Orioles right-hander Gabriel Ynoa faced a Minnesota Twins lineup that included just one bona fide starter, but was nonetheless dominant in his best Grapefruit League start of the season.
Ynoa tossed five scoreless innings in the Orioles' 6-3 win Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd of 8,171 at Ed Smith Stadium.
Manager Buck Showalter said before Saturday's game that the competition for the open rotation spot created by right-hander Chris Tillman's injury could go well into the season's first month because the Orioles don't need a fifth starter until April 15.
Still, the competition seems as wide open as it was when it began with none of the five candidates taking hold of the opportunity entering the final week of the spring. Despite the competition Ynoa faced against the Twins wasn't a formidable one Saturday — catcher Jason Castro was the only sure Opening Day starter — the results were still impressive.
Ynoa allowed just one hit on the night, and Twins first baseman Ben Paulsen's first-inning double was one of just two balls Minnesota hit out of the infield against the right-hander. He induced nine groundouts, including an inning-ending double play in the fourth.
"Honestly, I don't have control of what the team's decision will be," Ynoa said through interpreter Ramon Alarcon. "I just go out there, try to perform, try to do the best I can, so whatever decision they make it's really up to them."
It marked the first time in five spring outings that Ynoa went beyond the third inning.
"I was trying to use my fastball in and out of the plate," Ynoa said. "Also, I was using my sinker. So it was really important to me to go as deep as I went. … I definitely felt better today. I was used to throwing one or two innings in the beginning of spring and now I've thrown five innings. I definitely felt better today."
In five Grapefruit League outings, Ynoa — who was purchased from the New York Mets in February — owns a 1.98 ERA.
"It was a good outing," Showalter said. "He had a lot of movement on his fastball. A couple of guys in the infield were saying how much the ball was running. … He presented himself well. That was as close to a normal night, [just] a little wind blowing out, mostly early. He was pitching in the shadows the first couple innings, a lot of things you keep in mind."
The Orioles hit three home runs on the night, including a two-run opposite-field home run by Chris Davis in the sixth. Davis' home run was his second in his past three games after going homerless in his first 10 Grapefruit League games.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy hit his first homer of the spring, a solo blast in the second inning, and second baseman Jonathan Schoop, playing in his first game back from the World Baseball Classic, hit a towering solo shot in the fourth inning.
"There's a clock when the season is going to start, and then that sense of urgency about making sure you get locked in before you go," Showalter said. "I think you see a little different look on everybody's face. You see the moving truck, you see the [moving] boxes. You see a lot of things."
The Orioles also scored one run on a passed ball in the sixth and a dropped popup by Twins second baseman Niko Goodrum.
Smith back in action: Right fielder Seth Smith, who returned to the lineup for the first time since March 8, posted his first multihit game of the spring.
Smith recorded both of his hits off left-handed pitching, hitting a first-inning double the opposite way off Twins starter Hector Santiago and then a fifth-inning single off lefty reliever Craig Breslow.
Smith is slated to participate in an intrasquad game on Sunday to increase his plate appearances.
Brach allows home run: Right-handed reliever Brad Brach, who entered the night having posted scoreless outings in six of his seven spring appearances, allowed a solo home run to Tommy Field to open the sixth inning.
The only runs that Brach had previously allowed were two runs in two-thirds of an inning in the Orioles' exhibition game against the Dominican Republic WBC team. Brach owns a 3.52 ERA this spring.
Drake allows long homer in ninth: Right-hander Oliver Drake's rocky spring continued as he allowed a two-run homer to Goodrum with two outs in the top of the ninth.
"Glad that ball hit the palm tree [beyond the right-field fence]," Showalter said. "It might have gotten into the training room."
Drake has allowed 13 earned runs in 11 2/3 innings this spring, including five over his past two outings spanning 3 1/3 innings. His spring training ERA is 10.32.
Gentry dazzles on defense: With Schoop and third baseman Manny Machado back from the WBC, the Orioles fielded their best defensive lineup in several weeks.
Nonroster outfielder Craig Gentry made the best defensive play of the night, making a diving catch on Danny Santana's sinking line drive to right field and then throwing to first to double up base runner J.B. Shuck.