Youngsters to eye as O's head into Sept.

September 1st, 2021

The Orioles say, "Bring on September." They closed a trying August on Tuesday night with a 4-2 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, ushering in the regular season’s final full month on a high note.

Tuesday’s win -- just the O's fourth in 28 August games -- came via a team effort, with Baltimore breaking through with three runs off Hyun Jin Ryu in the sixth and Tyler Wells recording four key outs to hold the lead in the late innings.

It also made a winner out of Keegan Akin for the second consecutive start, the rookie left-hander dueling Ryu with five innings of one-run ball. The O’s were held hitless by Ryu until shortly before Ramón Urías’ two-run double in the sixth.

“I’d like for us to start playing more competitive baseball,” manager Brandon Hyde said prior to the game. “I think it's a chance to see some other guys as well. September in our situation is a chance to take a look at some other guys and give them an opportunity and make decisions at the end of the year. I would like to see our guys finish the year strong and win as many games as we can.”

Between Urías’ big hit, Wells’ strong outing, Jahmai Jones’ RBI single and Ryan Mountcastle’s double off Ryu in the sixth (which ended the no-hit bid), Tuesday’s victory was brought home largely by rookies. They won’t be the only young players the Orioles put eyes on come September, with rosters expanding to 28 on Wednesday.

“This is an evaluation period,” Hyde said. “We’re still looking at a ton of players.”

Let’s look ahead at who some of those might be:

RHP Mike Baumann
The Orioles are preparing to insert a pitcher from Triple-A Norfolk into their rotation after Thursday’s off-day, Hyde confirmed Tuesday, filling Spenser Watkins’ vacated spot. Whether that’s Alexander Wells or Baumann remains to be seen, but Baumann would be the splashier choice. The club’s No. 10 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Baumann has a 2.14 ERA in five starts with Norfolk, while No. 14 righty Kyle Bradish, No. 16 lefty Kevin Smith, Dean Kremer and others are struggling at the level. Baumann, 25, is on the 40-man roster and he built up to six innings in a recent outing, and the O's need a starter. If not now, when?

Harvey being called up is contingent on his health. But if he can string along a few rehab appearances without reporting discomfort in his right shoulder, the Orioles would love to see the hard-throwing righty back on the big league mound. But that hasn’t happened since late June, and Harvey suffered a setback in his last rehab appearance on Aug. 24. Time is running out for him to return to the big leagues this season.

Hyde said Martin would be back after the Orioles optioned him to Triple-A on Aug. 23, on the heels of a two-week return to the big leagues during which he hit .227 with one homer and 13 strikeouts in 15 games. It’s that offensive production that put Martin behind Jorge Mateo, Urías and Jones in last week's roster squeeze, but there should be enough space for the O's to carry an additional infielder when rosters expand, since they’re carrying five outfielders. Martin would likely be that infielder.

Or Bannon could be that extra infielder. He brings more pop but less experience and less positional versatility than Martin. The right-handed-hitting Bannon is limited to third and second, but he recently completed a tear with Triple-A Norfolk where he homered 10 times in 10 games. He struggled amid injury prior to August, but Bannon’s presence on the 40-man roster hints at him getting a shot at some point in September.

LHP Alexander Wells
The Orioles have been carrying Wells on their taxi squad in recent days, and they could easily insert him back into their rotation or bullpen, or they could juggle the left-hander between both. He’s made six appearances (three starts) at the big league level this season and profiles as a swingman option.

Will the Orioles give Diaz a shot? At this point, it looks unlikely. The organization's former top prospect is struggling at Triple-A, hitting .220 with a .446 OPS in 33 games during an injury-riddled year. O's GM Mike Elias did not shy away from Diaz’s struggles when asked about them in August, expressing disappointment that the 24-year-old isn’t making Baltimore's decision-making more difficult these days. Even if it were, it’s already a crowded outfield mix at the big league level, with Cedric Mullins in center, Anthony Santander in right, Austin Hays and DJ Stewart platooning in left and now Ryan McKenna vying for at-bats off the bench.