O’s notes on Valaika, Mullins, the young pitchers and more

Pat Valaika was on the Orioles’ opening day roster in 2020, his second opening day roster in the majors. Now he’s shooting for three and his chances may be pretty good.

He showed versatility starting at five positions last year for the Orioles and had a strong finish with his bat. He played in 52 of 60 games, which tied for the third-most on the team. Not considered an everyday player, he still tied for seventh on the club in plate appearances and only three Orioles hit more than his eight home runs. Valaika hit seven of the homers in the seventh inning or later, to tie for the major league lead.

But he is not guaranteed to be on the roster come April, so he wants to put his best foot forward at every turn, whether he can win a roster spot as a utility player or maybe even push someone for a starting role.

“I’ve never been told one way or the other, starting or utility,” he said in a Tuesday Zoom interview. “So my mindset coming in is just prepare to play every day. That’s what my mindset has always been. It gets me ready to be thrown into various situations. So, yeah, in my mind, I’m trying to be a starter, but I can only control what I can control. Those decisions aren’t up to me. So I’ll just continue to get my work in and focus on the things I can control.”

Valaika hit .277/.315/.475 for the year and hit .323 in 23 games last September. In 583 career plate appearances, he has hit just .230, but with 25 homers and 67 RBIs.

In December, Valaika was among the arbitration-eligible Orioles and he did get tendered a deal to remain with the team. He signed a split contract, which pays $300,000 if he’s in the minors and $875,000 while in the majors.

“I didn’t know how it was going to go, honestly,” Valaika said, thinking back to December. “It came down to the very last minute. I wasn’t sure which way it was going to go, and yet it worked out that I came back here. I’m excited about that. I’m excited about this team, just ready to get going.”

Last season, Valaika made 15 starts at shortstop, eight each at first and second base, four at third base and three in left field.

“I don’t know what the defensive metrics and all that says about each position, but I feel pretty equally comfortable at each position,” he said. “It’s just getting reps and comfortable because each position is unique. There are different nuances to each one and it’s not as easy as just changing your glove. You have different angles and different ways to move your feet.”

Bats slow, arms strong: The Orioles had just three hits in Tuesday’s seven-inning game, as they lost 1-0 in Fort Myers to the Minnesota Twins. But seeing two of the young guns, right-hander Dean Kremer and lefty Bruce Zimmermann, throw three scoreless innings each was encouraging.

They were facing several Twins starters after the O’s staff had allowed 13, six and 13 runs in the previous three games. Kremer started and allowed just one hit with a walk and three strikeouts over three innings. Much better than his first game, when he allowed three runs over 1 2/3 versus Boston.

Kremer-Throws-Orange-ST-Sidebar.jpgKremer’s fastball had some zip on it and Statcast had pitches clocked at 95 and 97 mph to the last batter he faced. Kremer got swings and misses on four of his nine four-seam fastballs and on three of his five cutters. So the stuff was there.

“I think the life (on my fastball) was the same as last time. I just - mentally was probably the difference-maker,” Kremer said. “I feel like I was definitely more locked in today and being really intentful with every pitch. As opposed to last time, when I dug myself in a hole and didn’t get out. My plan today was just to attack the zone with everything, and I was most on the attack when I was using my heater.”

Zimmermann did not allow a hit in his three scoreless. He’s now thrown five scoreless innings in two outings on one hit with one walk and six strikeouts. Opposing batters are 1-for-16 (.063) against him this spring.

“I thought that both guys pounded the strike zone, which is what we’ve been talking about,” manager Brandon Hyde said “They both had really good fastballs today, both up to 95-96 mph, averaging around 94, really good life to it.”

Mullins still hitting: Cedric Mullins went 1-for-3 against Minnesota and he’s now batting .389 with an OPS of 1.000 through six games. Mullins is 7-for-18 with two doubles, a triple, two runs and three RBIs. He’s 3-for-6 in his past two games.

Mullins felt after some recent sloppy play the team needed a better defensive game and got one yesterday.

“It feels good to go out there and have some clean baseball and helps our pitchers out for sure as they are working their butts off to throw strikes,” he said.

Mullins added it was uplifting to see the two young pitchers throw six scoreless innings.

“I think everyone is really excited. These guys are coming in with their A game,” Mullins said. “You know, they are showing what they’ve got and coming in with something to prove. And doing an amazing job throwing strikes, locating their off-speed and getting guys out.”

It was also very encouraging when Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that sports venues, including Camden Yards, can open to 50 percent capacity starting Friday. But it’s also worth noting that the Orioles still have to work with Baltimore City and Major League Baseball officials on this. Fans in the stands sounds great, obviously. But we are still waiting for a team announcement on exactly how many at the start and what the plan will be for the 2021 season. But things, happily, are moving in a real positive direction.

This is awesome. Check out eight minutes of Trey Mancini mic’d up at camp. Sure worth the watch.

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