SARASOTA, FLA. — As right-hander Mike Wright Jr. continues to build innings this Grapefruit League season in his attempt to win the Orioles’ fifth starting rotation spot, he knows developing a cutter will help him make his best case.
The pitch, which he tinkered with in Triple-A last season and has been throwing through his first two starts this spring, could complement a sinker that will give him the opportunity to induce more ground balls and allow his infield to make plays behind him.
“The only way you make the team is, as a position player if you hit, if you field the baseball, and as a pitcher if you throw strikes and get outs,” Wright said. “I’m trying to make the team and the rotation, and the only way to do that is to throw up zeros.”
In his second spring start Wednesday, Wright’s cutter helped him get out of falling behind in the count, and the results were good as he retired six of the seven batters he faced in two scoreless innings.
“Obviously, I threw up zeros,” Wright said. “I fell behind a lot of hitters today. As far as my stuff, I felt pretty good. I felt like I was right around the zone, right around where I wanted to be. I just — slightly making that adjustment back into the strike zone was a little bit tough in the beginning of the counts, but I threw up zeros, so that was good.”
Wright needed 31 pitches to get through two frames — but threw just 15 strikes -- and said he could have pitched the third inning.
“I don’t think that was in the plans,” Wright said of going more than two innings. “But obviously I would have liked to go back out there. It’s always good to go out there and keep getting work. But like I said, I’m not sure it was in the plans today. … Hopefully, next outing I go more than two innings and hopefully next outing I get a little more crisp with some of those pitches.”
Wright, 28, induced three groundouts, including a 4-3 grounder off the bat of José Martínez that stranded a runner in the first inning.
Last year, Wright spread out the use of his four-seam fastball, two-seam sinker and his slider almost equally — each around 30 to 31.9 percent — and induced a 43.7 percent ground-ball rate, which is just slightly below average. Wright hopes to see that number increase by adding a cutter.
“I was pretty happy with my cutters today,” Wright said. “I threw a couple bad ones, but for the most part when I needed them they were there. A couple ground balls from it. Like I said, I was pretty locked in down and away, but it was a ball and next time work on making that adjustment and just continue to focus on working my pitches and getting more ground balls.”
The only hit off Wright on Wednesday came on Tommy Pham’s one-out single up the middle in the first. Pham moved into scoring position by stealing second base.
“Mike stayed within himself. You can see him collect himself, get back in some counts and get some outs,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s a very hitter-friendly day, so anytime you’re putting up zeros up there, you’re pitching pretty effectively.”
Wright retired the Cardinals in order in the second inning.
Innings to come
Right-handers Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman will begin logging spring training innings in simulated games on the back field of the Ed Smith Stadium complex over the next few days.
Cashner will throw a two-inning simulated game Thursday in Sarasota, then throw another sim game Tuesday, increasing to three innings. Tillman will throw a two-inning simulated game Saturday.
After throwing three innings in Friday’s Grapefruit League game, right-hander Dylan Bundy will see his next action in a four-inning sim game Wednesday on the back field. He would be in line to pitch that day while the Orioles play on the road against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Showalter has said he’s likely to keep his starters away from division competition – all four American League East opponents are in the Grapefruit League – and the Minnesota Twins, the Orioles’ first regular-season opponent, instead pitching them in simulated games, “B” games or minor league games.
As was previously scheduled, right-hander Miguel Castro — the front runner for the No. 5 rotation spot — will begin his spring with two innings in a “B” game Friday.