On Monday, the Orioles returned to New York for the first time since their first series of the season to begin a three-game set with the Yankees, providing a notable goalpost for the rebuilding project underway in Baltimore.
With the theme of development hanging over the Orioles’ 2019 season, it can be difficult to see progress toward that goal on a day-to-day basis. But by taking a step back and examining a stretch of games, it becomes easier to piece together the growth undergone.
Including taking two of three from New York to start the season, the Orioles reached the 40-game mark with a two-game improvement of where they stood at this point last season. But measuring growth with this group is more valuable when comparing it to earlier this year.
Asked what’s changed about the group he’s bringing to New York this time versus the one brought north for Opening Day, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said the roster, but not the mentality, differs.
“That seems like a long time ago,” Hyde said. “I think that the excitement and energy that we came here with, I feel like that’s still the same, and I think our guys are continuing to play really hard and into every pitch, into every at-bat. Love the effort our guys are giving. It’s all the same except the roster’s changed a little bit.”
Left-hander John Means, perhaps the best individual example of development on the Orioles’ roster, echoed his manager’s stance on the inexperienced team’s enjoyment.
“I honestly think we’re still having as much fun as we were Opening Day,” Means said. “Kinda going into the season, we’ve got a lot of new faces and everything. I think coming into the season, we were excited, and coming back here, we’re excited. Not much has changed.”
But the Orioles’ growth isn’t going unnoticed among the team’s veterans. Right-hander Dylan Bundy said it’s hard to evaluate development at the season’s quarter-pole compared with a full campaign, but he notices the progress taking place.
“You’re starting to see certain players do certain things and just because they’re getting the chance to play every single day or a chance to be in the rotation or in the ’pen, so you’re really getting to see a lot of opportunities here,” Bundy said. “Guys are trying to take advantage of them.
“Everybody’s so young here and a lot of talent. We just have to get to that talent more often and more consistent, and I think you see certain guys are starting to do that now.”
Infielder Rio Ruiz, claimed via waivers from the Atlanta Braves this offseason, is an example of that, improving as the season has gone on. He’s seen advancement in his teammates as well, whether it’s been pitchers improving their command or position players making a defensive play they might not have in that opening series in New York.
“I think there’s just a little bit more confidence in everybody,” Ruiz said. “Not to say there wasn’t to begin with, but I guess we’ve gotten our feet wet, so to speak, for the first month.
“We’ve got still got awhile to go, and it’s just gonna get more fun. Guys are just gonna continue to improve. At the end of all this, everybody’s gonna be surprised where everybody’s at.”
Outfielder Trey Mancini pointed to Means, Ruiz and Dwight Smith Jr. as examples of Orioles who didn’t have many major league opportunities coming into this season but have taken advantage of those they’ve received in Baltimore thus far. He still sees a young, hungry team seeking improvement.
“That’s been our goal from Day One, just kind of lay it all on the line,” Mancini said. “Overall, I feel like we’ve done a good job of doing that.”
Around the horn
» Hyde said right-hander Alex Cobb, on the 10-day injured list for the third time overall and the second time with a lower back strain, will begin rehabilitation work at the Orioles’ extended spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla., “pretty soon,” though a complete timeline remains “iffy.”
» Hyde’s decision to sit rookie shortstop Richie Martin to find him spots to succeed is related to both facing right-handed pitching and the success of infielder Hanser Alberto.
» Hyde’s desire to add a fourth position player to the Orioles’ bench is made difficult by the rotation’s lack of lengthy starts and a run of 20 straight days with games.
» Outfielder Austin Hays joined High-A Frederick on Monday to begin a rehab assignment.