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Orioles observations on Maikel Franco showing early progress, César Valdez’s value in relief and more | ANALYSIS

When Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias spoke of last week’s Maikel Franco signing, he said a provision in Franco’s deal that allows the Orioles to option the veteran infielder to the minors if he and the club don’t feel he is ready for Opening Day was an important one for both sides.

To hear Franco tell it, after he homered in his second spring training game in the Orioles’ 4-3 win Tuesday over the Tampa Bay Rays in Sarasota, Florida, he doesn’t feel like that will be necessary.

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“It’s about the way you feel, and I feel well,” Franco said. “I’m seeing the ball really well, I feel my body is really well. At the end of the day, it’s about getting the timing and the rhythm. I feel my timing, my rhythm is there. I’ve just got to continue to do that, continue to work hard every day and try to get better. … I’m feeling really good.”

Franco’s home run, which came as part of a four-run Orioles third inning that also featured a two-run home run for Trey Mancini, was his second extra-base hit in as many spring games after he doubled in his debut Sunday. Franco will also be the designated hitter in an intrasquad game Wednesday, a role that manager Brandon Hyde said on the MASN broadcast would get him five or six at-bats — possibly against his old National League East rival Matt Harvey.

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Franco got just one chance at third base Tuesday after not having a ball hit to him in his debut Sunday, but from a hitting perspective, he says there’s “no question” he’ll be ready for Opening Day on April 1 despite there being only a handful of Grapefruit League games left.

Outings on the back fields in simulated games where he can get more at-bats than a game would allow will help, he said.

“That’s the way I want to do it, try to have more at-bats, try to see more pitches, try to see spin, try to see fastballs,” Franco said. “And at the end of the day, I’m going to be fine. I’m going to be 100% for Opening Day.”

Hyde said Monday that he didn’t envision having trouble getting Franco, third baseman Rio Ruiz and first baseman Mancini on the field as often as each would require when it comes to filling out his lineup.

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Having first base experience the way Franco and Ruiz do, plus the availability of the designated hitter spot, could help that pair get onto the field at the same time, Hyde said. The issue at this juncture of spring seems to be getting them all on the roster, especially if the Orioles decide to begin the season with a 14-man pitching staff.

However, the Orioles’ Opening Day roster won’t be a permanent one, and as such might not need all the staples. Hyde wants a utility player who can play shortstop, but he has shortstop cover in second baseman Yolmer Sánchez. One game in which the Orioles have to break the proverbial emergency glass and shift Ruiz over to second base won’t be the difference between them making the playoffs or not this year.

Valuable Valdez

Veteran right-hander César Valdez started the Orioles’ bullpen game Tuesday and showed the ideal for what a long reliever can accomplish.

Valdez allowed a run in his first inning, but was through two innings on 27 pitches and finished three total innings of three-hit, one-run ball with three strikeouts on 36 pitches.

Later in the game, nonroster pitcher Conner Greene had a similarly efficient outing and struck out three around two hits in three innings, throwing fewer than 40 pitches.

For comparison’s sake, the Orioles had four three-inning relief outings last season. Valdez had two of them, but didn’t complete either in fewer than 42 pitches. Keegan Akin accomplished his in 48 pitches, and David Hess’ took 68.

Being able to record nine outs on 36 pitches is efficient for a starter or reliever. Considering what Valdez might be asked to do as a swingman this season, that kind of effort will help the Orioles not only on the day he pitches but also ensure others are able to rest and be ready to pitch in the following days.

Greene, too, could get a chance to eat those kind of innings out of the bullpen if he pitches like that at the alternate training site in Bowie and into the Triple-A season.

Seeing is believing

All spring long, the Orioles have been giving opponents extra outs in some form or fashion and making things difficult on their pitchers. Hyde said Monday that they’ve been “fairly solid at times” defensively, but “need to get a lot better.”

They didn’t add to their league-leading total of 25 errors in the fourth inning Tuesday for Dillon Tate, but certainly didn’t do the promising reliever any favors.

The pitch before Joey Wendle doubled to left field, a foul pop fell between catcher Adley Rutschman and third baseman Franco on the dirt in front of the Rays’ dugout. Then, with a run already in, Ramón Urías could only get the force out at second on a slow chopper that the Orioles couldn’t turn into an inning-ending double play. Another run scored, and Tate ultimately didn’t finish his inning.

Hyde will want Tate to put away hitters and prevent such things, but when a pitcher is essentially asked to get five outs in an inning, not finishing it can’t exactly be held against him.

Spring training

ORIOLES@RED SOX

Wednesday, 6:05 p.m.

TV: MLB Network

Radio: 105.7 FM

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