Valdez, Oriole relievers take spotlight; Means struggles; Hays stays hot - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Spring Training

Valdez, Oriole relievers take spotlight; Means struggles; Hays stays hot

What’s happening? – César Valdez and his fellow relievers will share a bullpen game against the Tampa Bay Rays at 1:05 p.m. on Tuesday at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida. Valdez has thrown two scoreless innings in two spring games and hasn’t thrown in a Grapefruit League game since March 12th.

The Orioles must get down to 26 players before the April 1st opener, but there were no cuts on Monday.

Manager Brandon Hyde played his regulars with Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle in the first four spots of the batting order. He played Mullins, Mountcastle and Austin Hays in the outfield, using Santander as the designated hitter.

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“I flip-flopped Mancini and Santander today just to get a look,” Hyde said. “I’m trying to put the best four hitters in the top four spots.

“I’d like the leadoff guy to be an on-base guy and the 2-3-4 to be your best three hitters in no particular order. That’s going to be the matchup situation, but I’m comfortable will all three of those guys hitting somewhere in the middle.”

What happened? Starter John Means allowed three runs in 3 2/3 innings as the Orioles lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 6-5, in eight innings at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Florida on Monday.

Means, who was named the Orioles’ Opening Day starter, gave up three hits and walked three while striking out three. With one start to go before the April 1st opener against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, Means’ spring ERA is 5.87.

Manager Brandon Hyde lifted him after 82 pitches.

“I definitely got my pitches in,” Means said. “I just got into too many deep counts. I don’t if I was disappointed in that, but I was disappointed in myself for not attacking as much as I normally do. Three walks is most disappointing. That’s just not me.”

Means was trying to throw more breaking balls.

“I liked my curveball,” he said. “I liked the break. I thought I was stealing some strikes with it. I threw some better two-strike ones. It’s just execution right now.”

Means’ final spring start is scheduled for Saturday night against Atlanta in North Port.

“I feel like I’m ready to go,” Means said. “I feel like my body’s there. I feel like I’m recovering well. I feel pretty solid. Yeah, I’m ready to go.”

Hyde acknowledged Means wasn’t sharp.

“I thought he struggled with command a little bit early,” Hyde said. “Encouraged by him getting the curveball where he wanted to the last couple of innings. I thought he was behind hitters, and when he got deep into counts, there were a lot of foul balls that got his pitch count up pretty high. Just wasn’t as sharp the first few innings as he’d like to be. He battled, and he got his pitch count up to where he wanted it to get to, and we’ll take that as a positive.”

The Orioles are looking to Means to provide length.

“The way our rotation is right now, it would definitely be nice to rely on John to go deep into games for us,” Hyde said.

Austin Hays was 2-for-3. His spring average is .378 and his OPS is 1.047.

“My main goal, obviously in the past, I’ve had some issues with injuries,” Hays said. “To come in and have a healthy camp so far and just be able to show all my tools and all the things I can bring to the table, it’s been great for me to be able to do that, so far.”

Hays says the key to his strong numbers this spring is, “I’m doing a good job at controlling the zone. I’m keeping my aggressiveness at the plate, but I’m doing a better job at being aggressive with pitches that I can do damage with and hit balls hard, a lot less weak contact balls that are put in play.

“If I can just continue to do that, I can continue to have success.”

Hyde is impressed.

“When Austin Hays is healthy, he’s an exciting player,” Hyde said. “He’s shown signs of that the last two years. He’s swinging the bat great. He made one mistake in the outfield, but he’s been playing great defensively in right field and in center field and in left field, all three spots. He got a good jump, stole a base today, he’s making things happen. That’s the kind of player he can be.”

Shortstop Freddy Galvis was also 2-for-3 with two RBIs.

What’s up with? Yusniel Diaz, who has already been optioned to Triple-A Norfolk. Diaz, who replaced Hays in right field in the seventh inning, is batting .250 (6-for-24) this spring with a home run and five RBIs.

He’s a real talented kid, and he’s hungry for opportunity up here,” Orioles hitting coach Don Long said. “It’s one step at a time. He needs to play. Like a lot of these guys, they were hamstrung last year, not having the ability to play games [because of the pandemic]. He falls into that category. I think he needs to get out and play and improve. He’s going to have to play and earn the opportunity to move to the next level at some point.”

What’s the word? “To me, he looked the same. Physically, he looked strong, and swing-wise, he looked good. He’d been hitting some. I really didn’t see any difference. I think now, as we’ve played games, the biggest difference is he’s gotten more acclimated. He’s slowed himself down, which has allowed him to slow the game down.”-Long on Trey Mancini’s spring.

What’s what? It will be interesting to see which relievers follow Valdez in Tuesday’s game, and in what order. Now that Hyde is looking at a regular-season batting order, perhaps he’ll start looking at bullpen roles for the regular season as well.

What’s the number? 9. The Orioles made nine errors in four games in Bradenton this spring, losing three of four. They made five on Friday night, and two on Monday, one by Hays and another by catcher Pedro Severino, who made two on Friday night.

“I’d definitely like to get more consistent,” Hyde said. “No doubt about it. We’re playing fairly solid at times, but we need to get a lot better.”

What’s the record?  7-13-1. The Orioles play the Tampa Bay Rays at 1:05 p.m. The game will be televised on MASN and broadcast on 105.7 The Fan and the Orioles Radio Network.

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