Three games into Grapefruit League play, Chris Davis’ spring has hit an early roadblock. The first baseman was held out of the Orioles’ lineup on Tuesday after he strained his lower back in Sunday’s exhibition opener, manager Brandon Hyde said. Davis is considered day to day.
Hyde had planned to play Davis every other day at first base in the early going, in part to ease Trey Mancini back in. But Davis complained of back soreness after reaching on a two-base error in his final at-bat on Sunday; he struck out earlier in the game and exited after two at-bats.
“[Davis] felt it tug on him a little bit on the fly ball to right,” Hyde said.
Stevie Wilkerson started at first on Tuesday against the Yankees.
Davis arrived in camp this spring needing to earn at-bats in a reserve role after hitting .115 without a home run in 16 games last season, twice landing on the injured list with left patella tendinitis. He had enjoyed a resurgent spring, hinting at a potential return to form that never came to pass. Davis, who will turn 35 later this month, is signed through 2022 and owed more than $46 million. He has hit .185 with a .615 OPS since the start of the 2017 season.
By the end of the week, the Orioles will have gotten in-game looks at most of their legitimate starting rotation candidates. Their upcoming pitching schedule is as follows:
3/3 @ ATL: Wade LeBlanc
3/4 vs. BOS: Dean Kremer
3/5 @ TOR: Matt Harvey
3/6 vs. DET: Félix Hernández
The arrangement leaves Keegan Akin as the only main rotation candidate yet to receive an (announced) scheduled start. The O’s gave their first two spring starts to swingman candidates Thomas Eshelman and Jorge López, and probable Opening Day starter John Means started on Tuesday.
There was a family connection at home plate prior to Tuesday’s game when Orioles No. 23 prospect Tyler Nevin and his father, Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin, exchanged the lineup cards. They could see more of each other soon since Tyler, a first-round Draft pick of the Rockies in 2015, came over to Baltimore in the Mychal Givens trade last summer. A right-handed-hitting first baseman, Nevin is likely ticketed for Triple-A Norfolk to begin the year.
Part of the playing-time equation for Cedric Mullins, now that he's stopped switch-hitting, is that he'll need to prove he can hit left-handed pitching to avoid being platooned. He got off to a fine start on that front, tripling in his first at-bat Tuesday off Yankees lefty Jordan Montgomery. Although it came in Grapefruit League play, it was the first lefty-on-lefty at-bat of Mullins’ professional career.
He added a single against southpaw Tyler Lyons later in the game.
“I don’t see it being that long until I feel comfortable, if not already feeling that way,” Mullins said. “I did have some comfortable at-bats today. It was a matter of all the work I put in in the offseason. I hit off the machine a lot, created a lot of different spins that lefties will create and hit left-on-left. There was a lot that went into it.”
More from the game
Two days after his emotional spring debut, Mancini notched his first RBI of Grapefruit League play by scoring Mullins with a sacrifice fly in the first. Mancini finished 0-for-2 with a strikeout and an RBI.
O’s top prospect Adley Rutschman made his spring debut, going 0-for-1 with a walk while catching four innings.
Tuesday also brought the spring debuts of Cesar Valdez, Tanner Scott and Paul Fry, all of whom figure to play key roles in the O’s 2021 bullpen. Fry allowed three runs on four hits in an inning of work, while Valdez struck out the side in his only frame. Scott struck out two over a scoreless inning.
Other pitching notes
Hernández threw a two-inning sim game on Monday, per Hyde.
Hyde also said right-hander Dillon Tate would make his spring debut on Wednesday. The No. 4 overall pick by the Rangers in the 2015 Draft took a step forward in 2020, pitching to a 3.24 ERA in 12 appearances in middle relief.
From the trainer’s room
Austin Hays did not sustain an injury when he was plunked by a Ramón Rosso fastball in Monday’s exhibition tie with the Phillies, per Hyde. Hays is expected back in the starting lineup on Wednesday.
The Orioles will hand the ball to Wade LeBlanc (1-0, 8.06 ERA in 2020) when they travel to North Port to face left-hander Drew Smyly and the Braves on Wednesday at CoolToday Park. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.