From the time a lumbar strain sidelined Chris Davis near the start of Orioles camp, the possibility existed that the injury would force Davis to begin the year on the injured list. Now that’s looking more and more probable.
O's manager Brandon Hyde said Monday the team is considering opening the year with Davis on the 60-day IL, delaying his 2021 debut until at least the end of May. Davis hasn’t played since injuring his back during Baltimore's spring opener Feb. 28.
“I think it could be a possibility,” Hyde said before Monday’s 6-5 loss to the Pirates at LECOM Park.
Hyde was light on additional details, given the fluidity of the situation. But with every passing day, the chances for Davis to ramp up into game shape get slimmer. Davis has not spoken publicly about the issue, and the Orioles haven’t provided an update since Davis consulted a specialist in mid-March.
The situation does provide the O's some roster flexibility given how they’d already committed to Davis, the 2013 and ’15 American League home run champion, in a reserve role going forward. He hit .115 without a homer in 16 games last season and was sidelined for much of '20 with a left knee issue. Davis is owed roughly $46 million through ’22, and has hit just .185 with a .615 OPS since the start of '17.
Two seasons ago, Hyde famously put out 64 different lineups during his first 64 games as manager, which spoke to the fluidity of the O’s roster. Things are more stable now. Hyde will still play matchups; he won’t have a set lineup. But the top half of Monday’s lineup, at least, offered a window into what Hyde's thinking could look like on most nights:
(The above iteration is more likely against right-handed pitching, with Mullins hitting exclusively left-handed these days.)
For much of Grapefruit League play, Hyde had Mancini in the No. 2 hole and Santander batting third. Santander’s ability to switch-hit provides flexibility, though over a full season, the tangible difference is probably negligible. Mullins is making the case to bat leadoff with a strong spring, hitting .286 with an .812 OPS. Mountcastle hit third or fourth every game down the stretch in 2020.
“I’m trying to put the best four hitters in the top four spots,” Hyde said. “I’d like the leadoff guy to be an on-base guy and the next three to be our best three hitters.”
From Monday's game
• John Means labored some in what should be his penultimate tuneup for Opening Day, allowing three runs in 3 2/3 innings, including a 32-pitch first. More important was that Means worked up to 82 pitches; he will target the 90- to 100-pitch range in his final spring start with an eye toward Opening Day against the Red Sox on April 1.
“He battled, and we got his pitch count up to where we wanted to get to it,” Hyde said. “The way our rotation is now, it would definitely be nice for John to go deep in games for us."
• For as good as Mullins has been this spring, Austin Hays has been better as he tries to edge out Mullins for reps in center field. Hays collected two hits and played right field Monday, boosting his Grapefruit League average to .378 and OPS to 1.047. Only Mountcastle has gotten as many at-bats as Mullins or Hays this spring. However it shakes out, the superior defense of Mullins and Hays and Hays’ versatility foreshadow significant playing time for both come 2021.
“My main goal was to have a healthy camp and be able to show all my tools,” Hays said. “It’s been great for me to be able to do that so far.”
The Orioles return to the Mid Atlantic Sports Network airwaves Tuesday for the first time this spring, when they host the Rays at Ed Smith Stadium. Right-hander Cesar Valdez will make his first start of the spring in the O's scheduled bullpen game, with Trevor Richards opposing for Tampa Bay. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. ET.