ST. PETERSBURG, Florida—The Orioles’ seven-run lead was nearly gone. The Tampa Bay Rays had scored six unanswered runs, and there were runners on first and second with two outs in the sixth inning on Tuesday night.
Randy Arozarena popped a ball to short center field, and there was Adam Frazier sprinting over from second base to run the ball down, ending the inning.
“Put out a fire right there,” Frazier said after the Orioles’ 8-6 victory. “They had the momentum. If that drops, they tie it … You just got to go get it.”
Frazier also ended the seventh inning with a neat play on a sharp grounder by Taylor Walls.
That’s what Oriole starting pitchers have come to expect from Frazier.
“He’s a solid defender, and I know that he’s going to get it done pretty much every time,” Dean Kremer said.
Frazier’s signing last December wasn’t greeted with much enthusiasm by many Orioles fans. He was viewed as a placeholder for Jordan Westburg, who also played at Mississippi State.
While Westburg has played brilliantly at Triple-A Norfolk, and is waiting for his first major league chance, Frazier has played a solid second base, and though he’s hitting only .223, his expected batting average is more than 50 points higher.
“It does not tell the whole story,” manager Brandon Hyde said of Frazier’s average. “I think he lines out once or twice a game. It’s got to be frustrating at some point because he puts together a really good at-bat. He has team at-bats.”
In the second inning of Wednesday’s 7-2 loss to Tampa Bay, Frazier hit a sharp grounder to first, and Tampa Bay’s Yandy Diaz made a diving stop to take another hit away. In the fifth inning, Frazier lined out to third base.
“Hitting .230 or a little below is not ideal by any means,” Frazier said. “I feel like I’ve had some tough luck, put some good swings on balls, just nothing to show for it. Just got to keep putting together tough at-bats and keep going. We’d like to get that average up a little bit and keep driving the ball. It’s a long season. I know, so I can’t get caught up in a couple of days.”
His offense isn’t why the Orioles signed the 31-year-old to a one-year $8 million contract. Frazier has eight home runs, two shy of his career high of the 10 he hit in both 2018 and 2019 with Pittsburgh.
“He has real great veteran presence on the field defensively, does a great job in our clubhouse,” Hyde said. “Hits some homers for us that we weren’t expecting. We were expecting a guy to take pro at-bats. For him to have eight homers, that’s a nice surprise, but just good at-bats on a nightly basis.”
Hyde and others talk about the contributions Frazier makes that aren’t obvious on a stat sheet. There’s that intangible, veteran leadership.
“Making everybody around you better,” Frazier said. “Finding out the things about each guy, what makes them go, what pushes them to be the best player they can be … maybe somebody worries about things that don’t matter. How do you get them to not worry about it?
“Maybe a guy who’s really good, give them some confidence, so they’re even better. If a guy’s going through tough times, how do you get them back on the right stretch? Not just on the field, off the field. Ultimately, it’s how you can make everybody in the room be the best they can be in order for the team to be the best they can be. If that leads to more wins, that’s leadership.”
That leadership has stood out to Tony Mansolino, the Orioles’ infield coach.
“He helps us defensively. He helps us offensively. He helps us on the bases,” Mansolino said. “He seems to do his best work in the biggest moments of the game. He’s been a massive addition in all facets of the game. There’s a steadiness to guys who’ve played in the big leagues for seven or eight years where the big moments don’t faze them whatsoever. That’s part of the reason he’s performed so well in those moments.
“When the game’s tight, and there’s 30,000 people screaming and the ball’s hanging up in the roof, you have all the faith in the world that he’s going to make a play on the ball because he’s been there and done that so many times. He’s been enormous in all facets of the game in the biggest moments. A lot of that has to do with just his ability. A lot of that has to do with his experience in the big moments.”
Frazier knows that offensive players get paid, and defensive players often are taken for granted.
“Making plays is great. That’s just part of the game. It’s not just offensive. It’s defensive, too and even baserunning,” he said. “Making a big play in a big situation, obviously it’s a great feeling, but it’s more of like a relief kind of thing. When you’re on the defensive side of the ball, you get to bail the pitcher out and they can breathe, and they feel like they’ve done their job. Everybody looks at the offensive things. That’s how we got here because they were good offensively.
“Big hits are a lot of fun. Making every play defensively is a lot of fun, too. It’s something pitchers like when they’ve got good defenders behind them, and coaches especially, too. To win baseball games at a playoff level, you’ve got to pitch, and you’ve got to play good defense. The hitting stuff is a bonus when it comes to that kind of baseball.”