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DJ Stewart is the odd man out in Orioles roster crunch

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The Orioles had to get the roster down to 28 players today. That meant that the hitless DJ Stewart was sent down.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of wacky things going on around the game right now, with the shifting rules on roster sizes being a prime example. At the outset of the season, teams were permitted to carry 30 active players. The original plan was as follows: two weeks into the season, rosters were to go from 30 to 28 and two weeks after that, from 28 to 26.

That is no longer the case. Now, teams have to reduce their roster size to 28 today, and that number will remain in effect for the rest of the season and postseason. Concurrently, each club’s taxi squad will go from three players to five.

News broke yesterday that John Means would be placed on the bereavement list, getting the Orioles down to 29 players. Another move will be coming once Means, who has started only two games this year, is reactivated. According to MLB rules, a player may stay on the bereavement list for a duration of three to seven games.

To get down to 28, the Orioles chose last night to option DJ Stewart. The former 1st round pick has been a hot topic around Birdland recently, with segments of the fanbase becoming frustrated already with his slow start and hoping that someone like Ryan Mountcastle will be recalled to take his place. Now Stewart is down, but with the roster size trimmed, Mountcastle isn’t coming up yet.

With the shortened season, it was more important than ever that players start hot. But only 11 games into the year, a former first round pick is off the team for starting too slow.

Even though this season will only last roughly one third of a regular season, that’s no reason to judge a player on such a small sample size. Even if you don’t like Stewart’s body language right now and he looks lost at the plate, doesn’t he deserve at least a little more time to get his feet under him, considering that he’s coming back from offseason surgery?

There were so many other choices the Orioles could have made to avoid the confidence jolt that may very well come from shipping a young player like Stewart out after such a short opportunity.

The Orioles have been playing with the luxury of three catchers since August 1 when they selected the contract of catcher Bryan Holaday. Twice in five games since that time, manager Brandon Hyde has filled out his lineup card with two catchers by placing one of Chance Sisco or Pedro Severino as the designated hitter and the other behind the plate.

Holaday has appeared twice since joining the team, which has been long enough for him to be used at first base in extra innings to snag a line drive for a double play in the game where he eventually scored the walkoff run. He also pinch hit on Wednesday and grounded into a double play. He has not seen use as a catcher. Is a third catcher really necessary?

Pivoting back to outfielders, the Orioles were carrying five of them on the roster until late last night. Cedric Mullins, who’s only got one hit in 12 at-bats so far this season, was most likely saved because he is more suited than anyone to backup Austin Hays in center. Dwight Smith Jr.’s .583 OPS in his first seven games is something that might have gotten him more of a look to be replaced if Stewart, another lefty-batting left fielder, hadn’t been hitting .000.

Until recently, Thomas Eshelman might have been a candidate to be sent down. Instead, he’s been mentioned as a possible starting pitcher for Saturday’s game. In the bullpen, David Hess has been the forgotten man, standing out as the least used Oriole. His lone appearance came on July 24 when he allowed three runs in three innings. The 28-man roster that settles in with Means’s eventual return seems like it will be without one of these two pitchers.

It’s not a great sign for any team to be two weeks into a season with this many players who aren’t doing much to earn a continued roster spot. The Orioles probably have some more shuffling to do even with the roster staying at 28 players. Maybe Stewart will even be able to rebound and show some of the promise that made the Orioles draft him in 2015 and then find his way back to Baltimore.