Fort Myers, Fla. — Jose Mesa, who is among the pitchers competing for the Orioles’ final rotation spot, was scheduled to pitch two innings in his Grapefruit League debut Sunday against the Boston Red Sox at jetBlue Park.
But the Rule 5 draft pick lasted just two-thirds of an inning in his first spring game, allowing six of the seven batters he faced to reach base and yielding back-to-back homers to Blake Swihart and Jeremy Barfield.
“I’m going him a little pass on the first one,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s got better stuff than that. I think he’ll settle in next time out.”
Mesa struggled with his command throughout the outing, walking three and throwing a wild pitch, but it was the poor placement of the two home-run pitches that ultimately hurt him the most.
He left a 3-2 fastball up to Swihart, who crushed the ball well over the right-field fence for a two-run blast that broke a 1-all tie. Barfield hit a hanging slider on a 1-1 count over the top row of Green Monster seats in left field.
The damage likely would have been worse had catcher Austin Wynns not thrown out Rusney Castillo attempting to steal third on a play that erased his leadoff single.
Mesa is one of the three players selected in this season’s Rule 5 draft, all of them pitchers and two of them from the New York Yankees organization. The Orioles will have a tough time carrying all three, especially with only four spots on the pitching staff — one in the rotation and three in the bullpen — likely available.
The Orioles must also carry outfielder Anthony Santander, last year’s Rule 5 pick, for the first six weeks of the season for him to fulfill his Rule 5 requirements from last year. Rule 5 selections must stay on the active 25-man roster for 90 days, and since Santander spent most of the season on the DL, his time carries over to the beginning of this season.
Even after adding Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman to the rotation, the Orioles are still looking at Mesa — who is the son of the former major league pitcher of the same name — as a starter.
The younger Mesa allowed just one run over 35 innings in eight starts last season at High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Six of his last seven appearances in 2017 were starts, and the Yankees stretched him out to just one start of more than five innings.
“[After] an outing like that, you’ve got to trust the track record a little bit,” Showalter said. “You kind of give him a pass. If it happens again, we’ll think about it. But I think he’s better than that.”