BALTIMORE—It has been an action-packed two weeks for the Orioles. Let’s take a look at some observations after the first 13 games:
- General manager Mike Elias is looking more and more prescient. The team desperately needs an infusion of talent.
Last week, when the Orioles needed a pitcher to eat some innings behind Nate Karns in Toronto, they resorted to Matt Wotherspoon. Not even the hardest of hard-core Orioles fans were aware of Wotherspoon, who was often used to get the final outs of innings in spring training when pitchers exceeded their pitch count.
He pitched in one game and was put on waivers to clear a roster spot. That the Orioles chose Wotherspoon spoke of their lack of choices for relievers.
Since then, because of injuries to Alex Cobb and Karns, they’ve called up Tanner Scott, whom they would have preferred to keep in Triple-A Norfolk, and Josh Lucas, who signed a minor league contract over the winter and stayed around until near the end of spring training.
Evan Phillips was also called up, but he nearly made the team in spring training and could stay for an extended period.
Cody Carroll is rehabbing a back injury in Sarasota, and Branden Kline is just tasting Triple-A for the first time.
- There will be countless roster moves this year.
Through the first 13 games, the Orioles have used 32 players. A year ago, the Orioles used a franchise-record 56 players, and they could exceed that total.
“I think anything is possible when you’re in this type of phase right now,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We’re getting a lot of looks at a lot of players and still evaluating in a lot of ways and a player development-type situation where we’re focused on process and getting more talent in the organization.”
Hyde is showing lots of patience, and cautioning that there are going to be many tough periods this season.
The Orioles are beginning a four-game series in Boston tonight, and while the Red Sox haven’t played well, Hyde is disappointed by the Orioles’ recent play.
“We’re an angry team that they’re running into,” Hyde said. “We haven’t played our best baseball this last week. We were pretty good the first five games or so, but this last week hasn’t [seen] our best game.”
- While many fans say they support a rebuild, they’re not backing it up by their attendance.
On Monday, the Orioles drew just 6,585, the lowest-paying crowd in the history of Oriole Park. It was a unseasonably warm night, and they were playing the Oakland Athletics, a team that made the postseason a year ago.
Yes, the NCAA tournament final was on, and the Orioles traditionally draw poorly on Monday nights, but the low crowd still drew derision from the Twitterverse.
Fans need to realize that the rebuild is going to be a long one, and quick results aren’t evident.
Elias still hasn’t had his first draft as a major league general manager, and while he’s worked feverishly at the edges throughout spring training and in the early weeks of the season, measurable improvement isn’t going to be evident for at least another year or two.
- The fans who showed up this week were true fans.
Chris Davis was booed each time he struck out during the three-game series with the New York Yankees, but during the series with Oakland in which Davis set major league records for most consecutive hitless at-bats and plate appearances, he was greeted warmly by the modest crowds.
His long flies, and even his strikeouts, weren’t booed, and Hyde, who is new to Baltimore, lauded the fans, saying their treatment of Davis was “phenomenal.”
Fans in Baltimore aren’t known for harsh treatment of their athletes, and it was jarring to hear the boos and charming to hear the cheers.
“It’s awesome. I appreciate it so much,” Davis said. “Really the last few nights, just the encouraging yells and shouts throughout the game, and I know they’re behind me. I know the people that boo aren’t the majority, and I really appreciate the fans showing up and backing me.”
Small weekday crowds are going to be the rule this season, as they were a year ago. Had the Yankees or Red Sox been playing this week instead of the Athletics, the Orioles might not have drawn more than 15,000 per game.
- If you’re waiting for the Orioles to cut ties with Davis, it’s not coming soon.
Despite his nightmarish streak, the Orioles have doubled down on Davis. Hitting coach Don Long is working overtime with Davis. Hyde is an unflinching supporter and keeping him in the lineup against right-handed pitchers.
It would be shocking to see Davis fulfill the nearly four seasons left on his contract, and it would surprise many if he even completed the 2019 season with the Orioles.
Even if the Orioles wanted to end Davis’ time with the team, there’s no consensus minor leaguer to replace him on the roster.
Austin Hays’ sprained thumb has sidelined him, and the team wants Yusniel Diaz, Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander and DJ Stewart to have consistent success in the minors before they’re summoned.
If Mark Trumbo successfully completes his rehab after knee surgery, that could cause the Orioles to rethink the Davis situation.
Trumbo is on the 60-day injured list and isn’t eligible to play until late May. If the Orioles continue with 13 pitchers and a three-player bench, it would be hard to see Davis and Trumbo on the team since Hyde cherishes maximum maneuverability—even with a short bench.