Orioles beat writers Eduardo Encina and Jon Meoli wrap up team moves and progress from 2018 Spring Training in Sarasota, Florida. (Baltimore Sun video)
CLEARWATER, FLA. — Much of the 11th-hour drama expected with the final appearances of the spring for onetime Orioles rotation candidates and current bullpen bubble dwellers Nestor Cortes Jr. and Miguel Castro on Sunday was stripped away by the simple math of the Orioles roster.
Twelve pitchers remain in camp who are ready to start the season, and barring any outside additions, all of them will head north with the Orioles. Cortes and Castro are two of them.
But each 23-year-old was still glad to cap an uneven spring with a strong final act in the Orioles' 6-5 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Cortes started and pitched three innings, allowing four hits, including a solo home run by Rhys Hoskins, but no other damage, then Castro struck out six in three innings of one-hit relief.
"I've been learning from those down moments and trying to improve every single day, trying to learn something and make better in my next start," Castro said. "I think overall, ups and downs, but with a positive mind."
Said Cortes: "I'm happy, but I gave up a homer. It's going to happen. Time and time again, they've told me that solo home runs aren't going to beat me. I was happy with the results."
Otherwise, it was a typical outing for Cortes, who mixed things up and allowed some hard contact but was in control. He ends the spring having allowed nine runs in 17 1/3 innings, good for a 4.67 ERA. He has the potential to fill any number of roles during the regular season, from a lefty specialist to a long reliever.
But even when doing the roster calculations in his head yields an outcome that puts him with the Orioles on Opening Day, he's not getting ahead of himself.
"I'd rather hear the news and celebrate after, but I don't want to take anything for granted as of now," he said. "I wish I knew, but that's just how it works. We'll see what happens."
Castro turned in an outing that was much more reminiscent of his valuable long relief appearances in 2017 than this spring's rotation tryout. With a fastball constantly at 97-98 mph on the stadium radar gun, he struck out three batters in his first inning and flew through three innings.
“That's about as sharp as you want to see a pitcher in the spring," manager Buck Showalter said. "That was fun. He's ready to go."
"I was aggressive, especially with the first-pitch strike," Castro said, via team interpreter Ramón Alarcón. "I was consistent today. I felt really well with my arm, healthy, in control of the whole situation. So I think that was the difference today."
Each acknowledged that it wasn't always as smooth this spring. Cortes said he "flashed some potential," and outside one particularly rough outing during which he allowed three earned runs on six hits in three innings on March 8 against the Toronto Blue Jays, he believes everything was "pretty decent."
"It could have been better, obviously, but I know that I can get big leaguers out," Cortes said.
Castro had what he called “ups and downs” during a spring in which he finished with a 6.39 ERA (10 earned runs in 14 2/3 innings).
While the Orioles continue to monitor the pitching market as teams sort out their rosters, both men appear ticketed for bullpen roles. Cortes, as a Rule 5 pick, must be placed on waivers if he doesn't stick on the roster. Castro has minor league options, so he could be sent to stretch out and continue as a starter. His hope is to remain on the major league roster.
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