Martin's debut delayed, still up for utility role
After originally planning for his return to game action this week, the Orioles are pushing Richie Martin’s spring debut back to this weekend as he continues to recover from left hamate surgery. Manager Brandon Hyde hopes Martin will play in Grapefruit League games as early as Friday, giving the infielder roughly 10 days to compete for a utility job on the Opening Day roster.
“It’s one of those [injuries] where you have to give it some time,” Hyde said before Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to the Rays. “We want to see how he recovers the next day. And if it's a little bit sore, we don’t want to put him in a game environment. He’ll actually get more at-bats on the back fields than he would in the game.”
The former Rule 5 Draft pick who jumped from Double-A to the Majors in 2019, Martin hit .208 with six homers and a .581 OPS in 120 games as the club’s every-other-day shortstop that year. He missed the entire '20 season due to a broken right wrist, then fractured his left hamate playing winter ball in Puerto Rico this offseason. Martin had surgery to repair the fracture in January and rejoined the O’s at big league camp earlier this month.
With Freddy Galvis signed to play short and Yolmer Sánchez starting at second, Martin now profiles as a utility option, along with Pat Valaika, Ramón Urías and Stevie Wilkerson.
But the longer it takes for him to return to game action, the more likely it seems that Martin will begin the year at the club’s alternate training site in Bowie, Md.
“We’re just making sure that everything is working properly and is completely healed,” Martin said. “The hamate is a little tricky. Just the fact that there’s not really a bone, per se, that needs to heal. It’s more tendons and ligaments running through that bone, so it’s just about dealing with the uncomfortableness in that area.”
When healthy, Martin drew rave reviews from O’s officials for his athleticism and defensive upside at shortstop, despite rating poorly there by several metrics. The Orioles were working to increase his versatility last spring before baseball shut down, giving the 26-year-old regular reps at second base and also third.
Hyde floated the idea Tuesday of Martin being able to play center field on an emergency basis, if need be. The implication being that Martin’s path back to regular Major League playing time likely requires moving around the diamond.
“In my mind, I’m a shortstop. I grew up a shortstop, playing there my whole life. But with that being said, if I need to play another position to help the team win, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Martin said. “I have all intentions of coming to play within the next few days, and I have to earn a job. Simple as that. I can’t look ahead and think about where I’m going to be and where I’m not. I’ve just got to take it a day at a time.”
The Orioles optioned five prospects to Triple-A Norfolk after Tuesday’s loss: outfielder Yusniel Diaz, outfielder Ryan McKenna, infielder Tyler Nevin, infielder Rylan Bannon and right-hander Ashton Goudeau. They also reassigned catcher Taylor Davis to Twin Lakes.
Diaz (No. 8), McKenna (No. 22), Nevin (No. 23) and Bannon (No. 26) are all among Baltimore’s Top 30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline. None was a real candidate to make the Opening Day roster, but all are on the 40-man roster and could debut as early as this summer. Diaz had the most productive camp of the bunch, hitting .261 with a .781 OPS while playing all three outfield positions.
Also from the trainer’s room
The timeline is fluid too for DJ Stewart, who has been nursing a left hamstring injury since March 5. Hyde said he hoped Stewart could return to game action by this weekend. Stewart is in the mix for at-bats at designated hitter, after hitting .193 with seven homers and a .809 OPS in 2020.
Trey Mancini will be back in the Orioles' lineup Wednesday when they return home to face the Braves under the lights at Ed Smith Stadium. They will have their ace on the mound, with John Means opposing veteran righty Charlie Morton. First pitch is set for 6:05 p.m. ET.