There were others, and feel free to bring up a few in the comments today.

Also feel free to bring up topics you would like to see me write about over the next few weeks with no games to analyze and discuss here. We’ve entered a strange new world with the originally scheduled opening day date approaching, but no games to cover and no date set for when there will be games.

My time in the Florida sun has come to an end. I’m set to fly home today. But I enjoyed driving the rental car all over Florida and covering the Orioles through this point of the season.

Now we all await what comes next.

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