It didn’t take long for Anthony Santander to be tested at first base.
Monday’s spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies marked the first time the Orioles’ outfielder had played first base since nine High-A games in 2016. Manager Brandon Hyde wanted to give Santander time there in his final exhibition before leaving camp to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
The day’s second batter, Alec Bohm, hit a popup, and Santander raced near the mound, called off pitcher Cole Irvin and despite drifting some as the ball came down, made the catch. Santander acknowledged he temporarily lost the ball amid the cloudless sky, but he said his experience as an outfielder helped. Outside of the adventurous popup, Santander’s return to first base was without drama.
“Thought he did a good job,” Hyde said. “He was in the right spot on a cut and relay in the gap. Made a few ground ball plays. Caught a tough popup. Did a great job. It was good to see him out there.”
Santander practiced some at first base last season but never appeared in a game. Before Sunday’s game at Tropicana Field, he practiced pick drills in front of the Orioles’ dugout. Baltimore is seeking a backup first baseman to occasionally spell Ryan Mountcastle, who fittingly was at designated hitter Monday as Santander noted his ability to play first would allow the Orioles to give Mountcastle days at DH.
In Mountcastle’s spot, Santander fielded the grounders hit to him without issue, though they were all hit relatively softly.
“We have to wait until somebody smashes one ball at 100, 105 [mph] and see,” Santander said. “But I feel pretty good.”
PitchCom for pitchers
Of the 44 pitches Irvin threw in his second spring training start, the left-hander was responsible for calling two of them.
After a successful introduction in 2022 for PitchCom — a device that enabled catchers to electronically relay pitch signs to pitchers and some fielders — the league is experimenting this spring with a version of the device that allows pitchers to call their own pitches.
Irvin and Kyle Gibson, the two starting pitchers the Orioles acquired this offseason, have been among those using the new PitchCom and come away pleased with it, saying it’s allowed them to build a quick rapport with catchers Adley Rutschman and James McCann. Gibson noted the device also has value with the sport’s newly enforced pitch clock, allowing him to give his catcher a sign and work quickly.
During Monday’s three-inning, one-run start, Irvin kept the device on his belt, using it infrequently as he and Rutschman were “on the same page pretty much the whole time” after having worked together on backfields.
“It really isn’t anything different than what the catcher’s doing,” Irvin said. “It’s just more so I can get it in quicker. I kind of have an idea of what I want to do, and I like to have options, and if I see something, I want my catcher to recognize that, ‘Hey, I’m reading the game, too.’ I see how the batter’s maybe moving across the plate a little bit or pulling out, whatever it may be.
“It’s just kind of just taking advantage of things I’m seeing out there and reacting to the game. Because you can’t always pitch to a game plan, and sometimes you’re not always on, so you have to be able to make that adjustment.”
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Irvin and Gibson are practically assured two of Baltimore’s five rotation spots, and speaking about top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez on Monday’s Mid-Atlantic Sports Network broadcast, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said, “This is kind of his time,” furthering the likelihood he breaks camp with the team.
Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish are viewed as likely options for the other two spots, and their top competitors haven’t helped themselves in recent days. After Tyler Wells gave up three runs over two innings in his first start Saturday, Austin Voth surpassed that in the span of six batters Monday, surrendering three home runs and two deep flyouts in his second inning of work. He retired all six batters in his other two frames.
The kids play
Austin Hays, playing center field with Cedric Mullins leaving camp to play for the United States in the WBC, hit a three-run home run that supplied all of Baltimore’s offense through seven innings.
But the Orioles rallied from a 7-3 deficit behind many of their top prospects. With two on, Coby Mayo smacked a ball into center for his first hit in 11 spring at-bats. A third baseman who ended last season at Double-A, Mayo is considered to have top-end power and showed it on the hard-hit ball.
Second baseman Connor Norby, who led Orioles minor leaguers in home runs in 2022, brought in a run with a groundout. Colton Cowser, the fifth overall draft pick in 2021, then drove a ball to the opposite field for a game-tying home run. Cowser had been 1-for-8 with five strikeouts this spring, though he had also walked five times.
“That was nice to see, for sure,” Hyde said. “Obviously, the ball was really carrying to left, left-center today, but he squared it up really well and stayed on it. Good to see him drive the baseball.”
Jackson Holliday, the first overall pick in last year’s draft, led off the bottom of the ninth with a single. After a walk, Ryan O’Hearn — one of the nonroster invitees vying for the backup first base job — hit a walk-off three-run home run to give the Orioles a 10-7 victory.