SARASOTA—Gunnar Henderson is batting third and playing shortstop as the Orioles meet the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers on Friday, and he’s hoping that St. Patrick’s Day will be lucky for him.
“Trust the process. Stuff’s going to come around eventually,” Henderson said.
After a stellar five weeks with the Orioles to end last season, great things are expected from the 21-year-old, but this spring hasn’t been a great one for Henderson. He’s hitting just .095 (2-for-21) with nine strikeouts, though he has made several dazzling plays in the field.
Henderson was held out of the first three Grapefruit League games because of a wrist injury, but he said he’s healthy now.
“From the beginning, I couldn’t do all the work I wanted to because of the wrist soreness, but now I’m able to start to get back into everything,” Henderson said. “My swing’s starting to feel good and starting to hit balls hard so looking forward to continuing that going into Opening Day.”
With just 11 days between now and the end of Grapefruit League play, Henderson will get more regular time. Manager Brandon Hyde has been playing regulars on alternate days but that should soon morph into more predictable playing time.
“Building up in spring is definitely going to help,” Henderson said. “Just going right into the season, you don’t want to not play more than five innings all spring then just jump right into nine-inning games for 162 games. I think it’ll definitely help just getting back into the heat of things.”
Henderson, who hit .258 with four home runs and 18 RBIs after his August 31st promotion, has watched former minor league teammates fit seamlessly into the Orioles’ clubhouse this spring.
“I think it’s just a testament the guys the Orioles have drafted, the talent they put on the field, just seeing the guys go to work each and every day, the want to win and the will to win,” Henderson said. “I feel like that will be huge in the Orioles’ long-term success, and I look forward to seeing how far we can go.”
One player that Henderson hadn’t played with in games is outfielder Heston Kjerstad, who has impressed with his power this spring. Kjerstad will be the designated hitter on Friday.
“I saw him right before he had his hamstring injury in ’22. It’s just unreal power,” Henderson said. “I’ve been through [Instructional League] and spring training and stuff and coming into this spring, glad to see he’s healthy, I feel like he’s just scratching the surface of what he can do.”
Henderson had 116 at-bats last season, 14 short of the 130 needed to end his rookie status. Betting lines have made him the favorite for the American League Rookie of the Year award.
“If you don’t have the right mindset, you could treat it as pressure,” Henderson said. “I embrace it, just enjoying the challenge and looking forward to going out there and hopefully having a good year. My number one goal is to win games and make a playoff push this year. Whatever comes with it, comes with it. I’ll just play to the best of my ability.”
Last year, Henderson’s presence helped the Orioles in their playoff push. They weren’t mathematically eliminated until five games remained.
“Being able to go through that, especially my first time ever in the big leagues was really special and just really enjoyed playing with the guys,” Henderson said. “I feel like this is a group that we can really make that push this year.”
Over the offseason, Henderson made an important new acquisition, a German Wirehaired Pointer named Chief.
“I took him quail hunting. Now he’s about to be sent off to get trained. He’ll be back by the time I get back home,” Henderson said.
Hall is looking ahead: DL Hall pitched two innings in a simulated game on Thursday, and he’s finally ready for game action.
Hall, who hadn’t pitched because of a lower back injury, is hoping to pitch in a Grapefruit League game in the next three or four days.
“Still trying to get the body going,” Hall said. “Get used to facing hitters, start to crispen my pitches and feeling good.”
He reported slight soreness a day after he threw, but nothing out of the ordinary. A game on Monday or Tuesday is in his sights.
“Depending on how recovery and things go. Hopefully, that stays on track. I’m ready. It’s been a while. I’m ready to go,” Hall said.
“I’m still early in the process, but everything I was throwing had great shapes. I had great command of my fastball. Just little things like that are wins right now,” he said.
When Hall completed his simulated game, catcher Adley Rutschman came over to congratulate him.
“Me and him just work well together in general,” Hall said. “Being able to throw the things that we’re on the same track and being able to actually execute the same pitches is huge for us, and we did it some yesterday.”