One unfortunate ritual of the very first part of spring training is learning who got hurt over the offseason and fans only find out about this when they report to camp. The Orioles were not immune to this phenomenon this year, with at least two key back-end relievers nursing along injuries that could keep them off the Opening Day roster. Dillon Tate and Félix Bautista are among the players who will not be at full go as camp work begins.
That’s a potential serious shakeup to the late-inning mix for the Orioles, and not a fun one to suddenly learn in mid-February when we were all looking for reasons to get excited about the team instead. General manager Mike Elias informed reporters in his first spring training interview session that Tate suffered a flexor strain injury in November and is already certain to miss most or all of April. The mystery of why he was left off of the Team USA World Baseball Classic roster seems to have been solved with the revelation of this bad news.
Additionally, Bautista will be slow to ramp up in spring training due to recovery from the knee surgery he underwent at the end of last season, as well as some shoulder strengthening. DL Hall is also behind on his ramp-up routine, resulting from lower lumbar discomfort he suffered about three weeks ago. Neither of these guys will be ready for game action when the exhibition schedule begins next Saturday.
Elias said that these two guys could still be in the Opening Day mix, but it doesn’t seem to be guaranteed. My general experience with baseball injuries is to expect it to take longer than whatever the team first says. Hall, according to Elias, is going to be building up as a starting pitcher initially, so that would seem to leave him out of the relief corps regardless of his health status.
The offseason reunion with Mychal Givens could end up proving crucial with these injury problems facing the roster. With Tate out, Givens seems like a natural choice to slide in to a late-inning role. If Bautista also ends up missing regular season time, Givens could be a candidate to get some of the early save opportunities.
Tate missing the first month-plus of the season seems to also open the door wider for Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi to make the team, if the Orioles like what they see from him enough in spring training to decide to put him on the team. Fitting him onto the roster seemed like a tough squeeze assuming all returning candidates plus Givens were all healthy, but now we know they’re not.
Let’s all hope that when the position players report in another couple of days, Orioles fans don’t end up facing similar unfortunate bad injury news for key players.