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O's claim series in Bronx with 3 HRs, solid relief

5 takeaways from Orioles' opening weekend with Hyde at helm
March 31, 2019

NEW YORK -- A weekend of firsts gave way to two clubhouse celebrations in two days for the Orioles, who left Yankee Stadium on Sunday night having swiped the season's opening series from the Yankees. Saturday, it was manager Brandon Hyde who was thrown in a laundry cart and doused

NEW YORK -- A weekend of firsts gave way to two clubhouse celebrations in two days for the Orioles, who left Yankee Stadium on Sunday night having swiped the season's opening series from the Yankees. Saturday, it was manager Brandon Hyde who was thrown in a laundry cart and doused in beer after capturing his first Major League win. Sunday, it was left-hander John Means who earned his first big league victory, in what turned into a marathon 7-5 series-clinching win after rain delayed first pitch by three hours, 17 minutes.

"It's a lot of fun to play for this team," said Means, who stymied the Yankees for much of 3 1/3 innings of middle relief. "Everybody is out there having a good time, playing loose."

It's just three games, but the Orioles own their first winning record in more than a calendar year, since last Opening Day. Here are a few things we learned about the 2019 group this weekend:

1) This team wants to have fun
Means was far from the only Orioles player to say so; nearly every player who talked publicly Saturday and Sunday spoke effusively of the relaxed environment within Hyde's clubhouse. The postgame celebrations are raucous affairs, the energy they're playing with on the field plain to see. Given the youth and inexperience of their roster, the Orioles will enter nearly every series as underdogs this year. They plan to enjoy playing spoiler.

2) Hyde has a plan for Davis
All spring, the Orioles expressed their commitment to Chris Davis following his historically poor 2018 season. Hyde wasted no time workshopping creative ways to try help the former slugger prevent a repeat.

"I want Chris to get off to a good start. I'm going to do everything I can to take pressure off of him," Hyde said. "I want to see him succeed. We've talked a lot with him about picking the right spots for him to play."

It isn't exactly a platoon for Davis -- he started Sunday against lefty J.A. Happ -- but Hyde will find opportunities to shield Davis from tough lefties when possible. Hyde sat Davis on Saturday against power lefty James Paxton, and pinch-hit for Davis against fireballer Aroldis Chapman on Friday. He's also hit Davis seventh in the lineup, with an eye toward alleviating the pressure associated with hitting in the middle of the order. Davis is hitless so far in 2019, with three strikeouts and a walk in seven plate appearances.

3) Catch them if you can
The Orioles' team-wide focus on smart and aggressive baserunning wasn't just a spring thing. After years of operating as a station-to-station team, the Orioles are going to run wild a bit this season. And why not? It's easy to point to home runs -- Renato Núñez, Trey Mancini and Joey Rickard went deep Sunday to pace the offense -- but this is a team built around speed and athleticism, not much power.

"It's going to be about picking your spots, being aggressive in the right situations, putting pressure on the defense," Hyde said. "We're not going to hit a ton of homers, so it's going to be running the bases well."

That's why it's probably fair to expect more plays like Saturday's Richie Martin/Dwight Smith Jr. double-steal, in which the Orioles were able to swipe a run after catcher Gary Sanchez's throw skipped into center field. Earlier in the inning, slow-footed Jesús Sucre set up Baltimore's first run with an aggressive tag from second on a flyout to center field. Any chance Sucre takes on the bases is a chance -- he's the fourth-slowest player in baseball, per Statcast's sprint speed metric -- and he pulled into third just ahead of the relay throw. But reckless or not, it's an attempt that doesn't get made by a complacent baserunning team.

The Orioles were able to exploit a Sanchez miscue again on Sunday, when Jonathan Villar set up a run by stealing second, then advancing on another Sanchez error. Villar, who has stolen as many as 62 bases in a season, said he'd like to eclipse the 40-steal mark in 2019.

4) Smith might be worth talking about
The Orioles mostly used their preseason excess international bonus money in a flurry of trades to acquire Minor League depth, but they appear to have picked up a Major League-ready player as well. That's Dwight Smith Jr., who arrived in Orioles camp March 8 via a trade with Toronto, raked his way onto the Opening Day roster and hasn't stopped hitting since.

We're still in serious small-sample size territory here in regards to Smith, who entered 2019 with just 104 career Major League plate appearances. But he batted second and started in left field for all three of the club's games this weekend, collecting five hits and a walk across 12 plate appearances.

5) The pitching will be a constant puzzle
The Orioles knew filling innings would be a challenge long before Alex Cobb began the year on the injured list -- a hiccup that forced them to use a bullpen game for the second matchup of the season. But the challenge becomes larger when your next day's starter completes just 3 2/3 innings, like Dylan Bundy did Sunday after the Orioles had used six pitchers the day before. Andrew Cashner only lasted four innings on Opening Day as well. All told, Orioles pitchers made 14 appearances this weekend, only four completed more than two innings, and their starters averaged just over three innings per start.

That's clearly not sustainable, though Cobb's probable return to the rotation Thursday should help. Still, expect this to be a constant theme this season for Hyde, who will be forced to find different ways nightly to cobble together 27 outs. For his pitchers, improved control could result in more length. Orioles hurlers issued 22 walks and hit two batters across 27 innings this weekend.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.