Alright baseball fans, it’s almost time. A new Orioles baseball season officially starts one week from today. Can you believe it?
Yes, the chances of seeing a competitive O’s team this year are pretty slim, and the cynics out there will tell you the club is trying to lose on purpose. But still, hope springs eternal on Opening Day. At least that’s what they say.
As the Grapefruit League season down south winds to a close, it’s that time of the year for fans and pundits alike to start speculating on what preseason longshots will secure spots on the official 26-man roster come April 1st. What youngster impressed so much that he earned an unexpected spot on the roster? What non-roster invitee did enough to warrant a plane ticket north?
Well, that’s not what we’re going to do here in this space today. Let’s talk about who isn’t, or isn’t likely, to make the Orioles opening day roster due to injury. And maybe touch on a few players we knew would be on the team who could get some extra playing time.
To quote an old sports cliche, a team must adopt the ‘next man up’ mindset regarding injuries. One player’s misfortune is another’s chance to impress and even possibly win a long-term role.
Let’s start with someone who’s officially eliminated from the opening day roster due to injury. Hunter Harvey hit the injured list on March 16th due to an oblique injury. And he wasn’t put on the 10-day IL — it was the 60-day IL. Oblique injuries can be tricky and have been known to sideline players for a few weeks. But this case of Harvey’s is severe enough to keep him out for a few months, at least.
On the same day that the O’s placed Harvey on the IL, Felix Hernandez left his Grapefruit League start against the Rays with an elbow problem after only an inning of work. Not good news.
Consider the numbers behind Hernandez’s impressive durability and longevity — in the context of this recent elbow soreness — before coming to Baltimore this offseason on a one-year deal. From 2006-2015, the right-hander started 322 games and threw 2,178 innings, averaging 32 starts, and 218 innings pitched per season.
From 2016-2019, Hernandez averaged 21 starts, and 117 innings pitched per season. And although he participated in spring training last year with the Atlanta Braves, he did not throw a single inning during the regular season, opting out over COVID-19 concerns.
Hernandez was slated to throw a side session yesterday. Maybe we’ll hear from the club today, or within the next couple of days, about how that side session went.
Moving onto position players, Orioles pariah Chris Davis managed to accumulate only two plate appearances this spring before getting shut down with a back injury. He missed some time in 2019 due to left hip inflammation and spent two stints on the IL because of left knee patellar tendinitis.
The Orioles will be better than fine at first base without Davis, though. Trey Mancini is returning to his original infield position in 2021 after missing all of last season. And there’s also Ryan Mountcastle around to soak up some innings at first as well. It has been a rough spring for Mountcastle in the left field, and it might do the club well to play him more at first base and designated hitter during the regular season.
In the outfield, it’s looking more likely that DJ Stewart won’t be able to start the season on time. He played in three spring games before getting shelved with a hamstring injury. Joe Trezza of MLB.com reported on Stewart’s participation in drills recently, but he still doesn’t seem close to returning.
The O’s have decent depth in the outfield, in contrast to most positions, so Stewart’s absence will just mean more at-bats to go around for guys already expected to make the team, like Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays. Instead of platooning those two in center field, the Birds can put one in left and one in center while Anthony Santander mans right field. Or they can choose to trot Mancini or Mountcastle out to one of the outfield corners.
There’s only one week left for O’s players to get healthy enough to be part of the 26-man opening day roster. But oblique, elbow, back, and hamstring injuries are not as simple as a sprained wrist or broken bone. These are harder to predict and easier to re-injure, so while we’ll probably see some of the aforementioned guys at some point this season, it could be a while for some of them too.