Notes: Stewart drills; Franco, Martin debut

March 21st, 2021

Sidelined for much of Grapefruit League play due to a balky left hamstring, time for is running out. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said on Sunday that the chances were lessening for Stewart to ramp up to game action, casting the outfielder as questionable to head north with the club on Opening Day.

Stewart hasn’t appeared in Grapefruit League action since March 5, when he tweaked his left hamstring legging out a fielder’s choice against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla. He’d homered in two of his first three spring games before the injury.

“It’s becoming more and more challenging,” Hyde said. “He was out there doing some drills with us this morning. He’s just not 100 percent yet and I’m not going to put him on the field in a game until he’s 100 percent.”

Added Hyde: “He needs to play in some games before we break.”

Stewart resumed hitting in simulated game action this weekend, as well as the aforementioned drill work. But he’s yet to be cleared to sprint fully; until that happens, Stewart won’t be given the green light to return to game action. The Orioles have eight spring games remaining on the schedule after Sunday’s 12-7 loss to the Twins at Ed Smith Stadium.

For Stewart, it’s another in a growing list of injuries that’ve cut into his opportunity since arriving to the Majors in September 2018, then bouncing between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk the past two seasons. He lost time in 2019 to a right ankle sprain and to a concussion, then required offseason micro fracture surgery on the same ankle. Stewart made the O’s Opening Day roster in 2020 and spent 31 games in the big leagues, hitting .193/.355/.432 with seven homers, largely in a reserve role. But he caught fire playing everyday in Anthony Santander’s absence down the stretch, belting six homers in six games at one point.

This spring, Stewart’s best path to everyday at-bats seemed to be at designated hitter, with Santander entrenched in right and exciting rookie Ryan Mountcastle, ranked as the club's No. 5 prospect by MLB Pipeline, in left. The O’s are planning to be flexible in that slot with or without Stewart, using it as a way to occasionally spell Trey Mancini and play matchups.

From the game

Sunday brought the anticipated spring debuts for shortstop Richie Martin and newly-signed third baseman Maikel Franco, with Franco contributing a two-run double in his first official Grapefruit action in orange and black. Martin went 1-for-3 with an RBI single in his return from left hamate surgery. He now has upwards of one week to play himself into the battle for one of two super-utility jobs, with Pat Valaika and Ramón Urías the frontrunners for those roles.

For Franco, the next week will be about playing into game shape after arriving in Orioles camp on Wednesday after inking a one-year, $800,000 free-agent deal. The contract does allow the O's to send Franco to their alternate training site should he require more time to get ready before Opening Day.

“I thought he took good at-bats, good swings,” Hyde said. “We’ll give him a breather tomorrow and then get him back in there.”

Mountcastle rising

It had been a slow spring for Mountcastle before he continued breaking out on Sunday, hitting a run-scoring double off of Twins starter J.A. Happ in the third and a solo homer in the fifth off of Lewis Thorpe. It was the second home run in as many games for Mountcastle, and his third of Grapefruit League play.

“I’m feeling pretty good,I just had to get my timing down,” Mountcastle said. “Sometimes it takes me a little while during spring. But I’m getting the hang of things and seeing the ball pretty good.”

Hyde has penciled Mountcastle into the lineup as much as anyone this spring, as he prepares to handle everyday left-field duties in 2021. The 24-year-old Mountcastle enters the season as an American League Rookie of the Year Award candidate after falling four at-bats shy of shedding his eligibility last season.

Up next

Lefty John Means gets his penultimate tuneup for Opening Day, when the Orioles take on the Pirates at 1:05 p.m. ET on Monday at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla. Right-hander Mitch Keller starts for the Bucs.