Orioles sightings on more homers from Adley Rutschman and Heston Kjerstad, open bullpen spots, injury updates and more – The Denver Post
Anything Adley Rutschman can do, Heston Kjerstad can do better.
Of course, that’s obviously not always true, but that was at the start of the Orioles’ exhibition game on Sunday. An inning after Rutschman hit a two-run homer that narrowly went over the center field wall, Kjerstad threw a two-run long ball that went so far over the fence that Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Jack Suwinski barely moved.
“It’s really fun watching him right now,” manager Brandon Hyde said of Kjerstad. “Since he can hit the baseball hard, it makes noise coming out of his bat.”
The young hitters both have great springs. Rutschman, who went 2-for-4 on Sunday, is hitting .303 with three home runs and eight RBIs, while Kjerstad has a 1.254 OPS with four home runs and eight RBIs.
The success comes as no surprise to Rutschman, who was one of the Orioles’ best players in 2022 and the finalist for American League Rookie of the Year. Kjerstad, however, is playing in his first big league side. The 2020 first-round pick didn’t play in the minor leagues until 2022 after dealing with heart and hamstring issues.
“Coming back to start a year, just pick up where I left off and continue the same approach I had in the fall league,” said Kjerstad, who won the MVP award. the Arizona Fall League in 2022. “Just keep showing up every day and working hard.”
Kyle Gibson, Rutschman’s teammate in the 8-0 win over the Pirates, continued his blistering spring with seven strikeouts in five scoreless innings. The right-handed veteran has allowed just two runs in 14 spring innings.
“It was probably about as good as I’ve felt in a long time,” Gibson said. Best change I’ve had – I don’t know, I should go back and watch the tape to see when it feels good.
Sunday was the Spring Orioles’ last split-team doubles game. In the road portion against the New York Yankees, Tyler Wells was not as effective as Gibson but still had his best start to the camp. He allowed five hits and a run in 3 2/3 innings against a mostly starter-filled New York Yankees lineup. Wide receiver Anthony Bemboom hit a three-run homer off Gerrit Cole to propel Baltimore to a 5-3 win.
Some of the camp’s competitions, like the starting rotation, have clear favorites. Others, like the last seats in the bullpen, are wide open.
Hyde estimated on Saturday that the club has three spots open for the dozen or so pitchers competing to be in the big league bullpen.
“We could go in so many different directions,” Hyde said. “I think there’s a handful of guys getting into pen right now, but there’s still a lot of question marks after that.”
Those question marks include: left-handers Keegan Akin, Darwinzon Hernández, Nick Vespi and DL Hall; starting pitchers Spenser Watkins, Austin Voth and Tyler Wells; right-handers Joey Krehbiel, Reed Garrett, Logan Gillaspie, Eduard Bazardo and Mike Baumann; and Rule 5 draft pick Andrew Politi.
Voth Saturday threw two scoreless frames before allowing four runs (one earned) in his third inning. Six of his nine outs were strikeouts.
“The first two runs were the best he’s thrown this spring, so that’s definitely a positive,” Hyde said. “Curveball isn’t quite there yet, and it will come. But his fastball and his cutter were what they were [the] last year. I just see him getting better with each outing.
Four relievers – Bryan Baker, Krehbiel, Baumann and Vespi – followed Gibson and each pitched a scoreless inning to complete the shutout. Baker and Vespi rebounded from back-to-back tough outings, while Baumann made his second relief appearance after being moved from rotational competition to the bullpen last week.
Hyde also provided several updates on players returning from injuries. The Orioles have remained relatively healthy this spring, following last season’s good fortune after being one of the healthiest teams in the majors.
Closer Félix Bautista, who got off to a slow start this spring after ending 2022 with a sprained left knee and undergoing a shoulder-strengthening program this winter, is set to have his third show on Monday. He was dominant in his first two outings, striking out two in the two scoreless innings and hitting 100.1 mph on Saturday. Hyde said he wanted Bautista to appear in three or four more games to be ready for the opening day.
Another powerhouse pitcher, Hall is expected to make his spring debut on Monday or Tuesday. Hall, the Orioles’ No. 2 pitching prospect, pitched a mock game Thursday as he recovered from a lower back injury. It’s unclear whether Hall will start the season as a Triple-A starter or a reliever in the Orioles bullpen.
Ryan O’Hearn, who missed a week with a knee injury, returned Saturday and went 0-2 against the Boston Red Sox. O’Hearn, who is one of several players competing for the left-handed/substitute first baseman position, was 9-for-19 at the plate before his injury. Another player in this competition, Lewin Díaz is “a bit better” with his injured shoulder, Hyde said, but will still be out for a few days.
Presentation of the list
With just eight more Grapefruit League games remaining, the Orioles still have 51 players on their spring training roster.
That number will need to be nearly halved by the middle of next week before the March 30 opening in Boston. Hyde said most of the remaining cuts will come on the last day of camp, meaning most of the competitions on the roster are unlikely to be settled by then.
“I think we’re going to wait until the last day for a bunch of guys,” Hyde said. “I think there might be a few sporadic cuts between now and opening day, but I think we’re going to make sure these guys get as many bats as possible and some of these guys puke until the very end.”
Competitions include a few rotation spots, the last three seats in the bullpen, backup outfielders, and left-handed first baseman/bench batter.