A 30-second video review reversed home-plate umpire Chad Fairchild’s assertion that a down-and-in slider from Chicago White Sox right-hander Ervin Santana had plunked Orioles right fielder Stevie Wilkerson. It took only three pitches for Wilkerson to make Santana wish it had.
After trotting from the batter’s box to first base and back, Wilkerson slugged his first major league home run in the fourth inning of Wednesday night’s 4-3 victory. The solo shot came on Santana’s fourth straight slider to Wilkerson, and unlike the previous three, it found the middle of the strike zone, allowing Wilkerson to send it out to center. Wilkerson said he knew the earlier pitch hadn’t hit him even before the White Sox elected to challenge it.
“I guess I was fortunate to get back in the box,” Wilkerson said. “Honestly, I knew I was gonna have to go back and get in the box anyway, so it wasn’t a surprise.”
What might be is Wilkerson’s presence on this team, given that the Orioles designated for him assignment near the end of spring training. He earned a place back on the 40-man roster and Monday’s call-up with a hot start at Triple-A Norfolk, hitting .316/.350/.456 with two homers, a triple and three steals in as many tries.
Even if it had been a hit-by-pitch instead of the homer, it marked the first time Wilkerson reached base in seven plate appearances with the Orioles. Four of the first six at-bats ended in strikeouts, but Wilkerson showed the impact he can have when he makes contact.
“It was an interesting spring and a tough little situation there at the start of the season, but I hit the ground running,” Wilkerson said. “I’m really fortunate to be back here and really happy to be here.”
His ability to switch-hit and play multiple positions, including center field, where the Orioles lack depth after optioning Cedric Mullins in the move that brought Wilkerson to Camden Yards, should give Wilkerson, 27, plenty of opportunities to put that power on display going forward.
He made his first start in left field Monday and played right field Wednesday. Two of his final three appearances with Norfolk came in center, a position that Orioles manager Brandon Hyde listed Wilkerson as the lone alternative behind Joey Rickard.
“Stevie’s gonna get a lot of playing time,” Hyde said. “I play everybody, and everybody’s gonna have a role, and everybody’s gonna play, so Stevie’s gonna move around the field like a lot of these guys are.
“If I’m a player, this is the kind of opportunity I’d want, where I’m able to showcase my skills, I’m playing in the big leagues, and I’ve got a chance to move around the field to show people what I can do. That’s where a lot of these guys are right now.”
Wilkerson’s teammates in the Orioles bullpen retrieved the ball for him while those in the dugout celebrated with him. Only three pitches before, he stood at first base.
“Baseball, right?” Hyde said. “Good to see Stevie do that. I know he wants to come up here and contribute, he wants to show well right away. Had some tough at-bats going up into that at-bat, and for him to go deep there, it must’ve felt great.”