Sarasota, Fla. — Ramón Urías wasn’t meant to start at shortstop in the Orioles’ six-inning Grapefruit League win over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday. In filling in for Freddy Galvis after the presumptive starter was scratched with hip soreness, Urías took his chance to make an impression with a three-run home run that gave the Orioles a late lead.
It could be a sign of things to come for the 26-year-old infielder, who along with Pat Valaika might be the Orioles’ best option behind Galvis should the hip injury force more than precautionary absences for the free-agent signing.
Urías was a waiver claim last spring who ended up making his big league debut in 2020, collecting nine hits, including a home run and two doubles, in 27 plate appearances.
He was a productive hitter in the Mexican League before signing with the St. Louis Cardinals and hit well in two high-minors seasons before he ended up in the Orioles organization last spring. He has the type of track record that makes the club believe in a player who hasn’t gotten his chance yet.
It’s likely a coincidence that Urías was on the game day roster Thursday while Valaika was off, but he started plenty at shortstop over the last week of the 2020 season when Valaika was still an option to do so. Urías can also cover all three infield positions outside of first base, as evidenced by his minor league track record. He’s done it all this spring, too.
Because he’s on the roster and because the Orioles can likely save some money having him as the infield utility player instead of Valaika, it’s possible Urías could sway enough people over the next month to earn a spot on the team.
When manager Brandon Hyde spoke of him earlier this week, he somewhat ominously said the Orioles were “taking a long look” at Urías. Such a proclamation has been used plenty of times this spring about players who are on the outside of the roster conversation looking in.
But Hyde’s liked what he’s seen so far.
“I thought he did a fine job filling in at the end at shortstop but he’s a guy who can play multiple positions, I think he handles the bat well and I like the way he uses the opposite field and can do some things offensively,” Hyde said. “I’m going to give him a lot of at-bats this spring training and try to get him to feel comfortable and play with some confidence.”
Everyone is working on something in spring training. Not everyone can say he’s executing those adjustments the way Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander is.
Santander, the reigning Most Valuable Oriole who has hit 31 home runs in 130 games over the past two seasons, said he was intent on improving his plate discipline this spring when he spoke last week.
He followed up a three-walk performance Tuesday against the New York Yankees with a pair of walks Thursday against Boston. He watched several close pitches go by in each instance.
“He knows that if he can eliminate the chase and gets guys in the strike zone, he’s going to do a lot of damage,” Hyde said. “To be a little bit more selectively aggressive and understand he doesn’t need to leave the strike zone, which he didn’t do the other, he’s going to put some good at-bats together and put some big numbers up.”
Santander’s chase rate has gone down as he’s gotten older, but was still in the top 20% of the league in 2020 at 36.9%. He’ll face better pitchers with better plans to get him out once the games matter, but this spring is a good opportunity to ensure he’s ready for that.
The little things
One of the things lost in this COVID-protocol spring training is time to see the Orioles working on small aspects of the game on the practice fields. One such instance last year featured Hyde telling a group of minor leaguers how bad the team was on the bases in 2019 and how 2020 needed to be better. (He was not thrilled this was overheard.)
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With that in mind, Hyde must have been thrilled to see something as simple as Cedric Mullins’ run-scoring single in the third inning play out the way it did. Mullins singled over the shortstop with Rylan Bannon on second base and Ryan McKenna on first, and Bannon was able to score easily.
But McKenna watched the ball and took an aggressive turn, allowing him to take third when the fielder was slow to the ball. Mullins followed him and ended up at second on the throw.
It was a small moment, but one that if the Orioles replicate it on a daily basis could help slowly turn the tides of the team’s fortunes. That prospects like Bannon and McKenna are locked in on such details is a good sign.
Around the horn
Right-hander Matt Harvey will debut with the Orioles on Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin. ... Hyde said left-hander Alexander Wells (oblique) is playing catch, while infielder Richie Martin (wrist) could be in games next week. First baseman Chris Davis (back) remains out.
Friday, 3 p.m.