SARASOTA, Fla. — Another spring training page has turned.
Reporting deadlines are behind us. First workouts are in the past tense. Photo day is done. Exhibition games are here, starting with today’s game at 1:05 p.m. against the Twins at Ed Smith Stadium.
The first away game is Sunday against the Tigers in Lakeland, a trip that for some reason will be repeated on Thursday.
The media was not informed of new injuries. Dillon Tate’s tight flexor/forearm was revealed on the first day of media access on March 16th and his health has improved significantly. Closer Félix Bautista says his right shoulder and left knee are feeling good with no setbacks during his bullpen sessions, which continue this morning. DL Hall’s lower back pain is gone.
The positive mood remains. This is camp-happy, with lots of talk about chemistry, the perfect mix and the playoffs. To fight into September and fall short again would be a huge disappointment. Just being competitive is not enough in 2023.
“I think there’s a lot of good energy,” said starter Kyle Bradish. “We have a good group of guys who were here last year and kind of experienced that, who are young and then we also brought in some good experienced players to kind of round that out. I think the atmosphere that we already have after the first week is great.”
Falling back would be a back breaker.
“I think all these guys have playoffs on their mind. I don’t think they have any expectations beyond that,” said left-hander John Means, who could return after reconstructive ligament surgery in July.
“Obviously they don’t want to think too far ahead and they’re going to work day to day and a lot of these guys have really good mentalities in that regard where they just have to take care of what they have to take care of on a daily basis. But I think anything below what we achieved last year is some kind of failure.”
“The talent here is undeniable,” said backup catcher James McCann, who arrived in a trade with the Mets. “It’s been really nice to see these guys go about their business, to see the guys do their job, the level of effort. It’s been great so far.”
The playoff talk will not be whispered. Guys are open about it. That’s the goal, the expectation, and it’s on record.
“The thing is, we had a lot of guys last year and I’m sure everyone wanted to win the year before that,” said catcher Adleyrutschman. “I think the guys just have a little bit more confidence going into this year and I think the exciting thing about it is knowing that we can win and we can do it together. We look forward to showing up on the field every day and competing against each other and trying to improve each other and start the season.”
“It’s completely different,” Means said. “This is the most confident clubhouse I’ve seen since I’ve been here. It just seems like the guys are very sure about what they need to do to win ball games, what they need to do to be successful.
Manager Brandon Hyde wants his players to build on last season and reminds the table is clean. They didn’t do anything significant in 2023. But he loves the talent he has worked with the most as a manager.
“This organization is completely flipping this team, with the guys coming through the minors and the guys pulling them in,” pitcher Austin Voth said. “They are doing a great job of development and the league should be made aware of what we can achieve and who we can compete with in our league and so on. So there are some expectations, but at the same time we are so young and we still have a lot to prove.
“We’ve never gone through a postseason and there are first years going into sophomores who hopefully step up and make a big leap. It will be an exciting year.”
The Orioles signed starter Kyle Gibson, infielder Adam Frazier and reliever Mychal Givens, trading for McCann and left-handed starter Cole Irvin. The outfield aggregates 1,218 games in the majors with Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander and Austin Hays. First baseman Ryan Mountcastle has played 289 in the last two years. But the club also expects full seasons fromrutschman, infielder Gunnar Henderson and outfielder Kyle Stowers and top promotional contender Grayson Rodriguez, who is breaking camp in the rotation.
Hall could be in the rotation, Bullpen, or Triple-A Norfolk, but he’ll likely make an impact in some way. The arm is so special. It’s all about command.
“I think it’s a great mix,” McCann said. “You’ve got the youth, you’ve got some guys like me who’ve been around for a couple of years who show a veteran presence and can help the young guys on the learning curve. Everyone has a learning curve, it’s just when you get through that part of your career when you get to that part. I remember letting things bounce off veterans and having veterans by your side was crucial early in my career.
The wild card elimination came just last week last season. It was important for the returnees to play meaningful games in September.
“It just helps with experience because you have to go through that process, these are games you absolutely have to win,” said Voth. “The team comes together a little bit more and you get a little bit closer. You could tell from the energy we had as a team last year that we had a good club. That was a lot of fun.”
The good times continue this afternoon in sunny Sarasota.
“I definitely find it more exciting than in previous years,” said reliever Keegan Akin. “We saw what we can do last year. We just fell a little short. I think we’ve said it many times, there’s a lot of talent in this space. It’s going to take more than 26 or 30 people to do it, so it’s good to see all the talent coming back.
“These guys who got a little taste of it last year mature when they come to camp. It’s definitely exciting, especially as a pitcher down in the bullpen looking at it from a slightly different perspective. I think there’s excitement and hype, you could say. These guys realize what they are capable of. It was a little eye opener for us last year. It was like, “Wow, we can do this.” So, I think we just have to build on that and go for it.”