SARASOTA, Florida—In this rushed spring training, the Orioles have just a week to make decisions on their Opening Day roster. Between Wednesday’s game against Tampa Bay and the final Grapefruit League game on April 6th against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida, there are eight games.
The Orioles have 44 players in camp. Four of them — right-handed pitchers Rico Garcia and Isaac Mattson, infielder Shed Long and catcher Adley Rutschman — aren’t expected to begin the season with the Orioles.
Garcia had Tommy John surgery a year ago. Mattson has been held back by a sore shoulder. Long is rehabilitating from left leg surgery last fall. Rutschman strained a right triceps muscle.
Outfielder DJ Stewart has missed a week after he bruised the third finger of his left hand when he was hit by a pitch while swinging. If he doesn’t resume playing in the next few days, it’s unlikely he’ll be ready for the season opener on April 8th at Tampa Bay.
The Orioles must reduce the roster to 28 by noon April 7th for the opener. They’ll be able to carry two extra players until May 2nd, when rosters are scheduled to go back to 26.
“We’re down to battles now,” Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said in a video conference call on Monday. “Almost everyone up here has major league time under their belt.”
Rutschman, right-handed pitcher Félix Bautista, who missed several days because of a minor medical issue, and outfielder Kyle Stowers have yet to play in the majors.
Last season, the Orioles began the season with 14 pitchers because they carried two Rule 5 right-handers, Mac Sceroler, who was returned to Cincinnati in June, and Tyler Wells, who became a mainstay.
Manager Brandon Hyde has indicated that the Orioles are likely to use the extra roster spots for pitchers. After May 1st, they’ll be limited to 13 pitchers, so it’s fair to assume they’ll begin the season with 15 pitchers and 13 position players, though they could start with 16 pitchers and 12 position players and manipulate the roster when they must cut two players.
John Means and Jordan Lyles will be the top two starters. Because of the shortened spring training, Hyde has indicated that in a best-case scenario, starters will work no more than five innings.
The Orioles might use piggyback starters, two pitchers who could work three or four innings to begin the game, at least early in the season. Bruce Zimmermann who will start against the Rays on Wednesday, should begin the season with the Orioles.
Keegan Akin, Mike Baumann, Chris Ellis, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther and Wells are contenders to start. Ellis is on a minor league contract, and room must be made for him on the 40-man roster.
Left-handers Paul Fry, Cionel Pérez and Tanner Scott are likely to begin the season in the bullpen as are right-handers Jorge López, Cole Sulser and Dillon Tate.
López and Pérez, who has pitched four scoreless innings this spring, have no options remaining.
Also in camp are Bautista, right-handers Bryan Baker, Conner Greene, Joey Krehbiel, Travis Lakins and Spenser Watkins. Greene, Lakins and Watkins are on minor league contracts.
Without Rutschman, 37-year-old Robinson Chirinos will begin the season as the starting catcher. Anthony Bemboom, Jacob Nottingham and Beau Taylor, all on minor league contracts, are competing for the other catching spot.
Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle are set at first base and designated hitter.
When camp began, Rougned Odor, Ramón Urias and Kelvin Gutiérrez were the front-runners to play second base, shortstop and third base. Odor (1-for-11) and Gutiérrez (5-for-13) are being challenged by Jorge Mateo and non-roster infielders Richie Martin and Chris Owings. Tyler Nevin, who can play first and third base and the corner outfield positions, also remains on the roster.
Mateo and Owings have strong chances to break with the team because of their ability to play multiple infield positions and the outfield. Urías is 6-for-12 with three homers and four RBIs this spring.
Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander are set in the outfield. Ryan McKenna should start the season with the Orioles because of his ability to play each of the outfield positions and his speed.
Stowers, who is 2-for-19 (.105) with a home run and two RBIs in Grapefruit League play, is also in camp. A second-round pick in 2019, Stowers began last season at High-A Aberdeen, spent much of it at Double-A Bowie and ended the season with 22 games at Triple-A Norfolk with combined stats of 27 home runs, 85 RBIs, a .278 average and an .898 OPS.
“He’s in a battle,” Elias said. “Kyle didn’t play much in Triple-A last year and his performance there was solid, but it’s not something that can’t be built upon, and he knows that. There’s always a chance of him making the major league team, but he’s got work left to do at Triple-A, and it wouldn’t be unproductive for him to start the season there.
“Hyder is giving him a lot of at-bats, hitting him in the middle of the lineup, facing him against tough left-handed pitchers because we want to prepare him for the major leagues this year. Even if he’s not breaking with the Opening Day team, he’s part of the picture and planning, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB