By Eric Garfield
It’s warm and sunny this morning at the O’s Minor League complex and there are fewer available parking spots because pitchers and catchers who weren’t checked in yet did today or are currently. I walked around outside and the offense is doing their stretches. I don’t anticipate a great deal of am action as there’s an intrasquad game at 1 and new arrivals have to take physicals or meet with staff. Hopefully I’m wrong and there will be activities for me to see and tell you about. Today is a day where you need sunscreen at 9am so it’s going to be a hot one. This is spring training weather.
The catcher labor force was reduced by one at least for today as Jordan Cannon is shelved with what he says is a ‘sore hip flexor’. He’s limping, he’s dressed but he’s not putting on the catcher’s gear today. Good thing some reinforcements are getting checked by doctors inside as I type.
The fields cleared a bit ago following drills which included grounders from both fungoes and juggs machines, hitting coaches shooting sponge balls at pitchers for reflex fielding and outfield pivot and go drills. One great way to help me memorize the jersey-less players is to tell them to say hi to me. That makes it click so thanks to the dad of lefty pitcher Zach Matson! Saved me a step. Zach told me the minor league system is energized with the rebuild and new management and he was taking it easy as second as his fellow pitchers stretched
There were several highlights but nobody looked that great on the hill. Starter Houston Roth began the bottom of the first and I’d say probably him. Relief pitcher Isaac Matson started the game and had a big curve to go to 2 strikes on second year infielder Joey Ortiz before Ortiz flied out. Roth had good horizontal movement and got outfielders Kyle Stowers and Robbie Thorburn to strike out looking around Willy Yahn’s single into short center. Yahn tried to steal and was nailed by Mav Handley with a great low throw down to second. Handley also showed good lead off skills starting the game with an out but describing the pitches to his dugout. Starter Kade Strowd came in and looked to be too gassed up as his follow through was clean but his spots were not hit. He’s impressed me with overall accuracy but this was a chance for him to get outs without his good stuff. Jake Lyons took the hill and he also wasn’t hitting spots but he picked off Handley at first showing me more and more that he’s an athlete. Exciting, but not as cool as him getting nailed by a Gunnar line drive off the thigh and staying in! To me that was the moment of the game. Lefty swinging corner JC Escarra took Lyons to the right field warning track with a driven double as he continues to stay on the ball.
Tall starter Jensen Elliot followed his fellow OK St Cowboy to the hill and he had his junk working, going 3/4 delivery to strike out 3B JC Encarnacion swinging. Next up infielder/outfielder Zach Watson had the hardest hit ball of the day off inside heat that had no run. Watson just turned on it in a surge and pulled it high into the left field corner where the wind made sure it didn’t go out. I was shocked at the charge he put into the ball and wrote ‘TATTOOED’ in all capital letters.
A pair of South Carolina college pitchers came next as College of Charleston alum Griff McLarty was next before Elon graduate Kyle Brnovich. McLarty showed a pair of different breaking balls-one he used for strikes to righties but both had arm side spin and drop. I got to watch Kyle Brnovich’s ‘debut’ in an O’s uniform with his parents and with commentary from his grandfather. Gramps smiled as his grandson’s big curve found the mitt a couple times and me being the curious guy I am asked him if the pitch has a nickname. Pops told me yes, it’s ‘the Executioner’ and I now like his entire family. Really a proud group.
My video from the game isn’t great-I was far and didn’t have great angles either. There’s stuff from Dan Hammer, Strowd, Reed Hayes but nothing close enough for me.
JJ Hardy stayed around and in the dugout talking to the players all game. Alan Mills was right next to me at the fence and loves to encourage his guys during the game. But I met former O’s reliever Dyar Miller and talked pitching with him for a while at the end and after the game. Miller worked with the Elias regime in Houston and now is a consultant with the O’s helping them with young arms. We talked baseball then and now and how pitchers work. He knows a great deal and talked about Chad Ogea’s change-up and grip being straight compared with King Felix’s that has spin and drop. Without me prodding he went into why he’s working and educating this group. ‘I met the pitchers last year and was pleasantly surprised….players and staff’ made an impression on the righty veteran. Also, he talked about an O’s pitcher who told him that he learned more in the 8 weeks after Elias/Mejdal implemented video data than he did in his first two seasons in the organization.
I’m always looking for somebody else to see what I see, some form of talent pipeline being built. This deep voiced former hurler seemed to agree and he even puts on a cap and uniform to prove it. Good day, good sign.
The best part was Gunnar in game settings doing big things and watching grandpa Brno fawn over his grandchild who wants to ‘strike everybody out and thinks he can