Orioles start spring games; LeBlanc's glad to be back: Stewart competes for spot - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Spring Training

Orioles start spring games; LeBlanc’s glad to be back: Stewart competes for spot

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

What’s happening? –Thomas Eshelman will get the ball first in Sunday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates and be followed by Fernando Abad, Eric Hanhold, Josh Rogers, Isaac Mattson, Marcos Diplán and Conner Greene. The game will start at 1:05 p.m. at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida.

Trey Mancini, who missed the 60-game 2020 season because of colon cancer surgery, will start at first base. Manager Brandon Hyde said Mancini will play first or be used as the designated hitter. He won’t play the outfield, at least not in the early part of games.

Hyde said potential starters will pitch in the same game as he figures out the rotation. The Orioles and Pirates will play nine innings on Sunday, but Hyde said that if another team has fewer pitchers available, games might be shorter.

“We’ll throw some innings on the backfield to make them up that way,” he said.

What happened? Left-hander Wade LeBlanc, who came into camp with a minor league contract last year, is back in 2021.

LeBlanc, who was 1-0 with an 8.06 ERA, came out of a game on August 23rd because of an elbow injury and never returned.

“Not a whole lot other than just a disaster,” LeBlanc said. “From the Covid stuff to the injury. It wasn’t what I envisioned in any way, really. To be able to have an organization like this give you another chance to make good on the contract is a blessing for me, and I’m not going to waste it.”

Veterans Matt Harvey, Félix Hernández and LeBlanc are competing for a starting spot.

DJ Stewart has lost 10 or 12 pounds, depending on the day, as he tries to earn an outfield spot. Stewart had an exciting week last September. After starting the season hitless in his first 17 at-bats, Stewart homered in three straight at-bats and hit six home runs in six games. However, he finished the year in a 4-for-39 (.105) skid.


“Dropped some weight, try to make a little bit of swing adjustments and using the whole field,” Stewart said of his offseason work.

A place on the team isn’t guaranteed, with Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays and Cedic Mullins expected to make up the outfield rotation, and Yusniel Diaz waiting in the wings.

“It’s not different than any other spring training,” Stewart said. “We’ve had the same guys. We have other guys that have come into this organization. I can’t control what they do. I can only control myself. I don’t look at it any differently.”

What’s up with? Nick Ciuffo is a catcher in camp on a minor league contract. Ciuffo, whose name is pronounced Shoo-fo, goes by Shoe.

He has 19 games of major league experience with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018 and 2019. Ciuffo was the Rays’ No. 1 draft pick in 2013.

Ciuffo joins Taylor Davis and Austin Wynns as non-roster catchers with major league experience.

Hyde, a former catcher, pays careful attention to catchers in camp, and this is his first impression of Ciuffo, the son of Tony Ciuffo, a former sportscaster in South Carolina who was also the longtime sports information director at The College of Charleston.

“Really good defender, former high pick that’s been in Tampa’s system,” Hyde said. “A veteran guy who’s caught a lot of games and been around a little bit. Left-handed bat that’s always a plus, so I’m reserving my opinion for later on. Looks good in defensive drills and throws well. Seems like a really good communicator with our pitchers. Seems like he’s going to be valuable in camp.” 

What’s what? LeBlanc lauded the Orioles for checking on him during the rehab process and helping him raise money for hurricane relief in Louisiana last fall.

“The way that they saw me through the process of the injury, the way that they helped me with the hurricanes back home,” he said. “They did everything in their power to help us raise money, raise awareness for the situation back home. There’s just so much they went above and beyond with. It made a huge impact on the way that I viewed this organization.”

What’s the word? “It’s a positive atmosphere from the top down. The front office is providing everything players need to be successful at this level. Everybody feels like we’re pulling on the same side of the rope, which is great. That’s not something that happens on every squad.” LeBlanc on the Orioles’ clubhouse.

What’s the number? .193, .355, .809. Stewart’s batting average, on-base percentage and OPS. He walked 20 times and struck out 38 in 31 games.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB




  1. CalsPals

    February 28, 2021 at 7:29 am

    Hopefully Hyde pays attention to ALL the catchers in camp…go O’s…

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      February 28, 2021 at 9:13 am

      There can be only one.

    • BarstoolSleeper

      February 28, 2021 at 10:18 am

      You two guys better mentally prepare for Adley to start in the minors. There’s NO chance he breaks spring training with the team.

      • Bancells Moustache

        February 28, 2021 at 10:53 am

        I don’t know that you see Adley at all, and for quite some time. If he doesn’t reach the big league club in ‘21 you may not see him in ‘22 since you won’t see anyone in ‘22. The work stoppage/lockout/strike/whatever you want to call it is coming.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        February 28, 2021 at 12:12 pm

        No doubt he’s not breaking camp. My hopes aren’t up in that regard.

        I may not speak for CalsPals…and although I believe they should bring up Rutchsman sooner rather than later … I was referring to Sisco for this year.

    • CalsPals

      February 28, 2021 at 1:27 pm

      Totally agree with Boog, seriously, Severino batting 4th…here we go again…go O’s…

  2. Bman

    February 28, 2021 at 9:52 am

    I hope they give Stewart a fair shake. Yes, there’s lots of outfielders in camp but he is a former first rounder who did show flashes of his potential last year. I hope they carry Hays, Santander, Mountcastle, Mullins, and Stewart. Add some at bats with DH. Maybe mountcastle at 1B too. Diaz will probably force a trade of one of them by July maybe.

  3. Bancells Moustache

    February 28, 2021 at 9:59 am

    They’re broke. Something is seriously wrong in Birdland. The team cannot televise a single Grapefruit League game and is broadcasting less than half on the radio? That’s ominous.

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 28, 2021 at 10:08 am

      Steve, I think they will be televising a few games later in spring training. They’ve never broadcast more than 12 games, though in the past two years, they streamed most others.

      Since I’m home this spring, I’d like to see more telecasts and hear more broadcasts, too. 105.7 has a conflict with Maryland’s game against Michigan State today.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        February 28, 2021 at 12:17 pm

        MLB.TV has them listed for 12 games in Florida…with the 1st being tomorrow. Of course to see those, you have to be out of market. 🙂

        • Bancells Moustache

          February 28, 2021 at 12:41 pm

          Exactly. Major League Baseballs complete business ineptitude never ceases to amaze me.

    • Birdman

      February 28, 2021 at 2:25 pm

      If the lack of of televised spring training games was just an isolated situation, maybe it wouldn’t be so much cause for concern. But its not an isolated event, its part of a pattern of actions by ownership over the past few years which suggest that the franchise is not financially stable.

      • Bancells Moustache

        February 28, 2021 at 2:55 pm

        It’s a rainy cold Sunday afternoon in Maryland, your paying customers haven’t had access to your product and your most popular player is stepping to the plate in a powerful moment, having faced down cancer, on a bright sunny day in Florida.

        And no one will see it.

        That is a monumental failure. Everyone involved with the Baltimore Orioles, from ownership on down should be fired tonight. What an unbelievable pile of dung this organization is.

    • CalsPals

      February 28, 2021 at 3:16 pm

      BC, totally agree w/you, some things they’ve done have been questionable…this isn’t even close…our apologies Trey…go O’s…

  4. Camden82

    February 28, 2021 at 11:04 am

    Doubt Stewart or LeBlanc make the squad.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      February 28, 2021 at 12:19 pm

      Stewart probably not … LeBlanc?

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