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Orioles rotation candidate Gabriel Ynoa starts slow, finishes fast in spring debut

Gabriel Ynoa made his 2018 Grapefruit League debut in the Orioles’ 7-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Sunday at JetBlue Park.

FT. MYERS, FLA. — Right-hander Gabriel Ynoa is not a Rule 5 draft pick, but he might as well be. He’s out of options, so he’s in a group of five pitchers who must make the Orioles’ 25-man regular-season roster or might not be in the organization come Opening Day.

So, every one of them knows that each exhibition appearance is a significant event in the course of a monthlong competition.

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It was against that backdrop that Ynoa made his 2018 Grapefruit League debut in the Orioles’ 7-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Sunday at jetBlue Park. It didn’t go particularly well at the outset, but ended with him finding his rhythm and ended with him striking out three of the last six batters he faced.

“I was not commanding my fastball,’’ Ynoa said through interpreter Ramon Alarcon. “That is what happened in that very first inning after the second hitter. But afterward I was able to make the adjustment and attack the hitters and get in front of them.”

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He struck out the first batter he faced in the first inning, but allowed a single to Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts and got into trouble when Hanley Ramirez reached on a wild throw by rookie third baseman Ryan Mountcastle. Blake Swihart followed with a double for the first run of the game before Ynoa struck out two of the next three batters to get out of the inning.

“I felt very good,’’ he said. “The mindset was to attack the hitters, trust my pitches and go after the hitters.”

Ynoa was acquired from the New York Mets last year and came to spring training with an outside chance to win a place on the major league pitching staff. He started the season in Triple-A Norfolk, where he was a combined 6-9 with a 5.25 ERA in 21 starts, and was called up three times and had a 2-3 record with a 4.15 ERA for the Orioles.

In his second-to-last major league appearance in late September, he gave the Orioles a hint of what he might be able to do going forward when he pitched eight innings against the Texas Rangers and allowed just a run on five hits. Still, he’s probably a long shot to make the rotation with Miguel Castro the early favorite, Mike Wright Jr. out of options and two other Rule 5 guys — Nestor Cortes Jr. and Pedro Araujo — in the mix.

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“He’s got to show the ability to get left-handed hitters out and show the secondary pitches,’’ manager Buck Showalter said. “We’re trying to see if we can trust him to be that fifth guy. He’s shown at times that he’s capable, but we’re just looking for that consistency. He pitched better in the big leagues last year than he did in Triple-A.”

The fact that he might be in a now-or-never position with the club doesn’t seem to bother him.

“It could change,” Ynoa said, “but to be honest, it doesn’t change me at all. I still have the mindset of going out there and helping the team and trying to make a really good impression so that they can make a decision. … I think I’m in a really good place right now. There’s a big opportunity for me and I want to make the most out of it.”

Quiet day for the offense

Luis Sardiñas singled home Rubén Tejada in the fifth inning with the Orioles’ only run. They had just four hits, with Craig Gentry, Erick Salcedo and Tejada collecting the others.

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