It takes a group effort to be as poor at the plate as the Orioles have been this spring, but there are certainly individuals who should be good enough to overcome that malaise.
Rookie outfielder Ryan Mountcastle is one of them.
The presumptive everyday left fielder come Opening Day entered Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the Detroit Tigers with just two hits — a double and a home run — in 20 plate appearances.
But he doubled twice in three trips in Sunday’s 5-1 loss to calm some of the concerns about his spring training struggles.
“He drove a ball to left and drove a ball to right,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s a matter of time for Ryan. I love when he has a middle-of-the-field approach, and he has so much power to both sides of the diamond. He’s just got to relax a little bit. He’s just been a little jumpy early, early in camp.”
Mountcastle was impressive in his big league debut last summer, coming up in August and batting .333 with an .878 OPS and six home runs in 140 plate appearances. He even walked a decent amount, even if he hasn’t walked yet this spring.
But his spring has largely been mired by spells of soft contact interspersed with drives off of and over the outfield wall. When Mountcastle hits the ball in the air like he did Sunday, he’s strong enough to be able to do damage pretty frequently.
It was telling when Hyde was lamenting the quality of at-bats from his young players this spring that he put Mountcastle in a category with veterans Trey Mancini and Freddy Galvis as players who he expected to have better at-bats as the season approaches.
That’s a long way from him spending extra time in the minors for plate discipline purposes, but goes to show the trust Mountcastle has earned in his short time in the majors so far.
It’s that time of spring when young players who aren’t on the major league radar get a start before being sent away to prepare for their minor league seasons, and if Sunday was that moment for Orioles top prospect Adley Rutschman, there will be plenty to carry with him from big league camp.
He has three hits in 12 at-bats this spring after an 0-for-3 day Sunday. Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull struck him out in his first two at-bats while challenging Rutschman with almost exclusively fastballs.
Rutschman, who was praised for the quality of his 10-pitch at-bat off the bench Saturday that resulted in a double that was the Orioles’ only hit that day, showed off his approach again Sunday by laying off some pitches on the edges and being aggressive in the zone in his first two at-bats.
But Turnbull, working with a mid-90s fastball, challenged Rutschman with six fastballs in the strike zone and didn’t get punished for any of them. None were necessarily mistakes, but for someone as prolific as Rutschman can be, fastballs up the strike zone should be the types of pitches he feasts on.
Perhaps he was, like many of the Orioles this spring, overswinging to make an impression. When he doubled for his first hit of the spring March 3 against the Atlanta Braves, Hyde noted that he got himself under control in his fourth and final at-bat and needed to learn to do that more often. That will be a fine lesson to carry down to minor league camp as Rutschman begins to prepare for his long-awaited first full minor league season.
Kremer and Zimmermann impress again
Shortly after the Orioles acquired Dean Kremer from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the July 2018 trade for Manny Machado, Bruce Zimmermann came from the Braves and joined him at Double-A Bowie.
Kremer said the two have grown to be close friends, and now they’re pushing each other for the honor of the most impressive rookie pitcher in Orioles camp.
For the third time Sunday, they pitched on the same day. Kremer allowed a run on three hits with four strikeouts and a pair of walks.
Zimmermann, the Loyola Blakefield product who entered his outing Sunday with five shutout innings of relief with two runners allowed and six strikeouts, retired the first nine batters he faced after entering in the fourth inning. A pair of walks made for a tense seventh, but he got out of the jam and left with four shutout, hitless innings.
Kremer said the two being on the same schedule this spring has allowed them to work in tandem and improve one another.
“Our schedules are aligned so it works out perfect,” Kremer said. “Our schedules are pretty similar. We get to compete with each other throughout the week and hopefully, compete for a job.
“We’re both thinkers. He’s obviously left-handed and I’m right-handed, but I throw a good curveball and he throws a good changeup. We kind of go back and forth on helping his curveball and he’ll help me with my changeup. It’s awesome being able to go back and forth with somebody.”
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