After a 5-1 romp through Toronto and New York, two of their pursuers in the AL East, the Orioles returned home for a Friday homestand that sees them on the right side of the standings with the second-best record in baseball.
With a 33-17 start through their first 50 games, they’re also likely to be on a more encouraging side of the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
“We’re definitely preparing all types of scenarios,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said Friday afternoon, “and they’re buy scenarios.”
While acknowledging that there’s more than two months until the deadline, Elias had to admit it looks like the team he’s spent the last few years constructing is ready to win now. Since he last addressed the media earlier in May, the team has won three straight series against AL East foes, including the Tampa Bay Rays who sit atop the standings.
Manager Brandon Hyde has frequently joked that the Orioles – who have 19 comeback victories this season and played three straight extra-inning games during the road trip – have strained his blood pressure. The same could be said of Elias, who broadcast cameras caught Thursday night in New York watching with nail-biting intensity. But, after he presided over two teams that lost more than 100 games, it’s clear Elias is willing to live with the nightly suspense as the Orioles are fighting in just about every game – and winning most of them.
“It’s so awesome for me that our team is playing those games now,” Elias said. “To go into Yankee Stadium and win a series and damn near sweep it is a pretty big deal for this young team. It was fun seeing that up close and personal.”
Elias didn’t offer much insight into what the team might be looking to upgrade as summer approaches, but the starting rotation seems the most obvious place to look. A muscle strain that might push back John Means’ return from Tommy John surgery until at least August probably makes some move there more likely – though Elias didn’t commit to it.
The Orioles annually have been sellers, including last season when there was at least some question if they might change approaches after a summer surge. The club traded franchise favorite Trey Mancini and closer Jorge Lopez (notably getting back Yennier Cano in the second of those deals). But now, with a substantive sample size, the gear is shifting.
The overall picture for the deadline is hazy: There are only four teams in the major leagues who aren’t within 4.5 games of at least a wild card spot as of Friday afternoon. But Elias said the front office and pro scouting staff are determining who they might try to get this summer.
“We’re just trying to get a clearer sense of the type of players that might provide the biggest impact for us,” he said, “where those players might be coming from, and trying to gauge any likelihood that any of these players might be on the market in some way, shape or form. And then working on the evaluations right now.”
A few more highlights from Elias’ 19-minute media session Friday:
Orioles reluctant to limit young arms
In past seasons, the Orioles have been cautious about putting too much workload on their up-and-coming hurlers. Last season, Tyler Wells threw more than 81 pitches in just six of 17 appearances and topped out at 95.
But the Orioles weren’t as competitive as they are now, and with winning comes a more relaxed approach to some of their younger starters, including Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish. Rodriguez, for example, has thrown 91 or more pitches in six of his nine appearances. Elias eschewed the idea that any of them will have hard inning counts for the season.
“We can’t shut down four-fifths of our rotation in the middle of a playoff chase because they’re running out of innings,” he said. “You just obviously can’t do it. So we’re just going to be really smart about it with our medical staff and our pitching department and our strength and conditioning department on a start-to-start basis.”
Holliday could be promoted sooner rather than later
There’s no one lighting up High-A baseball at the plate quite like 19-year-old Jackson Holliday, who has racked up a .398 average and a .518 on-base percentage in 110 plate appearances.
While much was expected of the No. 1 overall pick of the 2022 draft, even Elias called Holliday’s production at that level “extreme” and acknowledged the shortstop prospect is likely to be sent to Double-A Bowie this season.
“I don’t think skipping across the waves and not really spending any time there is a good idea, but we’ll move him if and when we think it’s the exact right thing to do for his development,” Elias added. “But can’t say enough about how well he’s doing. And I’ve been a part of a lot of big draft picks, and I’ve probably never had one where I’ve worried this little about him and how he goes about his business.”
Cowser could return from injury soon
Colton Cowser, one of the Orioles’ top outfield prospects, was moved to the Norfolk IL this month with left quad tightness. But Elias said his injury likely isn’t major. “I’m hopeful that it’s measured more in days than in weeks at this point.”
Cowser has batted .331/.469/1.023 in his second season with the Triple-A Tides and could make his major league debut this season.