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With air-fives and ghost fielders, Orioles’ intrasquad game ‘a practice run’ in empty Camden Yards

"This is completely different than anything that any of us have ever been a part of," said Orioles' infielder Rio Ruiz.

No one joined him, but Hanser Alberto began Wednesday’s Orioles intrasquad game the same way he did every other time he jogged out of the dugout for the first time: he stood, hat in hand, behind second base for the national anthem.

There was no song, nor was there any other fanfare. But with half the players in their home whites and the other half in orange, there was at least something resembling a baseball game at Camden Yards Wednesday night as the Orioles continued their slow march to Opening Day on July 24 in Boston.

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“I think it’s nice to play an intrasquad in a major league stadium, especially one that you’re going to play in a lot,” said manager Brandon Hyde, who led the visitors. “Some of these guys haven’t played in this stadium, so to be able to kind of get used to it, get used to nothing. …

“To be able to play in an empty stadium is definitely going to be different, so it’s just kind of like a practice run of what it’s going to be like.”

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Wednesday’s practice run didn’t provide a perfect game situation, although it’s as close as many of the Orioles have gotten in months. The team’s shortage of outfielders with Dwight Smith Jr. and Anthony Santander not available since camp began meant the white team had only Stevie Wilkerson in center field. With Austin Hays in center field and DJ Stewart in left field for the orange side, right field was vacant.

Andrew Velazquez may have filled one of those spots, but was at shortstop for the white team with José Iglesias out with back soreness.

Groundskeepers each took a section to themselves down the first-base line, though some kept their traditional vantage point behind the right field fence. Team staffers who are in the testing tier that allows them to interact with players and coaches were seated behind home plate. Pitchers from the bullpen carried their own bag of baseballs when they entered the game, and brought their own rosin bags to the mound.

The starting pitchers, Thomas Eshelman for the home whites and Tommy Milone, each ran into trouble in their three innings. Back-to-back doubles by Rio Ruiz and Pat Valaika — the latter off Wilkerson’s glove in deep center field — set up a run-scoring single by Richie Martin for the white team in the second inning.

Renato Núñez hit a towering home run to left-center in the third, and gave air high-fives around the bases and into the dugout. Wilkerson had a run-scoring single later in the inning. Alberto’s cheers rang out in the empty stadium.

Two innings later, Austin Hays lined a home run to center field off Eric Hanhold to tie things up. It wasn’t a game without rust — Wilkerson had a chance to catch Ruiz’s double, and Núñez’s erratic throws from third were finally punished when he scuttled a double-play opportunity in the middle innings.

Once the fifth inning ended, the organized aspect of the game wrapped up as Miguel Castro entered and the fielders dispersed.

Come the regular season, there will be stakes to it all. Hyde promised the games would be more competitive by the end of camp, too, once the rust was knocked off.

“Kind of wanted to get everybody to get some outings on the mound, get some at-bats before we take this too seriously,” Hyde said. “But we’re probably going to do some sort of competitive [game] with teams before we start the season.

“Right now, I’m just breaking up guys. Tomorrow’s different than today. There’s no real science behind it. I’m putting some middle guys together, I’ll put together some outfield combinations, things like that. But it’s pretty much just getting everybody on the field.”

Mountcastle, Williams added

With their secondary camp site not yet open, the Orioles began adding some players who will eventually work into their mix at Camden Yards, beginning with first baseman/outfielder Ryan Mountcastle and outfielder Mason Williams.

Hyde said they finished their intake testing and took physicals Wednesday. Players may arrive daily over the next few days until the secondary site at Bowie or Aberdeen is ready.

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“Those guys won’t be in the game for a while but we’re going to get them on the field for a little bit,” Hyde said. “I don’t want to make it like they’re part of the camp. We’re just getting guys here early because our secondary site’s not open yet, so we’re just kind of having guys trickle in every day or two.”

The Orioles have now named 47 of their possible 60 players to their pool for the 2020 season.

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