Sunday’s exhibition against the Philadelphia Phillies and the home-and-home games against the Washington Nationals that follow Monday and Tuesday represent the Orioles’ only true opportunities to prepare for the 2020 season outside of their daily workouts at Camden Yards.
The games will offer some insight into the team’s decision-making, though the tedious conversations around their past few bullpen and bench spots likely create far more room for uncertainty.
But as fans get their first glimpse of the games (on television) and see the 2020 Orioles in action, a few things will be important to watch with Opening Day on July 24 in Boston looming.
Here are some questions yet to be answered:
How far along is Anthony Santander?
Santander and Dwight Smith Jr., the team’s two COVID-19 absences from the first two weeks of camp, won’t be traveling to Philadelphia for Sunday’s game and will instead stay in Baltimore to hit against some pitchers who stay behind.
Each is on a crash course to be ready for Opening Day, with Santander a few days ahead in terms of his progression and thus likely to see time in one of the exhibition games if he continues to progress.
Both players are important to the team’s plans, but considering that Smith said that he might need two weeks to get ready and he only began working out Friday, it might not be worth rushing him to be ready for Opening Day.
Santander would presumably be batting in the middle of their order, though, and manager Brandon Hyde is right to want him ready as soon as possible. It also stands to reason that if the Orioles decide each player needs a few days beyond Opening Day to be sound enough for full game action, they could both be added to the 30-man roster and not leave the club short-handed for too long.
It’s unclear how the COVID-19 injured list works, or whether a player would even be eligible for the traditional 10-day injured list if they are recovering from the virus.
Who rounds out the rotation?
The team’s three exhibitions lined up nicely for the top three starters — John Means, Alex Cobb, and Wade LeBlanc — to pitch against real opponents before Means’ dead arm situation came up Saturday and caused him to be replaced by Thomas Eshelman for Sunday’s game at the Phillies.
Now, that’s in flux if Means isn’t recovered for Opening Day. That would mean Cobb would have to be held back from Monday’s game, or else pitch on short rest on Opening Day the way Andrew Cashner did in his place last year — and that’s not exactly ideal considering the circumstances.
Another rotation-related item worth watching is whether the fourth and fifth starter candidates pitch out of the bullpen at all or whether they will be held out and kept on a regular schedule. Seeing Asher Wojciechowski, Tommy Milone or Kohl Stewart pitch in relief at any point in the next three days might be a sign that they have been tabbed for that role.
Can they get through this healthy?
As much as facing another team and better competition must be appealing for Hyde and his staff, so too must be the idea that they just take a team that’s relatively settled — with only one injury question in Means — and fast-forward to the season opener Friday.
The losses of left-hander Ty Blach (elbow surgery) and infielder Richie Martin (wrist) for the season, plus the week-plus absence of reliever Dillon Tate after he took a line drive off the arm, hurt the team’s depth but don’t change any major plans.
Means’ situation could be a major wrench in their plans, and there could be a half-dozen others. Hyde and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias will breathe a little easier once they’re out of the final exhibition game without incident.
Veteran shortstop José Iglesias is a valuable player, and Hanser Alberto probably is on that list, too. So is rookie outfielder Austin Hays, who is pegged to lead off and be the everyday center fielder. For salary purposes, Cobb and Chris Davis are as well.
The Orioles can only gain so much from empty-stadium scrimmages, but they can lose plenty.
Which Chris Davis will be around when the season starts?
Davis had what was shaping up to be a Grapefruit League MVP-type spring going on when baseball was shut down, and while he hasn’t reached those heights so far in the open portions of camp, he hasn’t been 2018-level concerning either.
More so than the middle of March, and certainly more so than he will have seen at any point in the spring or summer camp, Davis is going to face pitchers who aren’t trying to get work in but instead are pitching to a scouting report and trying to get him out.
That will ramp up again come Friday in Boston, but early in spring and even now, Davis has been facing pitchers who are trying to work on different things or build up their arms. He has shown a renewed approach and swung at pitches in parts of the plate that he hasn’t for years, but he’s also getting pitches in places that he might not when the games count.
If Davis’ resurgence is going to pick up where it left off, these games can show that.
Orioles exhibition schedule
Sunday, at Phillies, 6:05 p.m. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)
Monday, vs. Nationals, 6:05 p.m. (MASN, 105.7 FM)
Tuesday, at Nationals, 6:05 p.m. (MASN, 105.7 FM)