Beginning his third season as Orioles manager, Brandon Hyde offered a first-day weather report from Sarasota, Florida. Wednesday’s initial workout for pitchers and catchers was held in 75-degree temperatures with a bit of mist, he said in a Zoom call.
In this unusual spring training, where initial workouts on the back fields of the Ed Smith Stadium are closed to fans and media, Hyde has to follow health-and-safety protocols as he did last summer because of Covid-19.
He’s eager to talk about the Orioles and whether the national media is correct in its assessment of the team. This week, FanGraphs calculated that the Orioles have a 0.0 percent chance to reach the postseason.
“It’s the least of my concerns,” Hyde said. “I’m not worried about an article. I’m worried about the guys in our room. I’m worried about getting better on a daily basis, and we’re controlling what we can control.”
In 2019, Hyde’s first season, the Orioles finished 54-108, a modest improvement from the season before when they lost a franchise-record 115 games. Last year, in the pandemic-shortened season, the Orioles were 25-35, tied for fifth-worst in baseball.
“I think the last two years, we’ve been projected to finish last, and I don’t think we’ve done it yet,” starting pitcher John Means said. “I think we’ve outplayed projections every year that I’ve been up here, and the plan here is to outplay the projections again. I think if we can consistently do that … we’re going to be pretty well off. I think we have a better chance than 0.0, for sure. We’re just going to try and play and try not to listen to the noise.”
In his third season, Means is the most experienced starter on the 40-man roster, and the staff leader.
“It’s crazy that I have two years of service time and I’m stepping into a leadership role,” Means said. “That’s the way this team works, and that’s the way it needs to be, and I’m excited to take that role on, especially with the starting rotation. That’s just so up in the air. There’s a lot of young kids competing. There’s some guys who’ve been around for a while. It’s more lead by example. I’ve been talking to quite a few guys here the first day or so, and I like that role.”
With the addition of Matt Harvey, whose minor league contract became official on Wednesday, Hyde has 37 pitchers from which to choose. He didn’t dismiss the possibility of a six-man rotation.
“I think anything’s possible this year when it comes to pitching,” Hyde said.
“I think you see teams really try to expand their camps and get as much depth as possible, especially on the mound,” Hyde said. “Get guys on the mound who can go multiple innings and have the potential to start because I don’t think anybody has a clue of what that’s going to look like.
“I don’t want to put a specific number on how many starters we need, but I think the depth is going to be [of] upmost importance this year, and I think you’re going to need guys to eat up innings. That factors into your bullpen decisions, also, guys being able to go multiple innings is going to be huge … it’s going to take a lot of pitchers who are going to be able to give you as many innings as possible.”
Harvey joins Felix Hernández and Wade LeBlanc as veterans in camp trying to make a starting rotation that has only Means as a certainty. Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, who started late last season, are likely to return to those roles, and Hyde is happy to have multiple choices.
Because the pandemic will require spring training to be more restrictive, Hyde realizes he needs to be creative to find innings.
The Orioles’ Grapefruit League schedule has been revised. Split-squad games have been eliminated, a second off-day added, and the first game won’t be until February 28th.
Hyde has called some opposing managers and discussed adding ‘B’ games with nearby teams. The Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays are less than an hour away from the Orioles’ spring home.
Last year’s 60-game schedule gives way to a conventional 162-game year, and Hyde knows he must be careful with his pitchers. Last season began with a 30-man roster, which was cut to 28 two weeks into the season. Now, it reverts to 26, and there’s no limit to the number of pitchers a team can carry.
“We’re in a unique situation with the season being so short last year,” Hyde said. “Guys are coming into this year, coming off an unusual year where they were ramped up for spring, shut down, ramped back up for summer camp and the season, lost a lot of innings from a lot of guys … but I do feel like we are prepared for this year. But it’s definitely a concern.
“It’s definitely something we’re going to monitor closely, our pitchers’ innings, how they’re feeling on a daily basis. We’re having a shortened roster, also. That’s definitely a factor, but I think that’s a reasonable concern to have in coming off a year that was unusual, and we’ll see how they’re going to react this year, especially later in the year.”
Last year, spring training ended abruptly on March 12th, and summer camp didn’t begin until early July.
“It’s just weird because last time we were here, everyone was scattering for Covid,” Means said. “It’s a little different than it usually is. The food is all boxed up, the weight room, you can only have a certain amount of people in there. Just all the protocols. It’s nice getting down here. I think it was minus 10 where I was at in Kansas City when I left. This 75 and sunny is kind of nice.”