Eight days from now, the Orioles’ 60-game 2020 season begins in Boston against the Red Sox. It means that time is running short for trimming the roster to 30.
There are 42 players in summer training. On Wednesday morning, pitchers Eric Hanhold and Branden Kline were reassigned from Camden Yards to the altenate site in Bowie.
One of the expected 12 cuts to be made appears to be promising infielder/outfielder Ryan Mountcastle. The Orioles have said he won’t open the season with them because they want him to get more work in left field, but it’s expected that he will join the team later in the summer.
Manager Brandon Hyde must decide home many pitchers he will carry. If the team uses 15 pitchers to begin the season, that means 15 position players. Outfielder Dwight Smith Jr., who hasn’t participated since workouts began on July 3, might not have enough time to be ready for the July 24th opener.
“For the most part, we’ve stayed fairly healthy,” Hyde said in a video conference call on Wednesday.
“I think everybody around the league [is] really nervous about these last eight, nine days. We’re a couple of weeks in. This is the time in spring training where guys can get fatigued a little bit and worried about getting to the finish line with everybody healthy. That’s my main concern, having everybody healthy and ready to go on the 24th.”
The Orioles have 22 pitchers, four catchers and 16 infielders and outfielders—including Smith and Anthony Santander, who just completed his second day of workouts after testing positive for Covid-19. Santander did some baserunning wearing a mask.
On Tuesday, the Orioles removed infielder Richie Martin from the camp roster ahead of his scheduled surgery for a broken wrist. Martin and left-handed pitcher Ty Blach, who injured his elbow and will need Tommy John surgery, are the only players to suffer long-term injuries.
Pitcher Dillon Tate is not available after he was hit in the right forearm by a batted ball in last Friday’s intrasquad game.
After selecting the contracts of left-handers Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone on Wednesday night, the Orioles have 39 players on the 40-man roster.
If the Orioles decide to add utilityman Pat Valaika to the roster, that could fill the 40th spot. Vaiaika, Andrew Velázquez and Stevie Wilkerson are among those contending for utility roles. Wilkerson is also not on the 40-man roster.
“Those three guys play so many positions that it’s nice for us,” Hyde said. “We’re going to need that in this type of year, for sure, any year. This is a unique one. I’ve actually put Stevie at shortstop a couple of times to see what that looks like. He’s taken some ground balls over there.
“Vailaka’s played some corner outfielder in Colorado and he’s taken some reps out there during live batting practice. Val’s able to play multiple positions. Drew Velazquez is real comfortable at short and in center. He can play second easily.
“That’s huge for us to be able to play in the middle of the field., Stevie also. It’s a nice competition between guys that can play multiple positions. All three of those guys are playing well right now. As many guys that can play many positions is better for us.”
Another non-roster player in the utility mix is Dilson Herrera, who homered against Hunter Harvey in Tuesday night’s intrasqaud game.
Valaika hopes his versality is a separator.
“I think it’s a big part,” he said. “I take pride in being to get plugged in to multiple spots. My objective is just to try to find a way on to the field somehow, a way into the lineup. If that’s in the infield, if it’s in the outfield, DH, I’m just trying to make an impact in that lineup.”
Should the Orioles opt to add outfielder Mason Williams as well as one of the non-roster utility players, they’d have to remove a player from the 40-man roster.
Valaika isn’t handicapping his chances.
“We have a lot of good players on this squad,” Valaika said. “Competition is good. It pushes you to be better every single day. I welcome competition because it motivates me.”
On Wednesday, the Orioles had a light workout, and they’ll have intrasquad games Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights before beginning their three-game exhibition schedule in Philadelphia on Sunday night.
“I think we’ve done a good job up to this point,” Hyde said. “But we still have such a long way to go to keep everybody on the field, to keep the pitchers to build, to stretch out starters. I think anything can happen in this next week. I’m trying my best, and the coaching staff is trying their best to keep guys ready and also to hopefully break this camp healthy.”
Scheduling change: The Orioles will begin all Monday-Saturday games at 7:35 p.m. this year. Sunday games will still begin at 1:05 p.m. Television ratings are higher for games that begin at 7:35 p.m.
This season, the Orioles were going to experiment with weekday start times at 6:35 p.m. for Monday-Thursday games before Memorial Day and after Labor Day.
Live crowds are larger for games that begin at 7:05 p.m., but that’s not a factor this season.