Santander excited after return from ‘unbelievable experience’ at WBC
SARASOTA, Fla. — For Anthony Santander, playing in the World Baseball Classic was “like a dream.”
The right fielder returned to Orioles spring training Tuesday after spending the previous 12 days playing for Team Venezuela.
“Oh, my god, unbelievable experience,” Santander said. “Very grateful and happy for the opportunity. That’s something that I’ll never forget, being there playing like a kid but in big situations.”
Santander gained worldwide attention during the WBC as one of the tournament’s best hitters. The 28-year-old opened the event as Venezuela’s No. 7 hitter, but he rose all the way up to the No. 3 hole.
In Venezuela’s opener, he hit a solo home run in his first at-bat and later had a triple and made a diving catch. Santander followed that up with a three-run homer the following day. He ended the tournament slashing .368/.455/.842.
“I prepared really good before the tournament. I honestly didn’t get surprised at the results,” Santander said. “That’s something as a player you always keep to yourself, being quiet and prepare yourself and go out there and compete pitch by pitch. I’m excited that I did good to be able to help my team win at least the first couple four games.”
“I’m just so proud of him, honestly, for what he did on the big stage,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s fun to see your guys get national attention.”
Venezuela’s WBC run ended in the quarterfinals with a 9-7 loss to Team USA, which plays in the final Tuesday night against Japan. Santander was one of three players on the Orioles’ 40-man roster to participate in the WBC; center fielder Cedric Mullins is still playing for Team USA, and starting pitcher Dean Kremer pitched for Team Israel.
“Feel really proud to be able to wear that jersey, representing the whole country, family, my hometown,” Santander said. “That’s something that as a player you never forget that big moment. The more important thing is we bring some happiness to our people back there.”
Santander was back in the Orioles’ lineup Tuesday against the Boston Red Sox and went 0-for-3.
Adley Rutschman’s biggest flaw in 2022 was his ineffectiveness against left-handed pitching. As a switch-hitter, the star catcher slashed just .174/.287/.265 in 115 plate appearances when batting from the right side against lefties.
Rutschman hit just one long ball against big league left-handers last year. This spring, he already has two as a right-handed hitter.
Facing seven-time All-Star left-hander Chris Sale on Tuesday, Rutschman hammered a fly ball over the left-center field wall for a first-inning solo homer.
“He’s been swinging the bat well righthanded this whole spring, not just out here but in the back fields also,” Hyde said. “That was a point of emphasis for him to work on his right-handed swing a little bit this offseason. It’s been really good this spring.”
The homer was Rutschman’s fourth in 35 spring at-bats, with his first coming from the right side against Detroit Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd earlier this month.
Also in the 6-2 win over the Red Sox, Ryan Mountcastle followed Rutschman’s lead and continued his hot spring with a solo shot of his own to straightaway center field.
“I feel like this is one of the best springs I’ve had in a while,” Mountcastle said. “I’m a little more locked in this year at the plate.”
Orioles left-hander Cole Irvin earned the win after pitching five-plus innings, allowing seven hits and two runs with no walks and three strikeouts. Irvin, who was acquired from the Oakland Athletics this offseason, has surrendered five runs in 14 ⅓ innings this spring.
“You saw the tempo of the game, the time of game,” Hyde said, referencing the 2:06 game time. “When Cole Irvin’s on the mound, he’s going to be throwing a ton of strikes. He did that again today, has been doing that all camp.”
Despite the club optioning Bruce Zimmermann to Triple-A on Monday, Hyde spoke highly of how the Ellicott City resident pitched this spring, adding that he expects the left-hander to make it to the big leagues sometime in 2023.
“I thought he threw the ball well in spring,” Hyde said. “It’s that time of camp where starters are getting a little bit longer, and kind of narrowing down our numbers a little bit. But I thought [Zimmermann] showed well, and hopefully he gets off to a good start in Norfolk. I’m sure we’ll see him at some point this season.”
Zimmermann, 28, has started a game for the Orioles in three straight seasons, including the home opener in 2022 and 13 games in each of the past two campaigns. He has a career 5.65 ERA in 145 major league innings.
He broke camp in 2022 in Baltimore’s rotation and pitched well in April before struggling — allowing 17 home runs in a span of seven starts — and getting sent down to Norfolk.
Zimmermann was one of 12 pitchers who entered spring training competing for the five rotation spots, but he was on the outside looking in of that competition from the get-go.
“We’re going to make the best decisions we can for who we feel like is going to open the season in the rotation, but that could change quickly,” Hyde said. “As we know, you need more than five starters. We felt really good about [Zimmermann] being part of our starting group; he’s just going to start the year in Norfolk.”
Left-handed reliever Nick Vespi was also optioned. Vespi was outstanding in Triple-A last season (0.00 ERA in 28 innings) and posted a 5-0 record with a 4.10 ERA in 26 innings in the majors. He struggled in his first few outings this spring while working his way back from offseason hernia surgery.