SARASOTA, Fla. — Trey Mancini charged in on a single to right in the first inning Tuesday. It skipped in front of him and then bounced away.
Error, right field.
Mancini, who before this week hadn’t played the outfield since the summer after his freshman year in college back in 2011, has temporarily moved from first base/designated hitter to right field this spring.
If Mancini isn’t getting reps in the outfield in the next few games, you’ll likely see Pedro Alvarez out there. The third baseman/first baseman/designated hitter will DH on Wednesday and then likely will play in right shortly thereafter.
This is the purpose of spring training. Hitters are trying to find their timing. Pitchers are refining their arsenals. And guys who are in a roster crunch are experimenting with ways that will make them the best fit for the big-league club.
“I want to do whatever I can to try and make this team — and make myself more versatile,” Mancini said. “I’ve always thought I could play outfield and I’ve always taken pride in my first base (defense) and getting better there, too. But I wanted to give this a try.”
First base for Mancini is blocked by Chris Davis, and DH is going to be manned primarily by Mark Trumbo. That roster configuration also squeezes the recently signed Alvarez, who was used at DH last year and won’t play third or first for the Orioles. So being able to play right field is a sensible consideration worth exploring.
But here’s the rub: The Orioles demand top defense. And, even with the opportunity in spring training, it’s hard to believe either one of these guys will be able to play right field to the satisfaction of manager Buck Showalter once the gloves come off and the season starts.
That’s not a criticism of Alvarez or Mancini. They may surprise us all. But it’s going to take time. Showalter made reference to that Tuesday, saying he wished Alvarez had signed earlier and had jumpstarted his outfield experiment a few weeks ago.
I applaud both men for trying to transition to the outfield, but let’s not forget that it is a difficult move to make at any level. But in the majors and for a defensive-oriented team? That’s a real tough assignment.
Rotation coming up a little short
Lefty Wade Miley lasted three innings Tuesday, allowing three runs on seven hits in three innings, throwing 63 pitches, 40 for strikes.
I’m not reading anything into Miley’s performance. All seven of the hits were singles. Some were scolded, others bloops and bleeders. Miley didn’t seem too concerned about the results. He got his work in. And Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Miley wasn’t feeling particularly well physically Tuesday, but gutted it out. So, he definitely gets points there for no excuses.
Here’s the one concern I take from Tuesday’s outing, and it’s more about the rotation as a whole than Miley in particular. Again, a starter couldn’t go four innings this spring; only Ubaldo Jimenez has even reached the fourth inning.
Miley needed 63 pitches to get through three innings Tuesday. Failing to pitch deep into games has been an epidemic for Orioles’ starters in the past few years. So, it is slightly disturbing when they aren’t economic with their pitches in March.
No one will care in May that Miley and company weren’t getting into the fourth in mid-March, of course. Especially if those guys are efficient in-season.
But you like to see improvement on weaknesses in the spring, and, so far, the rotation has not allayed the continual fears of escalating pitch counts.
Showalter’s handling of WBC guys
One of the things that makes Showalter so good at what he does is that he individualizes his plans for each player, trying getting the best out of everyone.
Case in point: Showalter said pitcher Vidal Nuno will be back from the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday night and that he’d like to get him into a game soon because he didn’t pitch much while representing Mexico.
However, Showalter is expecting to do the opposite with some of his position players, like Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado. Showalter wants to give those guys a few days off to rest and recharge, though, “I’m going to kind of leave it up to them on what they want to do.”
And that goes for catcher Welington Castillo, who left for Team Dominican Republic after only a few weeks with his new Orioles’ pitching staff. The conventional wisdom would be to throw Castillo right back into game action so he can continue to learn the Orioles’ pitchers.
But Showalter isn’t always about convention, and he said Castillo has already “crossed the threshold” of spring training plate appearances that would normally lead to resting the player for a couple days in the spring.
“I know what you’re saying about learning the pitchers and all that, but I want him to be healthy and be in the right mental state,” Showalter said. “And I think that’s the biggest thing with these guys, their competitive clock has gotten pushed up, and it’s just tough to maintain that.”