Opening night is 11 days away and there are many questions involving the Orioles’ roster.
The continued absence of Anthony Santander and Dwight Smith Jr. complicates the outfield situation. If the Orioles sign free-agent outfielder Yasiel Puig, that might fill a need.
Otherwise, Cedric Mullins, who’s on the 40-man roster, and Mason Williams, who’s not, might join Austin Hays and DJ Stewart for the July 24 opener at Boston’s Fenway Park.
Infielder Richie Martin’s broken right wrist eliminates him from competing for a utility role. Without Martin, it seems that Pat Valaika, who’s not on the 40-man roster, and Andrew Velázquez, who is, have an edge. Both have some experience playing the outfield.
“It opens opportunity for everybody,” manager Brandon Hyde said Sunday on a video conference call.
“We’re obviously going to look for versatility on our roster. Richie was somebody that can play multiple positions. We have other guys that can do that as well.”
On Sunday, the Orioles had a number of pitchers throw live batting practice to hitters in the portion of the workout that was open to reporters.
Among those who threw were Asher Wojciechowski, a candidate for the starting rotation.
Pitching coach Doug Brocail said that he has John Means, who will be the opening night starter in Boston, Alex Cobb and Wade LeBlanc slotted to throw the three exhibition games on July 19-21.
Other starting candidates are Wojciechowski, Tommy Milone, Kohl Stewart, Thomas Eshelman and Chandler Shepherd, who also threw on Sunday.
Stewart, who was signed as a free agent last December, was slowed in spring training by a sore right biceps. His performance in Saturday night’s intrasqaud game impressed Hyde.
“Kohl Stewart threw the ball really well, 94, 95 with a nice cutter,” Hyde said. “We haven’t seen much of him, so I think we’re going to continue to get a long look at him.”
Means, LeBlanc and Milone are left-handed. The rest of the candidates are right-handed.
Summer training judgments are new. After baseball was shut down on March 12 because of Covid-19, the Orioles resumed workouts July 3 and have to wait until July 19 until they play the first of three exhibition games. They’ll face the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
The Orioles play the Washington Nationals at Camden Yards on July 20 and play them at Nationals Park on July 21.
In a conventional spring training, Grapefruit League games begin about 10 days after pitchers and catchers report, and more than 30 games are played before Opening Day.
“I’d like to have had 10,” pitching coach Doug Brocail said. “I’d like to have more, but I’ll take the three. Three is better than none.”
Brocail and bullpen coach Darren Holmes monitored their pitchers’ work in the 3 ½ months baseball was on hold. Although he is happy with his staff’s work during that time, judgments will have to be made based on a few innings this month.
“I guess we’re going a little bit on what we saw in the spring,” Brocail said. Several times during spring training, Brocail said he thought his young pitchers were growing, and he’s been pleased with the first 10 days of workouts.
“You have to make sure that your baseball eyes aren’t lying to you,” he said. “It’s kind of cheating. We know our hitters inside out.”
Oriole pitchers do know their own hitters. Six days from now, they’ll get to face major league opponents for the first time since March 11.
“You don’t know the quality of the attack when these guys were at home for three months,” Brocail said. “They were facing high school kids or they faced junior college kids or they faced legitimate [hitters].”
One pitcher who won’t be making the Orioles is left-hander Ty Blach, a non-roster hopeful who was around for roster depth.
Blach suffered an elbow injury in Thursday night’s intrasquad game and is seeking a second opinion, Hyde said.
“We’ve lost one guy, and it’s a heartbreaker because he’s not 21,” Brocail said. “He’s . You’ve got to hope that there’s enough time left in that guy’s career to make a comeback.”
The Orioles have six more days of intrasquad games and workouts before the three exhibition games.
“It’s not the depth I’m worried about,” Brocail said. “It’s ‘can we get these guys enough innings so that we’re not killing the bullpen in the first two weeks of the season?’”
Hyde said that he’s not ready to set his rotation. Brocail likes having LeBlanc, Milone and Stewart.
“I’ve got LeBlanc and Milone, they’ve been there, they’ve done it,” he said. “Two very savvy guys, two guys that know how to pitch, two guys that know how to work their way through a lineup.
“Kohl Stewart, younger guy, probably a little more energetic, athletic. The worry with him is, ‘did he get enough?’ Did he get enough while we were gone in that three months to be able to build up to where we needed him to be with the two weeks that are left? It’s a question that will haunt us the rest of the year.
“We have enough in those five. If those five guys were to make it to get started with and hopefully finish all the way through our 60 games, and into the playoffs, if we’re blessed to make them. I think we’re fine.”