On June 17, 2018, Chance Sisco was in the Orioles’ starting lineup, got scratched from it with an illness and was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.
Sunday, a day before the anniversary of that demotion, Sisco was out of the Orioles’ starting lineup against Boston Red Sox left-hander Brian Johnson as part of a catching platoon with Pedro Severino. Sisco is hitting .273/.407/.682 in seven games since a call-up to Baltimore, recently serving as manager Brandon Hyde’s cleanup hitter against right-handed pitchers.
That’s a stark difference from where he was a year ago, when he made the Orioles’ Opening Day roster but got sent down in June hitting .218/.340/.328.
“I feel a lot more comfortable. Just to have a year under the belt, just another year with the guys,” Sisco said. “We’ve got a really good group of guys in the clubhouse, a really good group of coaches that makes everybody feel really comfortable. I feel a lot more comfortable this year.”
Sisco began the year with Norfolk, posted a .914 OPS and got called up for the Orioles’ recent road trip against the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros.
Although Sisco’s present is an improvement on his past, there are perhaps more questions about his future than before.
Sisco once was regarded as Baltimore’s catcher of the future, but that title now belongs to Adley Rutschman, the Oregon State backstop the Orioles took with the first overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft. Sisco, though, does not begrudge the selection.
“I mean, you kind of had to take the guy first, right?” Sisco said. “He was the best player available in that draft. Don’t blame ’em. I would take the same pick in that spot, as well.”
Sisco hasn’t given thought to what Rutschman, who the Orioles have until 5 p.m. July 12 to sign, could mean for his positional future. He played first base in Houston, his first professional appearance anywhere other than catcher.
He works with catching instructor Tim Cossins regularly to improve his defense, an area that also played a role in last year’s demotion. He began 2018 by catching nine of 18 base-stealers, but then allowed 15 straight successful attempts.
“Chance has come a long way defensively,” Hyde said. “From what I saw early on in spring training to what he is now, his receiving has improved, his blocking is improved, he's throwing the ball better, his game-management is better. Still learning to be the leader on the field. He does a great job of doing his homework prior to the game and taking the stuff that we're giving him into the game. He's doing a great job of that. He's improved a lot.”
Sisco didn’t start catching until his senior year of high school, so he has plenty of experience playing elsewhere. In time, the Orioles might need him to rely on that experience.
“I take ground balls always, as a just-in-case if one of those situations pops up,” Sisco said. “If that time ever comes, we’ll talk about it then.”
Orioles might use opener Wednesday; Hess optioned
The Orioles might use an opener for Wednesday’s game against the Oakland Athletics, and although Hyde does not yet know who will occupy that role, he said before Sunday’s 8-6 loss to the Boston Red Sox it will not be David Hess, the right-hander who recently moved to the bullpen. He won’t even be considered, as the Orioles optioned Hess to Norfolk after he allowed two runs in an inning of relief Sunday.
Hyde said Saturday that Hess, 25, would pitch in relief for the time being, with left-hander Josh Rogers taking his place in the rotation and starting Wednesday. Rogers remains an option to start and would likely provide length behind whoever opens, but Hyde might send a right-hander to the mound for the first inning, listing Jimmy Yacabonis and Miguel Castro as possible options.
Before he was optioned, Hess expressed excitement about his role change. He embraced a move to the bullpen in April, but Alex Cobb’s subsequent injury-list stint pushed him back into the rotation. He has a 7.36 ERA this season, including a two-inning scoreless relief outing Opening Day. But since pitching 6 1/3 no-hit innings against the Toronto Blue Jays in his first start, he had an 8.43 ERA in his past 13 appearances (12 starts), completing six innings only twice.
“You’re still trying to get outs, but the way that you can go about it is a little bit different than knowing you have five, six or seven hopeful innings for that day,” Hess said. “I think it’ll be something that just allows you to focus on getting better and focus on making pitches rather than thinking too far ahead and thinking about what you need to do now for later. It really just allows you to stay from pitch to pitch and focus on what’s going on right now.
“They’ve made it clear that development is important, and this is something they really think will be beneficial with that. ... I’m ready to embrace it and just do whatever I can to help the team win.”
The Orioles have seemingly decided Hess needs that development at the Triple-A level. He entered with two men on and the Orioles trailing 4-3 in the 10th inning of Sunday’s game and allowed a pair of two-run singles in his inning of work as the Orioles lost, 8-6.
Around the horn
Outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. (concussion) will require a brief rehabilitation assignment before rejoining the Orioles on the road. … Right-hander Josh Lucas, placed on the 10-day injured list Friday, said he felt discomfort in his right shoulder while warming up for a third inning of work Thursday. He expects to be ready to return in the 10-day minimum. … Cobb’s season-ending hip surgery was successful, Hyde said. … Hyde, a Bay Area native, said he is excited about the upcoming trip to Oakland. … Before the game, Marine veteran Stephen Bostwick was surprised by his son, Addam, who recently returned from a tour with the Army in Afghanistan and came out to catch his father’s ceremonial first pitch.