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Orioles to rest fireballer prospect Pop

Righty's velocity was down Saturday; Wright to start Tuesday; Bundy, Cashner nearing debuts
@JoeTrezz
February 24, 2019

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A day after he showed diminished fastball velocity, the Orioles decided Zach Pop’s spring workload should slow, as well. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde revealed Sunday that the club plans to temporarily shield the right-hander from Grapefruit League action, opting to “slow play” Pop following his spring debut.

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A day after he showed diminished fastball velocity, the Orioles decided Zach Pop’s spring workload should slow, as well.

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde revealed Sunday that the club plans to temporarily shield the right-hander from Grapefruit League action, opting to “slow play” Pop following his spring debut. The club’s No. 20 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Pop entered camp as one of Baltimore's more intriguing non-roster invitees, in part because of his reputation for harnessing a fastball that flirts with triple digits. But none of the five pitches he threw to close out Saturday’s spring opener cracked even 90 mph, prompting concern from the club.

“We recognized it right away,” Hyde said prior to Sunday's 9-8 win over the Blue Jays. “We’re going to make sure he’s feeling 100 percent the next time he comes out.”

The Orioles are unsure when exactly that will be, though both Hyde and Pop described the situation as precautionary. Pop said he’s not scheduled to undergo any testing or imaging, just treatment for normal soreness. A seventh-round Draft pick by the Dodgers in 2017, Pop missed time with a forearm strain during his junior year at Kentucky. But he has no professional injury history.

"I’m not injured," Pop said. "I would’ve gone out there and blown some doors down, but if I wasn’t feeling it, why try to force anything at this point in the season?"

The Wright stuff?

In accord with the plan to stretch out Mike Wright Jr. this spring, the Orioles announced Wright as Tuesday’s starter against the Rays.

The assignment is nothing new for Wright, who has consistently yo-yoed between the ‘pen and rotation since debuting in the Majors in 2015. Nearly a quarter of Wright’s 91 career appearances have been starts, another quarter at the end of games, and the rest in middle relief. But he’s made just two Major League starts over the past two seasons, compared to 59 appearances in relief.

Wright, who owns a career 5.75 ERA, is out of options and therefore needs to make the Opening Day roster or risk being lost on waivers to another club. He tossed two scoreless innings in his spring debut Saturday, the O’s 7-2 win over the Twins.

“We’ve talked to him a lot about being aggressive in the zone and trusting his stuff,” Hyde said.

Around the horn

• The club’s cadre of veteran starters inched toward their spring debuts Sunday, when Dylan Bundy and Andrew Cashner threw simulated games on the back fields of the O’s Spring Training complex. That makes them closer to game action than Alex Cobb, who threw a bullpen on Sunday but still needs a simulated game before seeing the main field at Ed Smith Stadium.

Others yet to be announced in the team’s pitching plans (through Tuesday) include Mychal Givens, Pedro Araujo, John Means, Josh Osich, Dean Kremer (injured) and Gregory Infante (late arrival).

• Jonathan Villar, Trey Mancini, Chris Davis and Alcides Escobar were among the veteran position players to debut Sunday. Mancini had the best day of the bunch, singling twice in two at-bats.

• Sunday also marked an under-the-radar milestone for Orioles No. 4 prospect Austin Hays, who played his first game since undergoing complicated ankle surgery Sept. 13. Hays said surgeons inserted two screws, two bone grafts and shaved cartilage from his right ankle during the procedure. He started in center field and went 1-for-2 with an RBI single and a run scored.

Roster move

The Orioles dipped into their international bonus pool surplus Sunday to acquire right-hander David Lebron in a trade with the Rangers. Lebron, 25, was a 26th-round Draft pick in 2018 who pitched at Class A and Class A Advanced last season.

Up next

Right-handers Nate Karns and Hunter Harvey are slated to make their Grapefruit League debuts when the Orioles travel to Fort Myers, Fla., on Monday to face the Twins. Karns will start opposite Jose Berrios, while Harvey is scheduled to follow in relief.

Game action will be a milestone for both pitchers after injury-riddled 2018 seasons. Karns missed all year with elbow problems, while Harvey hasn’t pitched competitively since June due to elbow issues of his own. First pitch is slated for 1:05 p.m. ET.

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