Stomach bug altering O's pitching plans
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Orioles, and baseball en masse, knew it would be a challenge this spring to squeeze pitchers into an appropriate number of innings before the regular season. For Baltimore especially, with so many open spots in the rotation and bullpen, innings are at a premium.
Now throw in a stomach bug that is making its way through the Orioles' pitching staff.
Right-hander Jordan Lyles was scratched from his Orioles debut before Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Rays with the stomach illness, manager Brandon Hyde said, giving way to Chris Ellis to get the start. Lyles is one of several O’s who have had their pitching schedules altered by the bug, along with Cole Sulser, Bryan Baker and Conner Greene, who were scheduled to pitch Thursday but did not. Tanner Scott was slated to pitched Friday but was bumped up to Thursday to account for the absences.
The illnesses are not COVID-19-related, Hyde said, but are tending to sideline players for 24 to 48 hours.
“We already had concern going in, and now [to] push back even further, it's hard,” Hyde said. “We’ll do the best we can to get these guys ready as quick as we can.”
Hyde and his staff face a particularly tough forecast. They want to gain insight into their stable of arms competing for roster spots, but they are cautious about pushing anyone with the health risk in mind, both to their arms in a shortened Spring Training and now with illness. The rotation schedule is being mapped out, Hyde said, but Lyles has yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game. The Orioles signed him with the intention of adding a dependable veteran arm, and the hope is that his experience can ready him in an expedited manner.
Baltimore is auditioning to fill three rotation spots behind Lyles and John Means, and roughly four or five bullpen spots.
The Orioles were already bracing for no more than five innings from their starters by Opening Day. Now tack on the difficulty of wanting to test guys in different environments -- back-to-back outings, multiple innings -- and the club will need to embrace creativity without “B” games or split-squad opportunities this spring.
“We might have to be creative about guys pitching in the game back to back,” Hyde said. “It's hard. We're just trying to get as much back-field stuff as we can to get them ready.”
A positive for the Orioles is that they have staved off significant injuries to their pitchers since camp opened. The only big league-ready players on the mend are catcher Adley Rutschman (right triceps strain), outfielder DJ Stewart (left hand contusion) and right-hander Isaac Mattson (right shoulder soreness), whose injury popped up over the offseason. Rutschman has resumed some catching activities but has yet to throw or swing, Hyde said, and is still about a week away from both.
Stay hot, Yusi
No Oriole may be more in need of a bountiful spring than Yusniel Diaz. The top prospect to come east in the July 2018 trade that sent Manny Machado to the Dodgers, Diaz has yet to find consistent footing with Baltimore, bitten by injuries, bad luck and poor production.
A week of Grapefruit League games is starting to turn that trend.
It's a small sample, but Diaz is hitting .308/.438/.692 through seven spring games (13 at-bats) after a 1-for-3 day with an RBI double on Friday. He’s rejuvenated after being limited to 188 Minor League games since landing in the organization, and he's playing with poise.
“I feel really good right now,” Diaz said through interpreter Brandon Quinones. “I’m just trying to focus on all the positive things that are happening and trying to continue that.”
“He’s playing with some confidence right now, and it's fun to watch him,” Hyde said. “He’s one of the first guys in the ballpark every single morning, he seems really determined right now. We're really happy with his effort so far.”
Does this run of health and success feel like a product of his offseason revitalization program?
“Yes,” Diaz said, “100 percent.”
• Taking over in right field after Diaz was John Rhodes, the Orioles’ third-round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft who rose to Single-A Delmarva in his first pro season. In the eighth inning, the 21-year-old went yard off David McKay, giving him a hit in both of his Grapefruit League at-bats.
• Tyler Wells will start the Orioles' tilt with the Pirates on Saturday night, making him the first starter to get two turns in the rotation, though John Means has gotten some extra work on the back fields. Wells projects to start the season in the rotation, but he might end up moving to the bullpen should the club institute an innings limit after he had so little action before 2021. First pitch Saturday at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota is set for 6:05 p.m. ET.