CLEARWATER, FLA. — The Orioles might not be expected to do too much this season, but they’re certainly enjoying the spring.
Facing the biggest bats in the Philadelphia Phillies lineup, left-hander John Means threw three perfect innings and Rio Ruiz continued to tear up Grapefruit League pitching in a 3-2 victory Sunday at Spectrum Field.
Means, who did not get through the second inning in his first spring start, waltzed through a Phillies batting order that included sluggers Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and Didi Gregorius in a 41-pitch outing that he still said was not his best work.
"It was all right,'' he said. “My fastball command really wasn’t there that well and my changeup was kind of my get-out-of-jail-free card. It was one of those outings when I fell behind, but I thought the changeup was the equalizer.”
His command, he said, got better as the game went on and he was happy for the chance to face a lineup with so many good hitters this early in the spring.
“It’s nice facing these guys and a team I haven’t faced yet," he said. ”I mean, I faced Hoskins coming up and Didi, too, over with the Yankees, but it’s nice getting some feedback from some guys I haven’t faced before."
Ruiz came into the game with seven hits in his first 12 spring at-bats and he didn’t slow down. He doubled in his first trip and hit a long opposite-field home run in the fourth before adding a single in the fifth to raise his exhibition average to .667 (10-for-15).
“I think me minimizing my approach and having one plan up there is kind of helping a lot,” he said. “I’m trying to just stick with that.”
Clearly more comfortable with a season of regular playing time under his belt, Ruiz said that he spent the offseason fine-tuning his swing to address the one area he most want to improve upon.
“Consistently hitting the ball hard,” he said, “I think last year I went through stretched when I did do that, then I followed it up with stretches with a lot of 1-3′s and 3-U’s [comebackers and groundouts to first base], so it was learning to go out with that mindset and working on things that will get me into a position to do that.”
Right-hander Tom Eshelman followed Means to the mound and retired nine of 10 batters. He gave up a solo home run to second baseman Josh Harrison in his third inning, but of his nine outs, six were ground balls and two were strikeouts.
The Orioles ended their string of three double-digit run totals, but they banged out nine hits with Dilson Herrera and Stevie Wilkerson joining Ruiz with multi-hit performances. The victory was their fifth in a row, but manager Brandon Hyde was more impressed with the way they played.
“It’s just like I told the team a couple days ago, the win or loss doesn’t mean a lot to me,” he said. "What means the most to me is how we play. The style with which we play. How are at-bats are. What are we like on the mound.
“We could win 10-7 and play kind of crappy and boot the ball around and throw to the wrong bases, I’m not going to be happy about it. But we could lose 3-1 and take good at-bats and play really solid defense and do well on the mound and lose and I’d be happy with that, too. It’s much more fun to win than lose, obviously, with anything you do, but I’m really happy with how we’re playing the last five games.”
The solid pitching performance continued through the late innings, with right-hander Eric Hanhold delivering his third scoreless inning in three appearances and lefty Zac Lowther weathering a couple of hard-hit outs to bounce back from a rocky debut and pitch a scoreless eighth.
There was some suspense in the ninth, when the Phillies loaded the bases with two outs and scored a run during a hard-luck performance by Cole Sulser, but nonroster right-hander Cesar Valdez came on to get a three-pitch strikeout and record the save.
Around the horn
>> The Orioles made their first roster cuts of the spring, reassigning three infielders and two pitchers to their minor league camp, which officially opens Tuesday at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota. The list includes Infielders Rylan Bannon, Malquin Canelo and Mason McCoy and left-handed pitchers Alexander Wells and Lowther. Conspicuous by his absence from the list was 2019 top overall draft choice Adley Rutschman, who was not expected to spend long in major league camp. Rutschman played the final three defensive innings Sunday and struck out in one at-bat. He is hitless in eight at-bats with a walk, a run scored and four strikeouts.
>> Hyde also confirmed that Hunter Harvey will make his first relief appearance in Monday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
>> Alex Cobb pitched in a simulated game on the main field at Ed Smith Stadium on Sunday and appears to be completely recovered from the flu that forced him out of his first spring start after one inning.
Monday, 1:05 p.m.
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