SARASOTA—Jorge Mateo won’t be at shortstop for the Orioles’ Grapefruit League opener against Minnesota on Saturday. Mateo, like a number of other Oriole regulars, will get to watch the first game with new rules.
One of those rules is the ban of the shift. Mateo will no longer be positioned on the right side of second base. Two infielders must be on each side of the bag, and on the infield dirt. It should further highlight Mateo’s speed and mobility.
His speed also should be even more evident on offense, where he should be able to take advantage of the rule limiting unsuccessful pickoff attempts to two. His stolen base totals could soar.
“I think so. They make them for me,” he said, laughing about the new rules. “That’s really good. That’s going to help a lot of people in the game. That’s something that can help.”
He said it hasn’t been difficult practicing without the shift.
“I’m not going to be close to [anybody]. Every ball I have to go get,” Mateo said. “That’s going to give me the opportunity to be better every day in the field.”
Mateo is eager get more opportunities to steal bases but acknowledges that technique still will be important.
“You have to be ready and get a good lead because if you start going, going, going [the pitcher] will pick you off,” Mateo said. “You’re going be in trouble now.”
In 2022, Mateo had 35 steals to lead the American League, and is looking for more in 2023.
“Everybody says 50, but watch out, you never know. Maybe more,” Mateo said.
Centerfielder Cedric Mullins was second with 34.
“Cedric is going to do his thing, too. We’re going to have races every day,” Mateo said. “Everyone’s going to get better.”
Last year, Mateo hit .221, had only 27 walks and struck out 147 times. His on-base percentage was just .267. One way he can improve is by working on his bunting. Last season, Mateo tried to bunt for a hit seven times and was successful only once.
“That’s one thing I’m going to start doing in the game,” Mateo said. “Bunting, be ready for it and try to take advantage of it.”
Mateo played excellent defense at shortstop last year but was overlooked as a finalist for the Gold Glove. He claimed not to be disappointed.
“Not really. Because that’s something I can’t control,” Mateo said. “That’s something I can’t do anything about, come in strong this year, do my thing, so the best I can and try to win it. That’s the goal.”
Mateo has brought his parents to Sarasota this weekend to watch spring training for the first time.
“I feel really happy about it,” Mateo said. “It’s something I wanted to do it before. Now I have the chance to do it. I feel really good about it.”
Mazara looking for his shot: Nomar Mazara, who signed with the Orioles as a minor league free agent in December, is batting sixth and playing left field against Minnesota.
Mazara, who’s a 27-year-old left-handed hitter, had an excellent start to his major league career, averaging 20 home runs and 77 RBIs in his first four seasons with the Texas Rangers.
In the last three seasons, he has played for the White Sox, Tigers and Padres and hasn’t come close to duplicating his early success. He’s hoping that another change of scenery will be beneficial.
“For sure. This is baseball. Everybody can have a bad year,” Mazara said. “As a human being, I can look back. There was probably a year-and-a half that wasn’t great and fixed stuff that needs to be fixed. Looking back at last year, I felt really, really good.”
In 2022, Mazara hit .264 with two home runs and 18 RBIs for the Padres.
“All the work that I put in last offseason is paying off,” Mazara said. “Keep grinding, keep working hard. I still got a lot in the tank. We as a player want to keep getting better and try to find stuff that’s going to make you more consistent. I found that consistency last year. Moving on to this year, I’m going to try to do that, too.”
Manager Brandon Hyde said that having Mazara gives him another player with a major league background.
“You want to have depth, and definitely a major league option that just makes our camp deeper, our spring training roster deeper from the ability to play the outfield, left-handed bat,” Hyde said.
“You saw how many left-handed bats they signed this offseason, and he’s one of those. We’re looking for bench pieces or platoon pieces and going to give him an opportunity to see what he can do this spring.”
Mazara has more major league experience than Franchy Cordero, Lewin Díaz, Josh Lester and Ryan O’Hearn, the other left-handed hitters signed to minor league contracts.
“I’m here to help them any way I can,” Mazara said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s DHing, or they want to put me where they want to put me. It’s going to be up to them. That’s why signed me.
“They think they’re going to need my bat at some point. Whatever decision they make, I’m going to go out there and work my tail off and just try to help any way I can, either the young guys … I’m considered a veteran now. Whatever they need me, anyway that I can help. I’m going to be right there ready for them.”