The Baltimore Orioles kicked off their 2018 Spring Training campaign in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday afternoon. As fans energetically packed Ed Smith Stadium, the birds stepped back onto the diamond for competition once again, hoping for better results than last season, which ended in a 75-87 record – good enough for last in the AL East.
The main story of this exhibition – as the case will be for most of them – was the performance of a fringe starting pitcher hoping to crack the MLB roster as the 5th member of the rotation. Mike Wright, a familiar face for O’s fans, took the ball first, pitching 2 innings of 1-run ball. Wright started the game surrendering a walk, single and sac-fly to give Tampa Bay an early lead, but quickly buckled down, orchestrating a 1-2-3 inning – with a strikeout – in the second. While he finished the outing strong, Friday afternoon was a microcosm of Mike Wright’s time with the Orioles: glimpses of brilliance clouded by more-frequent showings of inconsistency. Wright will continue to get a look, though, because there is no question that he has the physical tools to succeed on the major league level. He will have to show that the mental makeup – consistency, composure, poise – is there.
Another pitcher looking to prove himself and make the 25-man roster – Chris Lee – followed Wright in the 3rd inning. Lee, whose fastball sat around 94 mph, has also struggled with consistency; he will have to prove that he can regularly throw strikes. His first inning was shaky, allowing a double, single and walk to load the bases before recording a single out. Impressively enough, however, Lee orchestrated a 4-6-3 double-play and a groundout to Machado to limit the damage. In his second inning, Lee recorded 2 strikeouts before allowing a double. He got out of the inning unharmed, though, forcing a pop out to retire the side. Lee will likely start the season at Triple-A Norfolk, but – with the talent very much there – could provide a lift if he sorts out his inconsistencies.
As for the position players, little came of the projected starters as the O’s were shut out until their last at-bats in the bottom of the 9th inning. Tim Beckham – yes, the 3rd baseman – led the game off with an infield single, but all other returning starters were held hitless. Anthony Santander, a rule-5 pick that the Orioles will need to keep on the roster for 44 games if they want to keep the outfielder, laced a double into the right-centerfield gap. A favorite for the 4th or 5th outfielder spot, Santander will solidify his position on the MLB team if he continues to show potential as a hitter. MLB Pipeline considers him the Orioles’ 8th-best prospect. Two other outfielders who are big league hopefuls, CF Cedric Mullins and corner-outfielder DJ Stewart, replaced starters in the 6th inning. Mullins, who burst onto the scene in Sarasota last year, left 3 men on-base after going 0-2 with a K. Stewart, however, singled in the bottom of the 9th inning, scoring on Chance Sisco’s 3-run homer that followed a Ryan Mountcastle double. This sequence was an energizing end to a slow game, showing the potential that lies in the Orioles minor league system. While Stewart and Mountcastle may start the year in Double-A Bowie, Sisco is vouching for the backup catcher role. The home run will certainly help his case.
Friday’s game was somewhat sluggish, especially as the regulars struggled to get on-base, but the excitement around the team is still there. No matter how promising this 2018 season looks to be, the return of baseball is always welcome in Baltimore, and personally, I can’t wait to get back out to the Yard. Let’s hope it’s to see a winning team.