Summer training is over, and Opening Day is just a day away. Here are some things I’ve seen and wondered about in the 22 days since players reported.
The health rules are being followed: Every Oriole player who’s been asked seems to be serious about adhering to the health protocols.
The Orioles have had two positive tests for the coronavirus, outfielders Anthony Santander and Dwight Smith Jr.
Santander played the entire game on Tuesday night, and his bat looks quick.
Smith didn’t play in any of the three exhibition games, and he’s questionable to begin the season since he’s on the injured list.
Players have been avoiding handshakes, hugs and high-fives, but those are hard habits to break.
The dugouts and bullpens aren’t crowded, and overflow players can sit in the stands.
Injuries might be more prevalent: Although players were followed by their coaches during the 3 ½ months off because of Covid-19, they couldn’t replicate the action of a major league game.
Players are creatures of habit, but that hasn’t been possible this year. It shouldn’t be surprising that the Orioles have a number of injuries — pitchers John Means, arm fatigue; Hunter Harvey, elbow; Dillon Tate, elbow; and Ty Blach, elbow and Tommy John surgery; Utility man Stevie Wilkerson, broken finger; and infielder Richie Martin, broken wrist.
In any season, at any time, there are always players on the injured list, and with an abnormal schedule, large numbers of injuries are likely.
That’s one of the reasons that Major League Baseball is using a 30-man roster for the first two weeks, and a 28-man one for the next two.
A three-man taxi squad for road games is being implemented, and that’s because MLB doesn’t want players using commercial air travel except when it can’t be avoided.
Injuries this year will be a big deal. If they’re not minor, they’re major. A four-week injury is nearly half the season.
In a normal year, Martin could play a few months, but in a shortened season, he probably won’t play at all.
Manager Brandon Hyde didn’t put a timetable on Wilkerson’s injury, but he could be lost the season, too.
Harvey’s injury is also a concern because of all the arm troubles he’s had in the past.
Who will be the breakout Orioles? Last season, when the team lost 108 games, they could point to strong performances from Harvey, Means, Santander and Hanser Alberto.
It’s important that the team find a few players they can take a closer look at in a presumably conventional 2021 season.
Harvey and Means are both questionable to begin the season, though Hyde said that Means could start the fourth or fifth game of the season.
It’s an important year for former high draft choices DJ Stewart and Chance Sisco, both of whom will begin the season with the Orioles for the first time.
Neither has had great numbers in limited big league time, so they’re going to need to make the most of whatever opportunity they receive this season.
Perhaps when Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Ryan Mountcastle get their chance in the coming weeks, they can join the list of breakout guys.
Is there any area that might be improved? The Orioles’ bullpen should be better, especially if Harvey doesn’t miss much time and can replicate what he did last year. He would join Shawn Armstrong, Richard Bleier, Miguel Castro, Paul Fry and Mychal Givens.
Travis Lakins, who was with the Red Sox last year, and Cole Sulser, who spent time with the Rays, give the Orioles more depth.
Cody Carroll, who missed nearly all last season because of a back injury, and Tanner Scott, who has outstanding stuff, could provide more support.
What I’ll miss in 2020: I attended all three Oriole exhibition games, and I quickly adjusted to not having fans. Yes, fans are an integral part of the game, but I’m primarily there to watch the action on the field.
There will still be great catches, long home runs and gutty pitching performances, and I’ll miss the crowd reaction.
I’ll miss some little things. At least at the start of the season, scouts aren’t being allowed in. I think that’s a shame because their eyes and experience are vital in gauging players and teams. I also enjoy seeing them and getting their impressions.
I miss having the official scorers on hand. They’ll watch on television, and that, too, is a mistake.
On Tuesday night, when rain approached Nationals Park, I didn’t see the fans scurry for cover or open their umbrellas. That was something I didn’t think about until then, and I’m sure there will be countless other things I’ll miss in 2020 as we go along.
Our coverage plan: As I wrote a few weeks ago, we’ll cover fewer games in 2020 than we have in the past.
But things have changed since then.
We’ll cover all 30 Oriole home games, and whatever road games are safe to attend.
The hope was to cover the opening series in Boston, but Massachusetts has a 14-day quarantine for all visitors coming from states outside of New England, except for New York and New Jersey, so not trips to Fenway in 2020.
On Tuesday, New York added Maryland to its long list of states requiring 14-day self-quarantining. Unless that changes between now and early September, that eliminates covering the six-game trip against the Mets and Yankees.
For the moment, we’re planning coverage of the three-game series in Washington and Philadelphia next month.
It will be interesting to see where the Blue Jays play their home games. If they end up playing the seven home games with the Orioles in Baltimore, that means more away games.