Orioles catcher Chance Sisco is far from a finished product at 23 years old, but he gave a glimpse Thursday of where he stands in his major league career.
At the plate, he was 2-for-3 with his second home run and four RBIs, with a sixth-inning double giving him eight extra-base hits in 34 plate appearances this spring.
But behind it, he cost the Orioles a run when he was charged with a throwing error to third base and later squandered a chance at an out when he was just a little off target in a throw to second with a runner in no-man’s land.
For all his talent with a bat, Sisco's defensive abilities will go a long way in determining whether he or Andrew Susac makes the major league roster to complement Caleb Joseph.
All involved know that. Both he and manager Buck Showalter, asked which would stick in their mind once they left the ballpark and looked back, focused on the defensive work. In the third inning with runners on first and third, Sisco blocked a pitch in the dirt from Mike Wright Jr., pump-faked a throw to second base, then caught the runner at third too far off the bag but threw wide and into foul territory, enabling a run to score.
"I would rather go 0-for on a day than throw a ball away like that, honestly," Sisco said. "That's the type of stuff that eats at you, a mistake like that, when you have a guy dead-red out and you choke it and you throw it away. I really wanted to get that out right there, I really wanted to get out of the inning for my pitcher, but ... it's easier to move on from it and learn from it right now than it would be during the season. During the season, I'd probably be thinking about it a lot more than I am right now.
"Right now, I'm going to take the good out of that, and that was I blocked the ball, I recovered, and I got him to bite on a fake throw that I wanted them to bite on, and after that, it's just about playing catch, and I didn't do that right there."
Showalter, too, focused on how much Sisco did right on it, saying he "did everything perfectly" but rushed the throw. On the other play of note, when speedy outfielder Mookie Betts drifted off first base and got caught in between, Sisco threw to second base immediately instead of closing down and forcing Betts to make a decision. His throw was on the third base side of the bag, delaying the throw from shortstop Manny Machado to first base. Betts was back safely.
"That's Mookie Betts," Showalter said. "He's in the top 10 percentile of guys who can do that — and I've seen him do it. ... That's one where you've got to slow the play down and use how athletic he is against him, against himself, by how fast he can move once he commits. But we got way too much separation there. That's one of those things, you want to see it happen down here. I told him, 'Chance, this isn't one of those things where here comes somebody up to you and tells you what you should have done.' It's a reaction. It could be 60 games or 100 games before that play comes up again, and you're not going to automatically revert to [that]. It's a feel play."
All that came before Sisco made his impact with the bat, with a wind-aided home run to left field and a two-run, bases-loaded double bringing his spring batting line to .419/.471/.839. The double came at the end of a tremendous at-bat against left-hander Robby Scott.
He sees the two segments as unrelated, and has striven to change his reputation of carrying his at-bats onto the field defensively and letting a bad day in one phase affect the other.
"It's two completely different mindsets, completely different times of the game, different situations, and that's one thing that I've been really good at this year," Sisco said. "Yes, I've been swinging it pretty well, but the days that I have had not great at-bats, I haven't taken it behind the plate, and I'm doing a lot better job at separating them and controlling both sides of the ball."
Sisco feels well about the case he's made for the team. He's thrown out just one of seven attempted base stealers so far, but sees progress in those throws that don't get outs, too.
"Overall, I think it's gone really well. I've done what I've had to do behind the plate, and then what I've had to do at the plate," Sisco said. "I haven't had as many opportunities throwing with runners trying to run as I would like, but at the same time, on the attempts that I have had, I've been happy with the throws I've made. I had one where I dropped the transfer, but other than that, the throws have been on line and pretty quick. So I've been happy with those."
Said Showalter: "He's going to be a calm guy, going to call a good game, he's going to receive well and he's going to block well. And his throwing is improving, and he's going to make [progress]. It's one of those things, whether it's here or Norfolk and everything's clear, they take a deep breath and everything kind of slows down a little bit. There's a lot of people, including me, who really want to start showing our hand as much as I can."