All spring long, Mike Wright Jr.'s goal has been to make the Orioles roster on Opening Day and remain in the only organization he’s ever known. To do that, he's hoped to draw on a familiar feeling from the last time he accomplished that.
Wright, 28, has sought all spring long to recreate the positive feeling of the 2016 exhibition season, when he pitched his way into the starting rotation despite the team entering camp with five major league starters on its roster.
After three innings of one-run, two-hit ball in Wednesday’s 7-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park, he said he's closing in on that sentiment.
"I definitely feel a very similar vibe," Wright said. "I've put a lot of work in. I'm pretty sure that offseason was the hardest offseason I had worked, and this one is even harder. I came into camp throwing good, and so far, the results are pretty solid. That's what I'm going to continue trying to do."
The only real stain on his ledger Wednesday was a fastball over the plate to Rays shortstop prospect Willy Adames that resulted in a home run to right field in the third.
“Command was not what it's been, but OK,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Mike's presented himself well here.”
The outing brought his spring totals to two earned runs on four hits with a pair of walks and four strikeouts in seven Grapefruit League innings over three starts.
That's far more early-spring success than he had in that meaningful 2016 spring, but plenty has happened since to change the stakes for Wright. He ended that 2016 season with a 5.79 ERA and barely made it two months in the starting rotation, before not getting a major league start in 2017. Now, he's out of minor league options. The Orioles (6-6-1) will have to decide whether to keep him on the major league roster or try to pass him through waivers, which will undoubtedly lead to him pitching elsewhere.
Those circumstances add plenty of value to these starts for Wright, even if manager Buck Showalter is trying to keep his possible major league starters away from divisional opponents such as the Rays. Wright hopes innings like his first will stick out in his manager's mind when decision time comes.
A one-out bloop single by right fielder Carlos Gómez, a walk to left fielder Denard Span and a wild pitch on a yanked slider put runners on second and third with one out. But Wright then struck out two in a row to strand both.
"Obviously, I'd rather have a clean inning, but to be honest, I think it's actually positive for me for Buck to see I can get in those situations and get out," Wright said. "By any means, am I trying to get in those situations? No. But the good thing is I got in it and got out clean. That's the difference between giving up that one run, and if I gave up two in the first — that's three innings, three runs. That's not a good look, so I'm happy with the way the first inning went."
Showalter said it’s the type of control they’ve often sought from Wright.
“That's been some of the challenge for Mike, he has so much want-to that he kind of lets his emotions get to him,” Showalter said. “He's been a really under-control guy, really focused.”
That sentiment extends to his entire Grapefruit League campaign.
"So far, I've felt pretty good," Wright said. "Obviously, there is competition and I'm very happy with where I'm at right now."
Rule 5 draft pick Jose Mesa followed Wright and allowed a run in two innings before scoreless innings from Perci Garner, Jimmy Yacabonis, Donnie Hart and James Teague.