North Port, Fla. — Maybe someday, Orioles rookie Chandler Shepherd will be able to tell his kids he once started a game against Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Felix Hernandez.
He can leave out the part about giving up three runs in the first inning of a 5-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday afternoon in the exhibition opener for both teams at Cool Today Stadium.
It’s not as bad as it sounds. Shepherd was not hit hard by a Braves lineup that included top hitters Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman, but fell victim to a couple of walks, a bloop hit and two sacrifice flies. He bounced back to retire the last six batters he faced.
“Walks hurt you,” said Shepherd, who made five major league appearances last year and started the final game of the season. “I got myself into a jam early, but overall I was happy with it.
“There were a few things that I was working really hard on towards the end of the year and during the offseason to come in here. It kind of just shows today that I need to continue, obviously, every day to keep improving on those things.”
Manager Brandon Hyde said that Shepherd was just “overdoing things" and lacked command in first inning.
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“He kind of found it in that second inning, so that was good to see," Hyde said. “Whether he was trying to hard or whatever it was, but he had a tough time repeating his mechanics and throwing strikes during the first.”
The Orioles started a younger, less experienced lineup against the defending National League East champions, who were playing only their second game at their new spring training facility on the Gulf Coast. The Braves officially moved over from the Disney Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando at the end of last spring and opened the new ballpark for their final preseason game.
The O’s batting order included rookie center fielder Austin Hays in the leadoff spot and power prospect Ryan Mountcastle at first base. Anthony Santander was the designated hitter and Renato Nunez, who spent most of last season in the DH role, started at third base.
Top minor league prospect Adley Rutchman made his exhibition debut as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning against Braves right-hander Chad Sobotka and was called out on a check-swing third strike.
"Good to get him an at-bat,'' Hyde said. “We’ll sprinkle some at-bats in over the course of the next couple weeks. It’s good to give him a little taste of what big-league spring training is like and he should relax as he continues to take ABs.”
The Orioles managed just four hits and mounted only one serious threat to score. They load the bases on back-to-back singles by Pat Valaika and Mason Williams and a walk to Richie Martin in the fifth inning, but Hays struck out on a full-count fastball and Santander popped out to first base to end the inning
Left-hander Ty Blach and Rob Zastryzny followed Shepherd to the mound and both gave up a run. Right-handers Cody Carroll and Brandon Kline and left-hander Hunter Cervenka each pitched a scoreless inning of relief.