Spring Training Primer: Blessed with options; Ubaldo and the Jays; Davis hits first homer - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

Spring Training Primer: Blessed with options; Ubaldo and the Jays; Davis hits first homer

What’s happening: The Orioles always seem to have a roster crunch each spring.

Seemingly, there are multiple players on the bubble who are out of minor league options and could be lost on waivers if they don’t make the 25-man roster. Such is life for a club that utilizes its minor leagues as a continual revolving door for the big leagues.

Well, there’s a different twist in 2017: The Orioles have just one, out-of-option, bubble guy this spring, U.S. Naval Academy product Oliver Drake, who has posted a 3.48 ERA in 33 2/3 innings in parts of two seasons with the Orioles.

The 30-year-old right-hander must clear waivers before the Orioles can send him back to Triple-A Norfolk if he doesn’t make the 25-man roster. And he’s not doing much this spring to make his case for Opening Day, posting a 10.61 ERA and allowing 18 hits in 9 1/3 innings. But, with some past big league success, it’s possible a club may claim Drake.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter doesn’t want to discount what Drake has done for the Orioles in the past, including a 1.59 ERA in nine games during the final month of last year. In creating a roster, Showalter must balance what he knows with what he’s seen most recently, even if it is in spring exhibition games.

“That’s the quandary every year, especially when they’re out of options,” Showalter said. “(Drake is) in a different boat because of the options. But (the system) is designed to protect the player, where you can’t hoard these guys like people used to do years ago. Oliver’s gonna pitch in the big leagues (for someone) this year.”

The Orioles are fortunate that all five pitchers vying for the club’s vacant rotation spot – created due to Chris Tillman’s shoulder injury – can be sent to the minors. That’s especially important for an organization that constantly shuffles its pitching staff, something that was difficult to do at times in 2016.

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“We got in a bind last year because we didn’t have the type of roster at Bowie and Norfolk and Baltimore that we could maneuver around some of the challenges (we faced), especially the starting pitching, some of the injuries that took place,” Showalter said. “We’re in a lot better shape there.”

Lefty Chris Lee, who starts tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays, is one of the remaining candidates to start, along with Mike Wright, Gabriel Ynoa, Tyler Wilson and Jayson Aquino. Those that don’t win the job will likely be headed to Triple-A Norfolk, though Lee could go back to Double-A Bowie to start 2017 given that’s where he was when he was shut down by a lat/shoulder injury in May.

“In a perfect world, you’d have Tillman (healthy), and those five guys would be down in Norfolk,” Showalter said. “But some things don’t cooperate with us sometimes on paper. But I’d say everybody is still in play.”

It wouldn’t be a surprise if all of them pitched in the majors at some point before the season ends. One certainly will in April – maybe even Lee.

“He is one of the four or five guys we’re looking at,” Showalter said. “He could make a case for himself.”

Catchers Audry Perez and Francisco Pena were reassigned to minor league camp. The Orioles have 44 players remaining in camp, including 10 non-roster invitees. More cuts are expected Wednesday.

What’s happened: The Orioles lost 5-2 to Toronto on Tuesday, the exact same score as the last time Ubaldo Jimenez pitched against the Blue Jays – the 11th inning of the American League Wild Card game on Oct. 4. In that one, Jimenez entered in relief and allowed a three-run walkoff homer by Edwin Encarnacion.

The stakes were a little different Tuesday, and Jimenez was pretty effective, except for a four-run inning that was set-up by a pop-up that fell on the grass near the pitcher’s mound. Jimenez allowed five hits and three walks while striking out five. Two of the walks were in the first inning, on borderline calls.

“I thought he got squeezed somewhat,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I thought he was around the zone the whole day, made some quality pitches that weren’t called that would normally get called. He had a five-inning outing there in him. I’m happy with where he is.”

Showalter said outfielder Seth Smith is “not yet” in danger of missing the beginning of the season despite not playing since March 8 due to a strained right hamstring. Smith has logged just 11 at-bats in Grapefruit League action –  he has one hit, a homer –and he won’t play until Friday, at the earliest.

“With minor leagues opened up and everything, we can get (him) plenty of at-bats,” Showalter said. “He’s a veteran guy, he kind of knows the drill. He’s a little behind, that’s obvious, but we think he can catch up.”

WBC participants Manny Machado, Welington Castillo and Jonathan Schoop will be back to camp Wednesday for the Orioles’ annual spring talent show. Showalter doesn’t know when they’ll play in Grapefruit League action again. He said it depends on what the players want to do after spending weeks away in high-leverage games.

Infielder Ryan Flaherty (shoulder) is slated to play in Friday’s game. Lefty Wade Miley, who was scratched from his scheduled start Monday due to flu-like symptoms, was feeling better Tuesday. He’ll likely pitch in a mir-league game in the next few days.

What’s up with: Chris Davis. He was hitting .143 (3-for-21) through his first nine Grapefruit League games, but had two hits Sunday and then hit his first homer Tuesday. It was an opposite field shot against Toronto’s ace Aaron Sanchez, so that’s a doubly encouraging sign.

What they’re saying: “We’re very comfortable with the return we’ve had with Brady’s input. We welcome it and we need it. A lot of clubs would love to have someone like Brady. We’re lucky to have him.” — Showalter when asked about his thoughts on a lengthy Fox Sports article that suggested vice president Brady Anderson’s varied job responsibilities were viewed as disruptive and/or without administrative accountability by some, including former pitching coach Dave Wallace and ex-bullpen coach Dom Chiti.

What’s the number? 94 – Showalter said that’s what Logan Verrett’s fastball topped out at during his two scoreless innings Tuesday. The 26-year-old right-hander’s fastball has averaged 90.5 during his big-league career, according to FanGraphs. But Showalter said this is “release the hounds” time when Verrett and others fighting for jobs are really reaching back.

What’s the record? 12-11-2 – The Orioles have lost three straight. They play the Rays tonight at 6:05 p.m. (it will be televised on MASN) and then will have an off day Thursday, their final one of the spring.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Bancells Moustache

    March 22, 2017 at 8:23 am

    I read the Rosenthal piece and it seemed like fishing to me. Showalter, DD, multiple players and even Jake Arrieta praised Brady Anderson for his work, and considering where the Birds were before Brady came on board in 2011, it’s tough to argue with the results. Weiters was quoted, but it was a pretty milquetoast statement. The only complaints seemed to come from Chiti and Wallace and I take their input with a large grain of salt, considering how close it still is to their unceremonious exit. Don’t get me wrong, Kenny Rosenthal is a respected voice, but the articles headline should have (truthfully) stated TWO PISSED OFF FORMER EMPLOYEES CRITICIZE PREVIOUS BOSS, which isn’t exactly a new concept.

    • loganmillermusic12

      March 22, 2017 at 9:41 am

      I agree completely. None of the players’ quotes seemed to go into very much depth and were (it seemed to me at least) most likely taken out of a larger quote praising Brady overall. I’m sure some of them were just trying to give some perspective on what it’s like to have that unique situation… It has its positives and its negatives.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 22, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      Fair points.

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