'You just have to prepare': Santander delivers in rare first-base start

March 6th, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- looked like a natural while manning first base for the Orioles on Monday afternoon. He tracked a high popup in the sun and made a catch for an out. He cleanly fielded three ground balls, taking two to the bag himself and flipping the other to right-hander .

Not bad for a guy who hadn’t appeared at first base in a game since Aug. 28, 2016.

That’s right. It had been six and a half years since Santander was penciled into a lineup at first. That 2016 start was with High-A Lynchburg, in Cleveland’s farm system.

Santander has taken grounders at first sporadically over the past year. Manager Brandon Hyde called it a “refresher course.” The next test was for the 28-year-old, primarily an outfielder, to handle the position in a game -- and he did so remarkably well in Baltimore’s 10-7 Grapefruit League win over Philadelphia at Ed Smith Stadium.

It was a bit easier than Santander remembered -- of course he was only there for four innings, and he wasn’t tested by any hard-hit grounders.

“Fortunately, I got soft ground balls today,” Santander said. “We’ll have to wait until somebody smashes one ball at 100, 105 [mph] and see.”

The Orioles have several options for how to handle the available playing time at first behind starter . They could break camp with one of the non-roster first basemen on the team (, or ). Utility man could also add first to his growing list of positions, if he wins a roster spot. Or there could be a rotation of others, such as Santander, catcher and maybe even backstop .

If Santander proves he can adequately fill in at first at times, then Mountcastle could get more starts at designated hitter and outfielder may have more opportunities to play.

“It’s going to help us, help [Santander] in his career,” Hyde said. “I think there’s a lot of good things about it. Guys being able to play multiple positions is always helpful.”

Originally, Santander wasn’t scheduled to get game action at first until later in Spring Training. But Hyde opted to give him “a little taste” before he left for the World Baseball Classic. The Venezuelan was expected to depart Sarasota for Miami after Monday’s contest.

Santander isn’t sure how much first base he’ll play when he returns to O’s camp later this month. But he’s excited about the possibility.

“You just have to prepare, be ready whenever [Hyde] needs me, and I will be ready,” Santander said.

O’Hearn hammers walk-off winner

O’Hearn’s first Grapefruit League homer came in walk-off fashion, as his three-run jolt to center field off right-hander Andrew Baker in the bottom of the ninth lifted the Orioles to victory. It came after Jackson Holliday singled and Ramon Rodriguez walked to open the frame.

Battling for a bench spot this spring, O’Hearn is 7-for-13 in six games.

“He’s taking good at-bats every time he’s out there, hitting the ball hard to all fields, playing really good defense,” Hyde said. “He’s off to a really good start in this camp.”

More from the game

made his second start in an Orioles uniform, allowing one run and notching two strikeouts over three innings. The left-hander retired seven of the first eight Phillies batters he faced. The lone run came via a two-out RBI double by Alec Bohm in the third -- the only run Irvin has allowed in five Grapefruit innings.

“A lot of it was good,” Irvin said. “That third inning, maybe a little humid, kind of tired me out a little bit. But that’s just adjustment of the body and all that. Felt good, felt strong.”

• Givens, who returned to the O’s on a one-year deal in December, made his first Grapefruit appearance of the year, striking out two in a hitless fourth. It was a scoreless frame, even though the righty hit Edmundo Sosa to lead off the inning, in addition to getting called for two balks.

went deep for the first time this spring, belting a go-ahead three-run homer to left-center field off former Baltimore right-hander Louis Head in the fourth.

Colton Cowser, Baltimore’s No. 4 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 40 overall prospect, also swatted his first home run of the spring. He tied the game at 7 with an opposite-field two-run shot to left off righty Billy Sullivan in the eighth.