For Mancini and the Orioles, a more normal Opening Day - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

For Mancini and the Orioles, a more normal Opening Day

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

BOSTON– Baseball is back, and so is Trey Mancini. The Orioles’ world feels closer to normal. Opening Day is here.

They won’t be running down the Orange Carpet. That will wait a week, and six games into a season somehow doesn’t feel like a true opener.

Instead of playing 60 games in empty ballparks, the Orioles are scheduled to play a 162-game season in front of at least some fans. The Red Sox are allowing 12 percent capacity, about 5,000 fans, but it will be nice for the Orioles, who played in stadiums that were about 25 percent full in Florida.

Next week, Oriole Park will have about 11,000 fans—25 percent capacity, for the April 8th opener.

On Thursday, John Means will start against Nathan Eovaldi at 2:10 p.m. Although the official 26-man roster won’t be set until later in the morning, there will be two Rule 5 draft choices, right-handed pitchers Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells, wearing major league uniforms for the first time.

Half of the projected 26 will be experiencing their first Opening Day with the team. That includes outfielder/first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, infielder Ramón Urias, and pitchers Dean Kremer, Jorge López, Dillon Tate, César Valdez and Bruce Zimmermann, who played for the team in 2020.

Four are new to the organization — right-handers Matt Harvey, who will start Saturday’s second game, Adam Plutko, who was acquired from Cleveland last Saturday, and shortstop Freddy Galvis and third baseman Maikel Franco.

The focus Thursday will be on Mancini, 29, who’s the senior player on the roster with Chris Davis on the 60-day injured list because of a back injury.

Mancini will play in his fourth opener, and his most special one after missing last season because of colon cancer surgery.

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His comeback story is a wonderful one, and even hardened Fenway fans will cheer him, but it won’t be the same as the heartfelt ovation he’ll receive a week from now.

Mancini, who hit 35 home runs in 2019, is part of what manager Brandon Hyde hopes will be a potent offense. Anthony Santander, the team’s Most Valuable Oriole of 2020, Austin Hays, who had an exceptional spring, Mountcastle, who has impressive power, and Cedric Mullins, who has become a full-time left-handed hitter, could present problems for opponents.

“I think we have the chance to score a lot of runs,” Hyde said. “We have a lot of upside offensively. We have a lot of young hitters that I think are going to come into their own. You started seeing that last year, and I think we’re going to improve on that.”

Four of the 10 who started the delayed July 24 opener at Fenway in 2020 are gone — second baseman Hanser Alberto, shortstop José Igleias, pitcher Tommy Milone and designated hitter Renato Núñez. Two others, Davis and outfielder DJ Stewart, will begin the season on the injured list. Stewart has a hamstring injury.

Hays, Santander, catcher Pedro Severino and third baseman Rio Ruiz are back, but since Hyde hasn’t revealed his lineup, we don’t know if all four will start.

It’s the third year for Hyde and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias. They inherited a club that went 47-115 in 2018, the worst record in club history.

In last year’s pandemic-shortened 60-game season, the Orioles went 25-35, tied for the fifth-worst record in baseball. They are still rebuilding their talent base, with their starting outfield best reflecting their goals. The starting rotation is a work in progress.

Means appears to be the most reliable. Harvey is the most accomplished, though his best year came in 2015. Zimmermann, López and Kremer, who will be the other starters to begin the season, are trying to show they belong in the rotation.

Zimmermann and Kremer have a combined six major league starts. López has started 33 times with Kansas City, Milwaukee and the Orioles but has an ERA of 6.03.

With a full season after a truncated one that didn’t include a minor league season, Hyde knows he’ll need a number of starters.

“We brought in as many starters as we possibly could just because we know that this season is going to be different,” Hyde said. “We’re going to need innings, and we’re going to need a lot of different guys to pitch for us.”

Mancini is the feel-good story, but there are others worth watching. There’s Valdez, who will be starting the season in the majors for the first time—at age 36. There’s Hays, who appears as if he’s ready to have a breakout season if he can stay healthy. There’s the rotation of the four outfielders — Hays, Santander, Mullins and Mountcastle, who’s also likely to see time at first — and Hyde’s plan for designated hitter.

Then there are prospects. When will outfielder Yusniel Diaz, and pitchers Mike Baumann, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells join the Orioles? Will Elias decide at some point this season that Adley Rutschman is ready for major league catching?

Even though players are being vaccinated, health and safety protocols remain.

“There’s not going to be as many fans at the start,” Hyde said. “We still wear masks in the clubhouse, and we still follow the protocols and the guidelines closely, so it’s not all the way the same there, but baseball’s the same. It’s starting to feel more normal. I think the fans in the ballpark in spring training was a big help into getting back into that sort of feeling, and we’re looking forward to this year, with fans being there and, hopefully, more and more as the summer goes along.”

Last year, Hyde was asked about the unique nature of the season.

“It’s still not quite the same this year, but it’s getting closer,” Hyde said. “That’s a really good feeling.”

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Orial

    April 1, 2021 at 8:41 am

    Well with limited optimism we engulf on another season. My tenure as an O’s fan goes back to 1966 when I moved to Baltimore(good timing huh?) Rich your recap of the pitching staff failed to mention 2 young names–Rodriguez/Hill. Their absence accentuates how far we really are from being fully competitive. Wondering how different this team will look come Sept 1st as it does today Apr 1st? Good luck to all who participate or follow this organization. What I’m sure will make up for subpar play will be the qualuty/intriguing insight that us “know-it-alls”will put forth. Off we go.

  2. Bhoffman1

    April 1, 2021 at 8:56 am

    If all those prospects are on this team by Summer in my dreams next year this team could be the Houston Astro’s or even Tampa Rays . Isn’t that Mikes plan

  3. BrooksPJs

    April 1, 2021 at 9:11 am

    Great article Rich, I feel ready for opening day now! Hopefully the weather will cooperate.

  4. CalsPals

    April 1, 2021 at 9:46 am

    O’s will only be 1/2 game outta first tomorrow…yahoo….go O’s…

  5. Hallbe62

    April 1, 2021 at 10:02 am

    Rainout !

  6. PC in OC

    April 1, 2021 at 10:27 am

    So now it’s time, “to take us out, to the ball game” Ok, You Birds, It’s time to Fly. let’s prove, a lot of these critic’s wrong. To all of you, who made the team. All it takes, is all you got. Good Luck. GO ORIOLES!!

  7. Boog Robinson Robinson

    April 1, 2021 at 10:38 am

    The biggest question mark regarding this team this really falls in the lap of Mike Elias. Do we want to win?

    I’m relatively certain the players do. But does management really want to win some games in 2021?

    • BrooksPJs

      April 1, 2021 at 10:57 am

      BRR same questions here, not sure the front office really wants to maximize the number of wins in 2021…

    • CalsPals

      April 1, 2021 at 11:21 am

      They want the top pick again…go O’s…

  8. B.C. Bird

    April 1, 2021 at 12:06 pm

    Rich could you do all of us a huge favor, I would love to know how much authority Hyde has as the manager. If Elias is really driving the bus why all the cloak and dagger about who is going to play and why. I am so tired with Hyde saying all the right things when in fact he may not believe them himself. I am trying to like the guy but really some of the lineups spell doom even before we get going
    just wondering
    Keep the faith

    • Icterus fan

      April 1, 2021 at 2:49 pm

      I agree that all the collegial, empowering double speak from management is largely meaningless.
      Deciphering the messages and trying to translate the talking points is an art in itself.
      It’s nothing new – do you actually expect to hear the unvarnished truth from owners, CEO’s, police chiefs, politicians etc in this day and age of coddling and inoffensive rhetoric? No way.
      As to who has what extent of authority in the Elias/Hyde relationship, who really knows.

    • CalsPals

      April 1, 2021 at 3:52 pm

      If they’re smart, their wives, nobody happy if momma ain’t happy…LOL…go O’s…

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