SARASOTA, Fla. — The new guidelines went into effect March 10 — the ones that don’t allow reporters to have locker room access to players. And March 10 also marked the first time I have ever interviewed a manager in a pre-game presser where we couldn’t be within poking distance of the skipper. The new rules mean we reporters have to be a minimum of 6 feet away from Brandon Hyde.
It was weird for both sides. But for me, this is one of those things where I’d rather err on the side of caution than have anyone pay the price for not wanting to engage in awkwardness.
Hyde thinks his team’s added big-league experience will mean that when stuff comes up suddenly in the game, his players won’t have that “deer in the headlights” look and subsequently botch things like rundowns, pickoffs and cutoff throws.
Certainly, none of that works to keep a staff from throwing more than 300 homers, as the O’s staff did a year ago. But hey, progress is progress.
It’s not exactly a game-changer, and the skipper talks a good bit about liking what he sees out of catcher Chance Sisco, but Sisco is 2-for-14 and the manager really likes what he sees out of veteran Bryan Holaday.
The ball is clearly in Sisco’s court, but Holaday may seemingly outplay the 25-year-old, who just misses out when the pressure is truly on. Think about it this way: Sisco could have played himself into the No. 1 role with a strong spring. Instead, he could be playing himself into the No. 3 role on a team that will carry two catchers.
For the third time in the past four years, I got to attend Athletes & Artists Play for Kids, the charity event John and Margaret Angelos started five years ago. The event brings some very talented singer-songwriters from Nashville to come in and play for about 90 minutes.
It’s become a hot ticket for locals as well as ballplayers, coaching staff, front office staff and Orioles legends. It’s all a part of this staggeringly successful partnership between the Orioles and the city of Sarasota.
To think about it for a moment and look from whence the Orioles came to be in this city and this jewel of a renovated Ed Smith Stadium, it really is nothing short of a miracle.
Really, Stan? A miracle? Tell me if you remember taking your life in your hands to attend an O’s night game in the early 1980s outside of Miami’s Bobby Maduro Stadium. Or think for a moment about the three seasons the O’s trained at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota and played essentially all road games — either to visiting parks or bussing about 45 minutes to St. Petersburg’s Al Lang Stadium for home games.
The players had to dress at Twin Lakes Park and arrive ready to play in St. Petersburg. After the games, if they wanted to shower? Had to head back to Twin Lakes Park.
Or how about Fort Lauderdale, the antiquated and outdated park that was right by Fort Lauderdale Airport, with constant air traffic and accompanying noise overhead?
Sarasota is pretty close to a slice of heaven, but if today’s team members knew what their predecessors had to endure, it was truly awful stuff.
Needless to say, we’ll find out what’s up with Trey Mancini when Trey and his family are ready. Until then, no amount of asking any of us who cover the team is going to unearth whatever this burden might be.
One player who seems to be the forgotten man on this team may be the one player who could fill in for Mancini: DJ Stewart, the Orioles’ No. 1 pick from 2015 who played his college ball at Florida State.
I saw Stewart at the aforementioned charity event and he looks to have done exactly what I thought he should’ve done: drop about 12-15 pounds. Stewart was never out of shape, but his body type didn’t give him his best chance to make the plays he needed to in the outfield.
In fact, both of his injuries last season — and each one landed him on the injured list — occurred because he got a poor first step to balls that he tracked perfectly until he just wasn’t in position to catch the balls.
He chuckled when I said that he’d get a much better first step. Hyde alluded to the fact he has been getting a lot of swings in and isn’t far away from giving it a go.
As noted, with Mancini out and Ryan Mountcastle not really ready just yet, the club has Dwight Smith Jr., Austin Hays and Anthony Santander as its outfielders. General manager Mike Elias will no doubt be scouring the waiver wire for a veteran outfielder. But Stewart’s availability could lessen the pressure to force a short-term acquisition.
Speaking of the shortage of outfielders, infielder-by-trade Andrew Velazquez can really go get ’em in the outfield. Having had no familiarity with what he looks like or his rather high uniform number, the other day I took note of a fleet-footed guy who wasn’t just chasing down where he thought balls might end up.
Rather, Velazquez — even in exceedingly windy conditions — knew where balls were going to wind up. His bat isn’t much to write home about, but his versatility and how he can handle the outfield gives him a big leg up battling for that 26th man role.
Two relief pitchers you may want to become more familiar with are right-handers Cody Carroll and Cole Sulser. Carroll was picked up by the O’s in that deal with the New York Yankees that sent Zack Britton to the Pinstripers. Carroll came to Baltimore along with Dillon Tate and Josh Rogers. He pitched 17 innings for the 2018 O’s, as then-GM Dan Duquette attempted to show off the new toys he acquired.
Carroll pitched to a 9.00 ERA. His numbers in five quick appearances for Norfolk after the trade and before he came up to the bigs weren’t particularly impressive, either. But he tossed 41.2 innings at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre to the tune of a 2.38 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP while striking out 55.
In 2019, Carroll was limited to just two innings — both in the Gulf Coast League — because of lower back problems. He did, however, throw 8.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League, giving up two runs and striking out 11.
Sulser was acquired Oct. 1, 2019. So, Elias meant business. It’s like the season ended and he woke up, happened to glance at the waiver wire and grabbed him.
Sulser’s big-league career consists of just seven appearances in 2019 for the Tampa Bay Rays. He allowed five hits, three walks and no runs. His minor-league numbers are intriguing, though he missed the 2015 season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery.
Both have been very impressive down here, and both have a real shot to come north with the club. They also may be competing against one another for the very last spot on the staff.
By the time most of you click on this, I’ll have headed back home to Baltimore. It’ll be good to put my head down on the pillow I am used to sleeping on. But after 10 consecutive years of coming down here, I can honestly tell you Sarasota has captured a piece of my heart.
Janet Marie Smith — who designed so much of Camden Yards and Petco Park, oversaw the renovations of Fenway Park and is the guiding light behind the renaissance of Dodger Stadium — also did a great deal of the design at Ed Smith.
One touch she added at the end was placing a quote inside the stands of Ed Smith that kind of sums it up for a baseball fan — the return of the warm weather, the return to the daily rhythms of the game we love so much, and it captures why Sarasota has won my heart. It’s attributed to the great Rogers Hornsby.
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball,” Hornsby said. “I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Photo Credit: Ed Sheahin/Gary Sousa/PressBox