Orioles' utility competition; Another so-so start for Hernández; Remembering March 12, 2020 - BaltimoreBaseball.com

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Orioles’ utility competition; Another so-so start for Hernández; Remembering March 12, 2020

Felix Hernandez
Photo credit: Kim Klement - USA Today Sports

What’s happening? – John Means will make his third start for the Orioles when they play the Philadelphia Phillies at 1:05 p.m. on Friday at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida.

Means, who allowed five runs on five hits in 3 2/3 innings, will be opposed by Philadelphia’s Zach Wheeler. He has walked one and hasn’t struck out a batter.

One of the interesting roster questions to be answered between now and the April 1st opener at Fenway Park is if the team will carry one or two utility players.

Manager Brandon Hyde knows the qualifications he’s seeking.

“You definitely would like them to play shortstop,” Hyde said. “A true utility player is able to spell your shortstop, able to spell your second baseman, third baseman, possibly a corner outfield if need be.

“The more guys you have like that, the better. With the grind of a six-month season, and the ability to try to give guys days off, you’d like to have as many guys as you can play multiple spots. You definitely need a backup shortstop, and if it’s a true utility guy, that’s a bonus.”

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Pat Valaika can play each of the infield positions and left and right field. So can Stevie Wilkerson, but he’s not on the 40-man roster. Wilkerson also had experience in center field in 2019. Ramón Urías has played second, short and third.

Jahmai Jones plays second and the corner outfield positions and looks as if he’ll have a hard time making the team. Jones was the designated hitter on Thursday and was hitless in two at-bats. He’s batting .143 (2-for-14) in eight games.

“I’m putting together good [at-bats],” Jones said. “I’m swinging at strikes and trying to not do too much with them right now. From an outside perspective, they’ll look at the numbers, but I don’t think the numbers reflect how I’m playing in camp.

“Just trying to get more consistent as camp goes on from a defensive place. I feel like I’m playing good defense.”

What happened? Félix Hernández allowed four runs, three earned, in 2 2/3 innings as the Orioles lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 7-5, on Thursday at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Florida.  Hernández struck out one and walked none in his second start.

“It was better,” Hernández said. “I was throwing a lot of strikes. I was attacking the zone, and I feel really good. The results are not what I want, but it feels good.”

Hernandez said he relied on his curveball, sinker and slider, and threw three or four changeups.

“They’re reacting a little bit different,” Hernández said of the hitters. “I’ve been getting a lot of ground balls with my sinker, but they’re waiting on my curveball and change.”

Hernández’s velocity again topped out at 87 mph, and his fastball was in the mid-80s.

“That’s the kind of pitcher that I am,” Hernández said. “I don’t care about velocity. I just want to get people out.”

Hyde doesn’t appear concerned about Hernández’s outings.

“I think he’s going to get sharper as he goes along this month,” Hyde said. “I thought he competed and felt good at the end of the outing, and that’s all we care about right now.”

Experienced pitchers handle spring training differently.

“A lot of times these guys know how to get ready for the season,” Hyde said. “Young guys are trying to make a club. They’re trying to impress early. I think veteran guys, sometimes it takes them a little longer. You have to hang with them in spring training if you’re not getting the results early on.

“They know the grind of a six-month season. They know how to get ready. We’re doing that with Félix, knowing that we have 2 1/2 weeks to go. He’s got a couple of more starts. Guys who’ve been around know how to get ready.”

Jorge López pitched three innings, allowing a run on a hit, walking two and striking out three.

“I thought there were times when he was lights out, and then he kind of lost it for a couple of hitters,” Hyde said. “I really like his stuff. He’s really tough to hit, so he’s just continuing to fine-tune his pitches and working on his command.”

The Orioles scored four runs in the third inning. Ryan Mountcastle had a two-run double. Yolmer Sánchez had two hits. Evan Phillips allowed two runs on three hits in the seventh inning.

What’s up with? Austin Wynns was taken off the 40-man roster in December, but he’s in camp on a minor league contract.

The 30-year-old catcher played 70 games for the Orioles in 2018 and 2019 but probably will begin the season at Triple-A Norfolk as insurance behind Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco.

“I’m very comfortable with Austin,” Hyde said. “I think Austin does a great job when it comes to the pitcher/catcher relationship. Pitchers really like to throw to him. He manages the game behind the plate very, very well, and I’ve been impressed with his at-bats.

“He gives you a good at-bat. A couple of years ago when he was with us part time, I thought the at-bats he took were competitive. It’s not easy to do, to have sporadic playing time and to go back behind the plate, and not have an at-bat for a few days and go out and take a good at-bat, and Austin did that. I have the confidence that he’d be able to do that again.” 

What’s what? March 12, 2020 was an extraordinarily strange day. The Orioles were scheduled for a night game against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Florida, but moments after the team buses left, they turned back to Sarasota.

At about 3 p.m, Major League Baseball announced spring training had ended and the first two weeks of the regular season were canceled because of the pandemic.

Two hours later, the Orioles announced that Trey Mancini had undergone colon cancer surgery.

We didn’t know that a year later, we’d still be wearing masks and waiting for normalcy to return. I can’t wait.

What’s the word? “It was a weird time of confusion. It started progressively, ‘maybe don’t sign some autographs for the fans. We want to try to stay away from any possibility of anybody getting sick.’ It turned into, ‘OK, don’t come into the facility. Maybe in the next couple of days we can get back to it and start rolling,’ and then it was, ‘you guys are getting sent home because this thing is serious. We need some time to figure out what’s going on in the future.’”-Ryan McKenna on what he remembers from the 2020 shutdown.

What’s the number? .381. That’s Cedric Mullins’ batting average in Grapefruit League games. After abandoning switch-hitting and batting only from the left side, Mullins is 8-for-21. He led off the game with a double and scored.

“He’s squaring up two or three balls a game right now,” Hyde said. “I really like the low liners that he’s hit.”

What’s the record? 3-7-1. The Orioles play the Phillies at 1:05 pm on Friday.

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