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Orioles try to find benefit in Anthony Santander's struggles as injuries turn him into a regular

Injuries to Mark Trumbo and Colby Rasmus have forced the Orioles to make Anthony Santander an everyday player this season despite only a handful of games above Single-A.

Save for some rookie moments, Santander, the Rule 5 outfielder who entered 2018 with around seven weeks of his 25-man roster requirement left, has played steady defense. What's lagged behind is the bat that had been his calling card. He entered Wednesday hitting .153/.194/.254 with a home run and three doubles in 18 games, 16 of which have been starts.

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Manager Buck Showalter said the team hasn't soured on him despite the struggles, and that this could be a valuable moment in Santander's inconsistent career.

"It's expected, some of the challenges," Showalter said. "He's facing really good pitching. ... But I like him as much as we did the day we drafted him, and when we came out of camp. He's got a good future ahead of him, but we've had to really expose him, and I look at it as good for him. It may not be statistically pleasing, for him or anybody, but there are some positives to gain from it."

Specifically, Showalter said Santander is encountering tougher two-strike pitches than he did in the Carolina League in 2016, where he batted .290 with an .862 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 20 home runs in the Cleveland Indians system before he had shoulder surgery in the offseason and was selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Orioles.

"The level of two-strike pitches is one of the big challenges when you get to the big leagues, the out pitches that everybody has," Showalter said. "When they get you ahead in the count, they really do that. That's why it puts more premium on guys like Anthony. They've got to be on it. He's had some good swings."

Santander hit a warning-track fly ball on a curveball from Carlos Carrasco on Monday night that Showalter said was an example of how batters have to be ready for a hittable breaking ball and distinguish it from one that's meant to get a swinging strike.

"He comes in here every day and he's ready to take a step — today's the day," Showalter said. "He's strong. He's working with some things. I love when somebody says this guy's going to have trouble with a breaking ball. You ever have somebody they say is not going to? The biggest thing at this level is identifying the breaking-ball strikes and identifying the breaking-ball ball. A lot of guys, the home run he almost hit last night was a breaking-ball strike. If you get that one, you can almost hurt them there. It's like with Austin [Hays] and Cedric [Mullins], all those guys. Everybody swings and misses at the breaking-ball ball. The strike-to-ball breaking ball is the one you've got to learn to stay off of. And it's hard.

"That guy, Carrasco, it's a fastball strike until about this far in front of the palate. But Danny [Valencia] got a breaking-ball strike and hit it off the center-field wall. But you can't take until you hit. It's hit, hit, hit, and your mechanism that says take that breaking-ball strike is hard to find. The great hitters have it. They identify the breaking-ball ball, and that's where Anthony, [with] the reps, he'll eventually get to where we hope."

Santander will have satisfied his Rule 5 requirements May 12, and by that point, the Orioles will be able to get him the regular at-bats a 23-year-old could benefit from in the high minors.

With Rasmus' return not necessarily close and Trumbo still a few days away, at least, Showalter believes there's a chance that still might not be required.

"I'm hoping he gets hotter than you-know-what and May 12 isn't a date that anybody is looking at," Showalter said. "That's what I'm hoping. That's what we hoped coming out of camp, and that's still going to happen with him. He's going to give himself a chance to be as good as he's capable of being because of his work ethic. He's got all the other stuff.

"Sometimes you've got to keep in mind he's 23 years old, basically a senior in college, learning at a very tough level."

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