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FORT MYERS, Florida—What’s happening? The Orioles have their second and final split-squad games of the spring on Sunday. Kyle Gibson will start for the Orioles against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Ed Smith Stadium at 1:05 p.m. Tyler Wells will start against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa at the same time.
It’s the third time the Pirates have played in Sarasota. Vince Velasquez has started against the Orioles each time. Gerrit Cole will start for the Yankees.
The game in Sarasota will be broadcast on WBAL/98 Rock with Geoff Arnold and Brett Hollander.
It will be Gibson’s fourth start. He has allowed two runs on eight hits in nine innings, striking out six without walking a batter.
It will be Wells’ fourth appearance. He has allowed nine runs on 11 hits in seven innings.
“Every outing is important right now,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We know what Tyler’s done for us the last two years. Last year, arguably being if not our best starter, one of our best starters really the first two-thirds of the season before he got hurt, and how well he pitched in a unique circumstance the year before.
“We know the kind of ability Tyler has. Now, we’re trying to make things fit. We’re more talented. We have more rotation depth. Tyler’s a really good pitcher. He’s off to a tough start early in spring training. We know what he’s capable of.”
Bryan Baker, one of the top relievers on last year’s staff, has had a rough start this spring. He has allowed nine runs on 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings.
“He hung a changeup for a home run, but he had good stuff besides that,” Hyde said about Baker’s appearance against Minnesota on Friday.
“It’s getting better and better,” Baker said. “It’s usually one pitch an outing where I’m like, ‘I wish I had that back right now.’ A lot better than wishing you had 10 back where you’re walking guys … I think the damage on the pitch that I leave over the middle will balance out. Eventually they’ll start hitting it to people instead of over the fence or finding a hole.”
Hyde isn’t concerned about Baker’s spring.
“Those guys in the bullpen last year, looking at where they are stuff-wise,” he said. “He just made some mistakes, honestly. The fastball velocity was there. I thought he made a bad pitch with the changeup. The cutter/slider was better yesterday, so those are positives. He’s going to have a few more appearances to get as sharp as we can before we break.”
What happened? Grayson Rodriguez allowed five runs, three unearned, on six hits in 3 2/3 innings in the Orioles’ 9-6 loss to the Boston Red Sox before an announced crowd of 7.752 at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers on Saturday.
Rafael Devers, who was returning from the World Baseball Classic, doubled with one out in the third, and Adam Duvall homered. Rodriguez’s throwing error to second led to three unearned runs in the fourth. He walked two and struck out three and threw a wild pitch.
“The first two innings he was really sharp, and you saw overpowering stuff,” Hyde said. “In the fourth inning, I thought he tired. He’s still really young … Hopefully, he improves from these and keeps going.”
Hyde doesn’t want Rodriguez to try too hard.
“I think it’s very, very normal for a young player to feel that way. He’s got great stuff. He’s going to be a really good starter in this league for a long time. I just want to see him relax and do well these last couple of starts,” he said.
In his previous start on March 12th, Rodriguez allowed four runs in the fourth inning without getting an out, after pitching three scoreless innings, giving up just one hit.
“We did some things right, obviously some things wrong,” Rodriguez said. “The line’s not what we wanted, but in spring training, we threw some better sliders, changeups were in the zone this time, unlike last time. Being able to get offspeed in the zone a little bit better.”
Rodriguez thinks he’s learning.
“That’s what they’ve told me in the dugout,” he said. “I don’t enjoy them. That’s been the key. It’s all learning experiences, and for it to happen in spring training is a lot better than during the season.”
Rodriguez has allowed 10 runs, seven earned, on 13 hits in 12 innings this spring.
“I’ve been with this organization for [five] years now,” he said. “I’m really not trying to go out there and show them anything. I’m just trying to go out throw strikes and get ready for the season.”
Catcher James McCann said that the pitch clock has affected Rodriguez.
“You don’t have the ability to step off the rubber and take a few deep breaths,” McCann said. “Being able to find a way to minimize damage, that’s the big thing. For a young pitcher, that’s one of the biggest learning curves. Big league hitters feast on those moments where it starts to unravel on a pitcher, and be able to slow that down and get himself out of a jam is a big learning curve.”
Last year, McCann caught two of baseball’s best, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, with the Mets. He knows excellent pitching, but he can’t answer if Rodriguez is ready to start the season with the Orioles.
“That’s above my paygrade,” McCann said. “He’s definitely got the stuff to do it. Everyone knows that. It’s not a secret, but I think he’s still learning … His stuff is elite, and he’s got a chance to be very special.”
Austin Voth pitched three innings, allowing four runs in the eighth, three unearned, on five hits, striking out six.
The Orioles scored four runs in the top of the eighth and two in the top of the ninth.
What’s up with? Joey Ortiz was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday. The infield prospect was limited to six games because of a concussion. He was 3-for-12 (.250) with two RBIs.
“I saw improvement offensively from what I’ve seen in the past,” Hyde said. “Above-average to plus-defender, a guy that can play three spots in the infield. Unfortunately [because of] the ground ball that was an unlucky bounce that hit him, we weren’t able to see him enough. He’s going to be fine. We’re tracking closely what he does in Triple-A. He’s really close.”
What’s the word? “He had so many positives in his first couple of innings. To have that rough inning probably wasn’t a bad thing for him. He can look back on the positives and understand what he did well and take from the rough inning at the end to be able to make the adjustment and not let that happen in a game that matters.”-McCann on Rodriguez’s struggles
What’s what? JetBlue Park is one of the nicest spring training homes in Florida. Nicknamed “Fenway South,” it features a hand-operated scoreboard and a smaller version of the Green Monster left-field wall as well as seating on top of the wall.
What’s the number? 5.56 is Rodriguez’s spring ERA.
What’s the record? 10-10-2. The Orioles will play the Pittsburgh Pirates at Ed Smith Stadium at 1:05 p.m. while the other half of the split-squad will play the New York Yankees at Tampa at 1:05 p.m.
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