Award-winning SS Mateo getting reps in ... center?

March 26th, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- In the final days of Spring Training, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has been moving players around the field, getting many of them game action at multiple positions. That isn’t surprising, as Hyde has repeatedly stressed the importance of having a versatile team.

However, one defensive change made by the skipper Friday night was slightly unexpected.

In the sixth inning of a home Grapefruit League win over the Yankees, moved from shortstop -- where he played all 1,257 1/3 of his defensive innings for Baltimore last season -- to center field. Then, the 27-year-old started back in center again in Sunday afternoon's 4-2 win over the Phillies at Ed Smith Stadium.

will play center field most of the time in 2023. is capable of sliding over from a corner to fill in, while is a strong outfield defensive replacement off the bench. So why has Mateo played eight innings in center over the past three days?

“The more flexibility you can create with your roster, the better,” Hyde said. “It’s not like Jorgie’s never been out there before, so we just wanted to kind of give him a look, just in case it did happen in the season where we did need some coverage in center field.”

Mateo may have outfield experience, but it has been a while since he appeared there in a regular-season game. In 2021, he played nine innings in right and six in left after the Orioles claimed him off waivers from the Padres on Aug. 5 that year. He hasn’t been in center since June 13, 2021, with San Diego.

Still, Mateo said he’s felt comfortable patrolling the outfield grass again, an opportunity he embraced while getting time fielding flyballs on the backfields over the past week.

“It’s easy to go in there and play,” Mateo said. “It felt great. That’s another opportunity I have to be in the field, and I love it.”

While with the Padres in 2020 and ‘21, Mateo played 74 innings in center field over 12 games, including seven starts. He has tremendous speed -- which he frequently showed while stealing an American League-high 35 bases in ‘22 -- allowing him to cover a lot of ground. According to Statcast, his elite average sprint speed of 30.1 feet per second tied for seventh fastest in MLB last year.

Of course, Mateo’s glovework has proven why he mostly plays shortstop, where he won a Fielding Bible Award last season. He’ll likely be there a lot again in 2023. But if he’s asked to fill in in the outfield, he’ll be ready.

“The only thing I want right now [is] to be on the field, to play hard, to help the team win,” Mateo said.

Bradish strong in final spring tuneup
Kyle Bradish ended his Spring Training on a positive note, tossing five strong innings against the Phillies in his final Grapefruit League outing. The right-hander allowed one run on one hit -- an RBI double by Jake Cave in the fourth -- while striking out three and walking one.

Bradish had a 6.61 ERA in five spring starts, but that number was inflated by Monday’s outing vs. Philadelphia in which he allowed nine earned runs in 2 1/3 innings. Over his other four appearances, the 26-year-old gave up only three runs in 14 frames.

Throughout the spring, Bradish has been viewed as a frontrunner for one of the Orioles’ five rotation spots. He feels he made a strong case to break camp with the team.

“I don’t think one bad outing was really enough to hold me back, but that’s not up to me,” Bradish said. “Hopefully, I did well enough this spring.”

Worth noting
• Anthony Santander swatted a two-run homer to left-center field off Philadelphia left-hander Matt Strahm in the third inning. It was Santander’s first Grapefruit League home run of the spring, though the 28-year-old outfielder went deep twice while playing for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.

• Ryan Mountcastle continues to swing a hot bat, going 1-for-3 with a single. The 26-year-old first baseman is batting .413 (19-for-46) through 16 spring games.