Philadelphia — At the beginning of spring training, the games are for knocking the cobwebs out. By the end, it’s much more about simply surviving for the regular season.
Sunday’s 5-1, 9½-inning Orioles win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, their first of three exhibition games, was a white-knuckle mix of the two, one in which Orioles manager Brandon Hyde had plenty to like but also lost outfielder Stevie Wilkerson to a finger injury — and might feel fortunate if that’s the only bad news of the night as nearly every one of his regulars in the lineups ended up in harm’s way.
“It makes me nervous, big-time,” Hyde said. “We’re all nervous about keeping our guys healthy and breaking with everybody healthy and ready to go. That definitely goes through your mind.”
Prized Phillies free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler spent the day searching for his control, and it was mostly Hyde’s projected Opening Day starters who dealt with the consequences. Third baseman Rio Ruiz was hit by a 96 mph fastball on the shoulder in the third inning.
Catcher Pedro Severino, whose second-inning home run was the biggest swing of the game, had a high fastball deflect off the knob of his bat in the fourth inning.
Center fielder Austin Hays was hit on the knee by a pitch in the fifth inning, and though he was going to be substituted out of the game at that point anyway, Hyde said that he might hold him out of Monday’s exhibition game if he’s still sore.
In the bottom half of that inning, Severino and first baseman Chris Davis thudded into one another underneath an infield pop-up that neither called for.
Such dangers are part of the game, but not a part that a team will want to be leaning into barely a week before the July 24 Opening Day.
Only Wilkerson appears to be a long-term concern. Before the game, Hyde lamented that he had to choose between the four utility men in camp — Wilkerson, Pat Valaika, Andrew Velazquez, and Dilson Herrera. He extolled the virtues of each, and with uncertainty as to when Anthony Santander can be ready to assume the everyday right field role, Wilkerson’s start there was meaningful.
He made an athletic, shoe-string catch coming in on a looping ball from Jean Segura’s bat, but his glove-hand got stuck in the ground and bent his wrist back at a severe angle. Wilkerson left the game after the inning ended, with Herrera replacing him.
Hyde said Wilkerson “has some swelling in his left hand ring finger” and is going to see a hand specialist Monday.
For every moment Hyde had to hold his breath, there was probably another that excited him. Severino, who Hyde said earlier this week had been having one of the more impressive camps of any Oriole, homered in the second inning.
Chris Davis walked, took second on a ball in the dirt, and scored on a single by Hanser Alberto int the fourth inning. Cedric Mullins, who replaced Hays in center field, made a leaping catch at the center field wall to begin the bottom of the sixth inning and stroked a home run to right-center field to begin the top of the eighth.
Valaika homered to help his roster case in the ninth inning, and Ryan Mountcastle homered to begin the 10th inning, only half of which was played so the Phillies could get one last pitcher work.
Hyde also got four-plus shutout innings from fill-in starter Thomas Eshelman, a former Phillies prospect who had to start in place of a tired-armed John Means.
“He had a lot of movement on his fastball,” Hyde said. “He had a really good changeup. That was the best, for me, the best his curveball has been. And he just pitched with a ton of confidence tonight. That was just an outstanding performance.”
Tanner Scott and Miguel Castro pitched well out of the bullpen, with the Phillies’ only run charged to Castro in the eighth inning.
Around the horn
- Outfielder Dwight Smith Jr., who just reported to Orioles camp on Friday because of a positive COVID-19 test during intake testing, will be placed on the injured list tomorrow, Hyde said. However, he can be removed at any time, and the placement doesn’t prevent him from being ready for Opening Day.
- Hyde said Richard Bleier, Travis Lakins Sr., Paul Fry, Cesar Valdez, and possibly Rob Zastryzny will pitch after Alex Cobb in Monday’s game against the Washington Nationals. On Tuesday, Kohl Stewart will start with Shawn Armstrong, Mycahl Givens, Evan Phillips, and possibly David Hess pitching at Nationals Park.
Orioles exhibition schedule
Monday, vs. Nationals, 6:05 p.m. (MASN, 105.7 FM)
Tuesday, at Nationals, 6:05 p.m. (MASN, 105.7 FM)