Owings makes his case during Orioles spring training; Stewart is on the mend
LAKELAND, Fla.—It’s been a good spring for Chris Owings. The 30-year-old utility signed a minor league contract with the Orioles on March 15and, right after the start of training, and he demonstrated his versatility on the pitch. On Saturday, he is first at bat and plays second base in the Grapefruit League game against Detroit.
Owings can play second, shortstop and third, and corner outfield positions. He has a strong chance of being with the Orioles when the season opens on April 8.and against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
The Orioles didn’t add Owings to the 40-man roster, but after going .316 (6 for 19) with a home run and four RBIs, that should happen before the 28-man rosters are set on April 7.and at noon.
“I’ve just been waiting for the last two days,” Owings said. “Just keep playing baseball, that’s what it boils down to.”
Owings, Kelvin Gutiérrez, who starts from third base on Saturday, Ramón Urias, the shortstop, and Jorge Mateo, who is not traveling, are vying for places. The same goes for Richie Martin, who is not on the 40-man roster, and Rougned Odor, who has been used exclusively at No. 2 this spring.
The Orioles are planning players at 13 positions, which will allow Gutiérrez, Mateo, Odor, Owings and Urías to make the team.
“Chris Owings is a good player,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “The versatility aspect he brings is huge for us. He can play three places in the infield. He has played center field in the big leagues before. He played the other outfield positions. It’s really helpful. He takes a really good stick, so I’m going to keep moving him around for the last four or five days.
Owings didn’t play in the outfield this spring, but he did during a nine-year major league career with four teams.
“We don’t have a lot of veterans in our squad, and someone who’s been around for a while, playing in multiple positions, that experience factor is important,” Hyde said.
Owings played just 17 games last season with Colorado due to two left thumb surgeries. He played winter ball in the Dominican Republic to get back in shape.
“Injuries, everything I was working on, I was able to go out there and test it, so coming into camp I felt good, I felt healthy,” Owings said. “I was probably one of the guys who took advantage of the lockdown, to come home and rest a bit, to have a little break from the winter ball because it was tough there. I played like 22 games in a row… I had a lot of batting attacks. I feel good when I arrive at the camp. I feel healthy.
“If you looked at me this spring, I moved into the infield. I’m going to play the outfield here in a few days.
Compressed spring training after the lockdown brought Grapefruit League games just five days after players were flagged and three days after Owings was signed.
“Last week you’re generally just chilling out,” Owings said. “You’re really focused on getting your guys ready, at-bat and getting the game going. But now we’re always, like, ‘Hey, we’ve got some stuff to work on, don’t we?’ Whether it’s defensive stuff, basic runs, we’re trying to get stuff in before camp breaks. You keep working in the morning when sometimes later in the spring just “show up and play” and get into that gaming routine…
“When I played winter ball, I went five innings, I had at-bats and boom, I was in the game the next day. I told Hyder it was a nice, gradual kick-in… It’s the same spring you’ve always done, just shortened a bit.
Update from Stewart: Hyde said outfielder DJ Stewart is closing in on a comeback. Stewart’s third finger on his left hand was bruised when he was hit by a throw while swinging on March 23rd. Stewart was scheduled to bat on a backcourt at Ed Smith Stadium on Saturday.
“If it goes well, hopefully within a day or two he gets some game action,” Hyde said. “If all goes well today, maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after. I’m playing it by ear right now, but I hope today goes well.