CLEARWATER, Fla. — In the dugout before the Tuesday’s game, Brandon Hyde did his best to take some of the pressure away from Jackson Holliday.

The Orioles manager insisted that when the team deliberates on whether baseball’s top prospect makes the opening day roster, his spring training statistics won’t be the largest consideration. He wanted Holliday to focus on the process, to make strong swing decisions and defensive plays. To be himself.

Of course, the results don’t hurt, either.

Holliday broke out in a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies with two hard-hit extra-base knocks that clattered off his bat with a noise that sounded major-league ready. The 20-year-old infielder added a single for his first three-hit game of the spring.

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For all the emphasis on minimizing the focus on Holliday’s stat line, the more Holliday performs like this, the harder it is to honor that intention.

“Just continue to get more comfortable, take good at-bats and just relax,” Holliday said. “I know after yesterday or the last game I played, I felt sped up and a little beaten, and I knew to come out here and relax. I had a good day taking BP yesterday. Just going into that first at-bat feeling relaxed, and feeling ready for a fastball. It translated into today.”

Holliday struck out twice Sunday. On Monday, in a mixed batting practice session, he competed against the coach — he saw all different offerings meant to challenge beyond the realm of a usual batting practice session. That’s how Holliday resets: getting back into the cage. He can recalibrate his timing quickly, and then, when he is due to lead off the next day, he’s ready.

When he stepped in against right-hander Zack Wheeler for his first at-bat, Holliday said he felt “how I felt last year, when I was going really well, just being calm and confident and trying to hit the heaters.” The result at the end of the plate appearance drew the cameras and whipped social media into a flurry with highlights, but it was Holliday’s take two pitches earlier that might have been the most promising decision.

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On a curveball just below the zone, Holliday didn’t bite. That allowed him, in a two-strike count, to foul off the next pitch before jumping all over Wheeler’s cutter left over the middle of the plate. Holliday lashed it into right-center field at 104.4 mph for a double.

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“You want to compete against the best,” Holliday said. “To be the best, you have to beat the best, right? To be able to put together a good at-bat against him, [Max] Fried, and some of these other guys I’ve been able to compete against, is encouraging. Especially to be able to hit a double off him, I mean, is even more encouraging. It’s really cool to be out on the field with him, J.T. [Realmuto] and Trea Turner, some guys I really enjoy watching, and I try to model my game after Turner a little bit.”

Holliday didn’t look out of place against Wheeler, one of the league’s most reliable starters since joining the Phillies in 2020, even though he admitted to never facing a pitcher of that caliber before in the minor leagues.

Wheeler threw Holliday his entire repertoire except his sinker. Holliday said he wanted to be ready for Wheeler’s fastball — which hummed in twice at around 94 mph — but also proved he could handle Wheeler’s sweeper, curveball and cutter.

“That’s what I actually want,” Hyde said of those matchups. “That’s what you see during the season.”

In his second at-bat, Holliday throttled another ball. He caught right-hander Max Castillo’s changeup and sent it to the center field fence at 102.3 mph. And while it helped that center fielder Cristian Pache appeared to lose the ball near the end of its flight in the sky, Holliday will take it. He raced around the bases for a triple.

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In his fourth trip to the plate, Holliday smacked a single at 102.3 mph again before stealing second base.

“He just looked more relaxed at the plate today,” Hyde said. “We’re going to keep throwing him out there and keep looking at him.”

The highs of Tuesday can be weighed against moments in which Holliday has looked more his age. He struck out looking to close his third plate appearance, but he did so taking a borderline fastball. Holliday has struck out eight times in his seven Grapefruit League games — a trend he will hope to nip before his debut.

When that debut will be remains to be seen.

“Whether it’s to start the season with him or a month or two months into the season, I think that six years from now, nobody’s going to remember that, you know?” Hyde said. “When he makes his major league debut, we’re just going to see when the right time for him is, and us.”

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The focus may not be on the stats. But the stats, at least, support that Holliday’s debut is coming sooner rather than later.

Another under-the-radar pitcher impresses

Before right-hander Albert Suárez stepped onto the mound Tuesday, he was a relative unknown. The 34-year-old had briefly reached the majors with the San Francisco Giants in 2016 and 2017, then journeyed to Korea and Japan to continue his baseball dream.

When Suárez pitched against the Phillies at BayCare Ballpark, it looked as though the Orioles had unearthed another gem through their pitching development system.

Baltimore signed Suárez in September, and shortly after the move, coaches spent time with him in Sarasota discussing adjustments. One was to increase Suárez’s hip-to-shoulder separation when striding down the mound.

“I think that’s helping me a lot to create more power toward home plate,” Suárez said.

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Suárez spent the winter playing in Venezuela to master those new mechanics, and he brought them Tuesday to great effect. Suárez struck out seven batters and forced 10 whiffs with a four-seam fastball that hovered around 96 mph but could tick faster at times.

With that display, Suárez is suddenly on the radar. He’s building up as a starter, but he could find his way to Baltimore in a variety of roles.

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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