After two days of reporting and Covid-19 testing, the Orioles’ summer training begins in earnest on Friday. Unlike spring training, the Orioles’ schedule for the abbreviated 60-game schedule isn’t known. Nor is the exhibition game schedule, presumed to be three games.
The opener is most likely three weeks from now, on July 24. It was reported this week that there will be two games on July 23, one featuring the New York Yankees visiting the World Series champion Washington Nationals.
Three weeks after 3 ½ months off isn’t an enormous time to prepare. The Orioles’ offseason was just 4 ½ months and, while pitchers were monitored and will say they feel strong, this camp will be flooded with pitchers. Twenty-six of the 44 players invited are pitchers.
One of those, right-hander César Valdez, was not on the Orioles’ spring training roster but after the 35-year-old right-hander pitched five shutout innings, striking out nine without walking a batter, he earned an invitation. Another, David Hess, who had been sent to Triple-A Norfolk, is back.
Friday’s weather forecast is definitely unlike anything the Orioles experienced in the spring with temperatures that could peak at 97 degrees in mid-afternoon.
There are some questions.
Who will be at the other training site? The secondary site, which hasn’t been announced, is likely to be Bowie’s Prince George’s Stadium. The location is only about 35 minutes away from Oriole Park.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias hasn’t revealed when the 16 other players who will make up the rest of the 60-man player pool will report.
Some of the names are fairly obvious because Elias said the Orioles might be needing them later in the season.
Left-handed pitchers Keegan Akin and Bruce Zimmermann, right-hander Dean Kremer and first baseman/outfielder Ryan Mountcastle have yet to make their major league debuts.
Others could include players the Orioles saw during spring training, including catcher Taylor Davis, infielder Richard Urena, outfielders Cedric Mullins and Mason Williams and right-hander Evan Phillips, who was sidelined by a right elbow injury.
Oriole fans might like to see the best prospects, including recent No. 1 draft picks, left-hander DL Hall (2017), right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (2018) and catcher Adley Rutschman (2019).
Elias has been cautious about adding Hall, Rodriguez and Rutschman as well as the just-signed No. 1 pick of 2020, outfielder Heston Kjerstad, because he said he doesn’t want to take a spot away from a player the Orioles might need during the 60-game season.
Some or perhaps all of those prospects will be added at some point to get intensive instruction and participate in intrasquad games. The last four top picks are the keys to the team’s future, but they’re not going to add them to a roster and begin their service time and lose a valuable option unnecessarily.
Last season, the Orioles used 58 players. Although they won’t use that many in this abbreviated season, they need to be cautious about wearing out their pitchers.
Yes, the pitchers say they’re in great shape but because of the uncertainty of this season, fatigue and injury could be more present than in previous years because the schedule is radically different.
Fans might think that a 60-game schedule shouldn’t be hard, but it’s likely to be intense and, with many difficult opponents — the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Nationals, Braves, Mets and Phillies — the arms are certain to be taxed.
The 2020 season was going to be much like the preceding one, a year in which the Orioles found pleasant surprises in players such as Hanser Alberto, John Means and Anthony Santander.
By now, which would have been just past the midpoint of the season, Akin, Kremer, Mountcastle and Zimmermann might have been with the team or getting ready to join it.
It’s likely that the team’s record would have been similar to last year’s 54-108 but because nearly two-thirds of the season has been lopped off, hopeful fans are thinking that the team can surprise.
Others are thinking that if the team isn’t going to contend, why not see what Akin, Kremer, Mountcastle and Zimmermann can do from the top?
In many ways, the 60-game season might be just as challenging as a 162-game one. It will be much shorter, but the opposition much harder, and the key to a better-than-expected record is for the Orioles to use a host of pitchers, hoping for the best.
A word on coverage: In a normal season, I try to cover all the Orioles’ home games and perhaps half or a few more of the road games.
Because of Major League Baseball regulations for this year, and concern over the coronavirus pandemic, in-person coverage of Orioles games—and the rest of MLB—will be much different than in years past.
How we do our job is not a subject that’s of interest to readers normally, but I think an explanation this year is appropriate.
We won’t be allowed in clubhouses before or after games, and all interviews will be conducted by Zoom, as they have been the past few months. Although there might be some one-on-one interviews at some point, there won’t be nearly as many as in the past.
Because of that and the ever-present concern over the virus, there won’t be in-person coverage of as many games, both home and away, this year.
Most important, we can hope that the health of the nation recovers and this minor inconvenience for us covering the games will soon be a thing of the past.