In losing their first two games to the Detroit Tigers, a team that has the worst record in the American League, it’s clear that the Orioles badly miss first baseman Ryan Mountcastle and leftfielder Austin Hays.
The Orioles are an improved team this year, but they don’t have the depth to withstand the loss of two of their best players.
On Saturday, manager Brandon Hyde wrote a lineup card that included four players with averages under .200 — second baseman Rougned Odor (.189) batting fifth, first baseman Tyler Nevin (.182) batting sixth, catcher Anthony Bemboom (.133) batting eighth, and shortstop Chris Owings (.147) batting ninth.
Their cleanup hitter was third baseman Ramón Urias, batting .213.
Nevin and Trey Mancini will play first base in the absence of Mountcastle, who was placed on the 10-day injured list because of a left wrist injury. He hopes to return when he’s eligible late next week, but Mountcastle isn’t sure how the injury occurred and described it as extremely painful.
Hays, whose left hand was cut when St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Génesis Cabrera spiked him on Thursday, pinch-ran on Friday and hopes to return quickly.
Without Hays and Mountcastle, Mancini, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander are the only established hitters in the lineup. Hyde felt he needed to rest shortstop Jorge Mateo on Saturday, which weakened the lineup even more.
With Hays and Mountcastle, there are still holes in the order, but one soon should be patched when catcher Adley Rutschman is called up, perhaps as early as the next homestand.
Bemboom and Robinson Chirinos have provided a defensive upgrade from Pedro Severino and Austin Wynns, and the Orioles’ pitching has benefited. However, Bemboom and Chirinos, who’s hitting just .141, are a drag on the offense. Rutschman, who entering Saturday night’s game with Triple-A Norfolk had a lifetime .393 on-base percentage in the minor league, should help greatly.
Rutschman has another important asset. He’s a switch-hitter, and the Orioles have nine right-handed hitters, three left-handers (Bemboom, Mullins and Odor), and one switch-hitter (Santander). Another lefty in the order will help diversify it.
On Thursday, the Orioles needed an extra infielder with Urías temporarily out because of an abdominal strain, and they called up Rylan Bannon, who’s primarily a third baseman from Norfolk. Bannon has been in the organization since he was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the July 2018 trade for Manny Machado, but his minor league record hasn’t been outstanding.
He was hitting .235 for the Tides when he was called up. As Hyde pointed out on Thursday, the Orioles need to find out about the minor league position players who are on their 40-man roster.
That’s why they called up Nevin on April 29th. He’s looked raw and inexperienced when playing left and right field. With Mountcastle out, he’ll play more first and Ryan McKenna, who was called up again on Saturday, will play the outfield.
Nevin has some power, but Hyde needs to see if he can consistently hit major league pitching. He’s still searching for the right pieces at second and third.
Another player at Norfolk on the 40-man roster, second baseman Jahmai Jones, who played some with the Orioles late last season, was placed on the injured list because of right elbow inflammation on Friday. Jones is hitting just .212 but has a .339 on-base percentage.
Richie Martin, who joined the teams’ taxi squad in St. Louis but is back with Norfolk, entered Saturday night’s game with a .282 average but is no longer on the 40-man roster.
When the season began, the Orioles hoped that Odor, who once was a feared hitter but has regressed in recent seasons, could rebound. At 28, he’s shown few signs of a bounceback, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone pressing him.
Urías, who surprisingly had a 1.9 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) when he hit .279 with a .361 OBP in 85 games in 2021, has had a rough start offensively, but his ability to play second, shortstop and third base should allow him to stick around as a utilityman.
Mateo, who could have profiled as that utility player, has shown promise at shortstop. On Thursday, his speed and range at shortstop secured an Orioles win when he ran after Dylan Carlson’s pop to short center, caught it and threw to first to double up Tyler O’Neill, ending the game.
A year ago, Mateo played 32 games for the Orioles after he was acquired off waivers from San Diego and hit .280. He showed great speed then, too, but his season ended early because of a back injury. On Friday, Mateo played his 32nd game, and while his average is .243, he already has a 1.2 WAR, including a .7 on defense. His 10 steals in 11 attempts were tied for the major league led entering Saturday.
There are better offensive and defensive players on the 2022 roster than in recent years, just not enough. There are intriguing infield prospects at Double-A Bowie — Gunnar Henderson, Joey Ortiz and Jordan Westburg — but that appears to be a story for 2023.
The Orioles have improved, but they need more quality in addition to Rutschman. They also can’t afford to lose any of their top players because the drop-off is substantial.