FORT MYERS, Fla. — Colton Cowser didn’t need to eat Wheaties on Friday morning to power the 476-foot home run he smashed against the Minnesota Twins.
“I had the same breakfast per usual,” Cowser said. “I usually just go with some French toast, avocado, some bacon. I actually had a hard-boiled egg this morning. That was new, so I may have to mix that up.”
The blast, which had an exit velocity of 106 mph, cleared the tall batter’s eye in center field at Hammond Stadium.
“Is that what it was?” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said in shock when told the distance of Cowser’s homer. “He put a great swing on that. I think he showed you a little bit of what he can do with the base hit the other way and the power to dead center. Getting more comfortable with some regular at-bats. That was an impressive home run.”
Cowser’s long ball was the last of back-to-back-to-back homers in the third inning off Twins starter Tyler Mahle. Jordan Westburg and Daz Cameron preceded Cowser with solo shots of their own — both hit harder than 100 mph and farther than 400 feet.
“It was nice to see Jordan drive the ball the way he did, and Daz had a couple of really good at-bats,” Hyde said.
Cowser, the Orioles’ No. 4 prospect according to Baseball America, had been struggling this spring. The 2-for-3 day was his first multi-hit game of camp. He also smacked an RBI single and made a sliding catch in left field in the 5-3 win over the host Twins.
“I’m getting more comfortable every day,” the 2021 first-round pick said. “The strikeouts have cut down a little bit. At the beginning of spring, it felt like it was every at-bat. I just think that comes with more [at-bats]. You’re going to continue to get more comfortable and seeing the ball a little bit better.”
Also in the game, Gunnar Henderson broke out of his 0-for-15 slump with a triple to right-center field.
Kremer refocusing on rotation competition after WBC
The inning before the three straight homers, Orioles starter Dean Kremer allowed back-to-back solo shots to Kyle Farmer and Michael A. Taylor. Those two pitches were the only blemishes in an otherwise productive outing for the 27-year-old right-hander.
“For the most part, it was really good, just made two mistakes. They got hit hard,” said Kremer, who allowed three hits and two runs in four innings while walking none and striking out three. “But still kind of — I don’t want to say tune-up — but still building volume and making sure I extend myself.”
The start was Kremer’s first since returning from playing for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic. He pitched four shutout innings in Israel’s WBC opener last weekend. Israel didn’t advance past pool play.
“Our team, we had some fun,” he said. “It’s very rare that you get to be in a clubhouse with a lot of guys similar to yourself. … It’s a lot of fun being around guys just like you.”
Now, though, Kremer is shifting his focus back to earning a spot in the Orioles’ starting rotation. Last season, Kremer posted a rotation-best 3.23 ERA in 125 1/3 innings.
“I enjoyed my time immensely at the WBC, but now it’s time to kind of win a job, I guess, or compete for a job,” he said.
Closer Félix Bautista followed Kremer and was dominant in his one inning. It was the second appearance for Bautista, who had a slow buildup this spring after ending his standout rookie campaign with a sprained left knee and going through a shoulder-strengthening program this offseason.
Baumann ‘ready to embrace’ bullpen role
Mike Baumann is happy to know his role, and he’s hoping to soon have a home in Baltimore’s bullpen.
Baumann spent the first month of spring training ramping up to be a starting pitcher, but Hyde said Thursday that the 27-year-old right-hander would transition to a “short relief role.” After spending 2022 yo-yoing between being a starter and a reliever, Baumann said it’s a relief to know “what to expect moving forward.” He opened the 2022 season as a reliever in the Orioles’ bullpen, but he was shortly sent down to Triple-A to be a starter and then recalled in September to start four games.
“I’m ready to embrace the role,” he said.
The Orioles’ coaching staff approached Baumann, one of 12 pitchers who executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said in early February would compete for the rotation, earlier this week about the change.
“It was short and sweet,” Baumann said of the talk. “I kind of took a step back and said, ‘Hey, if I want to help this team, it’s probably in this sort of role.’”
Hyde said Baumann is “absolutely” being considered to break camp in the Orioles’ bullpen.
“We want to give him enough time to adjust to that role a little bit,” Hyde said. “He’s definitely in the mix with a lot of guys for those last few spots there in that pen.”
Baumann’s first short relief appearance came Thursday in the Orioles’ 7-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. He retired all three batters he faced in the eighth, striking out one.
Baumann, the organization’s co-minor league pitcher of the year in 2019 alongside Grayson Rodriguez, sports a mid-90s fastball with three offspeed pitches, the best being a tight slider that averaged 91.5 mph last season. Opposing batters hit .220 with a .317 slugging percentage against his slider in 2022.
“We just felt like, honestly, with where we are with our rotation, we want to see what he can do in a shorter outing out of the pen and see if his stuff ticks up a little bit,” Hyde said. “I felt last night it did.”
Hall encouraged after sim game
Friday morning might have been just as important as Thursday afternoon for DL Hall.
After pitching a two-inning simulated game Thursday, the left-hander woke up Friday feeling healthy and encouraged.
“Good, still just trying to get the body going and get used to facing hitters and just start to crispen my pitches up and things like that,” Hall said about how he felt in his 42-pitch tune-up. He added that he only had “normal” soreness following the outing.
Hall displayed the stuff that has earned him recognition as a top 100 prospect, striking out four of the 11 batters he faced.
“My shapes and everything yesterday were extremely good for what I wanted them to be,” Hall said. “As you know, I’m still early in the process, but everything I was throwing yesterday had great shapes. I had great command of my fastball. Just little things like that are wins right now.”
Hyde said Thursday that the goal for Hall would be for him to pitch in an exhibition early next week. Hall thinks his 2023 spring training debut will come either Monday or Tuesday.
While the 24-year-old won’t be ramped up enough to break camp as a starter, Hyde said the Orioles are still committed to building him up to start games.
“We don’t want to close the door on anything with him,” he said.
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The choice for the Orioles now is to either open the season with him in the big league bullpen in a “bulk” relief role or to send him to Triple-A to progress him as a starter.
“We think he’s got a chance to be a really good starter in this league,” Hyde said. “To limit him right now, we don’t want to do that, honestly. We’re not ready to do that yet with him. We want to see him as a starter candidate. Starters are a premium in this league.”
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