SARASOTA, Fla. -- Nursing a sore lower back since the start of Grapefruit League games, Chris Davis has been largely a non-factor in Orioles camp this spring. Now his status for Opening Day is in doubt.
A day after manager Brandon Hyde revealed Davis would see a specialist regarding his back strain, Hyde and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias reiterated Wednesday there is no timeline for Davis to return to the field. Elias then hinted at the possibility of Davis, who hasn’t played since the O’s Grapefruit League opener on Feb. 28, beginning the season on the injured list.
"It’s hard to say how long a back injury can linger,” Elias said before Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Blue Jays at Ed Smith Stadium. “In my experience, that's a very unpredictable thing in terms of timelines. But I do think as we get deeper into Spring Training that the level of pessimism that he'd be able to break camp and have the necessary preparation [increases] ... the clock's ticking on that. But we'll have to see. In terms of an ultimate timeline right now, there isn’t one.”
The Orioles already publicly committed to Davis, the former 2013 and '15 home run champion, in a reserve role after he hit .115 with no homers in 16 games last season. He’s hit just .185 with a .615 OPS since the start of '17, and he is owed roughly $46 million through '22. Davis has not addressed his injury publicly.
From the game
Rotation hopeful Keegan Akin was erratic in his first Grapefruit League start, allowing two runs on three hits and three walks over 1 2/3 innings. Akin was pulled after walking the bases loaded in the first inning, returning later to strand two over a scoreless second. He also struck out four.
“His command isn’t there right now,” Hyde said. “I’d like to see him pick it up, but it’s still just his second appearance.”
The rookie left-hander struggled with efficiency during his eight-game debut down the stretch in 2020, completing five or more innings in just two of his first six Major League starts. This spring, Akin has allowed three earned runs in 3 2/3 innings, walking five and striking out six.
“The results definitely matter to me,” Akin said. “Last year was last year, and we have a lot of good arms in camp. My mindset coming in was, 'I’ve got to make a team.' So the results do matter.”
Return to normalcy?
Could fans soon return to Oriole Park at Camden Yards? That’s looking more and more likely after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that large indoor and outdoor venues can begin reopening at 50 percent capacity throughout the state.
However, the Orioles' plans remain unclear. The team said Wednesday it would continue working with the city of Baltimore, MLB and other officials in preparation for its scheduled home opener on April 8.
“As always, the health and safety of our entire Birdland community remains our top priority,” the club said in a statement. “In accordance with Governor Hogan’s announcement yesterday, we are continuing to work with the City of Baltimore, state officials and Major League Baseball to safely welcome fans back to Oriole Park at Camden Yards with proper social distancing guidelines. As soon as we are able, we will share our plans to re-open along with our Gameday Health & Safety protocols.”
Fans were not permitted to attend MLB games in any capacity during the 2020 regular season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Spectators returned in limited numbers during the postseason and teams across the sport have welcomed fans back to their complex in similar volume this spring. The Orioles' Spring Training home, Ed Smith Stadium, is operating at 25 percent capacity.
“We're excited to have fans,” Hyde said. “Right now at Spring Training, even though it's a limited number of fans, it's a big difference from last summer. We've enjoyed it. We're going to continue to enjoy it throughout this year. Fans are everything for us from an environment standpoint during the game and we love having them come out to watch us play. So to hear news that we're going to get fans this summer is really exciting for everybody here.”
Said Elias: “We’re planning for hosting people as soon as we possibly can, and we’re very optimistic.”
Ruiz is 1-for-12 this spring.
Addressing the recent rumors regarding free-agent third baseman Maikel Franco, Elias downplayed the O’s current level of market activity, saying, “I don’t feel there are any imminent additions coming from the free-agent market.” The Orioles were one of several teams linked in recent days to Franco, the former Phillies and Royals slugger, with the Mets being another.
"That could change, but I just don't see anything barreling down the pipe here right this second,” Elias said. “We are monitoring players in other camps and what may happen to them in the short term … and we're certainly staying in contact with a couple of different aspects of the free-agent market, but I don't have anything imminent on the horizon.”
After showing decreased velocity in his spring debut, Félix Hernández returns to the mound Thursday when the Orioles travel to Bradenton to face the Pirates. Right-hander Mitch Keller will oppose for Pittsburgh, with first pitch set for 1:05 p.m. ET from LECOM Field. Watch all the action live on MLB.TV.