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Three things to look for during the Orioles first spring training game Saturday

Three things to look for during the Orioles first spring training game Saturday

Baseball isn’t quite in full swing yet. But it’s close enough. 

The Orioles will open up their spring slate of games on Saturday against the Braves in North Port, Fla. It’s both the first game of spring training for both teams. 

The game can be listened to on Orioles.com or on the MLB At-Bat app. 

So here are three things to pay attention to during the first game of the spring: 

1. The starting pitching

The pitching was, to be frank, atrocious last season for the Orioles. 2020 doesn’t figure to showcase a large jump, either. 

Baltimore will start Chandler Shepherd against the Braves, a pitcher who started three games last season in Baltimore. He allowed 23 hits and 14 earned runs in 19 innings pitched and posted a 6.63 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP.

Ty Blach will pitch in relief of Shepherd. Blach pitched in five games last season for the Orioles and threw 20 ⅓ innings with an ERA 11.32. 

While neither will likely make the Opening Day roster, it’ll give an interesting look at what could be in store for the rest of spring training in Sarasota. 

2. How much the prospects play

For most major league clubs, there’s not much to get excited about for the first few games of spring training. The Orioles, though, are in a bit of a unique circumstance. 

In the second year of a rebuild, the Orioles are placing their future in the hands of younger prospects, meaning there’s always a chance for a few players to stand out in the first weeks of camp. 

While the lineups aren’t known yet, both for Saturday’s game and for the immediate future, getting a glimpse at some of the younger prospects like Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, Gunnar Henderson, and DL Hall is what fans have been clamoring for. 

3. The return of baseball

It’s not the return of baseball in the truest sense of the phrase.  

The Orioles aren’t going to play their top of the line prospects, or their major league club. But the first game of the spring means that baseball, officially, is back for Baltimore. 

Even though the 2020 season almost assuredly won’t be one that resembles any kind of contention, the Orioles hitting the field once again is always an exciting time.

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Cleveland Indians release statement saying team is having discussions in regards to name

Cleveland Indians release statement saying team is having discussions in regards to name

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Amid new pressure sparked by a national movement to correct racial wrongdoings, the Cleveland Indians said they will review their long-debated nickname.

"We are committed to making a positive impact in our community and embrace our responsibility to advance social justice and equality," the team said in a statement Friday night. "Our organization fully recognizes our team name is among the most visible ways in which we connect with the community."

The move mirrors one by the NFL's Washington Redskins, who earlier in the day said they are embarking on a "thorough review" of their name, which has been deemed as offensive by Native American groups for decades.

There have been previous efforts to get the Indians to rename themselves. But following the death George Floyd in Minnesota and other examples of police brutality against Black people in the U.S., there has been a major move nationwide to eradicate racially insensitive material.

RELATED ARTICLE: REDSKINS TO CONDUCT 'THOROUGH REVIEW' OF TEAM NAME

In 2018, the Indians removed the contentious Chief Wahoo logo from their game jerseys and caps. The grinning, red-faced mascot, however, is still present on merchandise that can be purchased at Progressive Field and other team shops in Northeast Ohio.

"We have had ongoing discussions organizationally on these issues," the Indians said. "The recent social unrest in our community and our country has only underscored the need for us to keep improving as an organization on issues of social justice. With that in mind, we are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name."

"While the focus of the baseball world shifts to the excitement of an unprecedented 2020 season, we recognize our unique place in the community and are committed to listening, learning, and acting in the manner that can best unite and inspire our city and all those who support our team," the club said.

The Redskins' decision came in the wake of FedEx, which paid $205 million for naming rights to the team's stadium, and other corporate partners calling for the team to change its nickname.

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Orioles hold first ‘odd, just random, weirdest’ practice of summer camp at Camden Yards

Orioles hold first ‘odd, just random, weirdest’ practice of summer camp at Camden Yards

Wade LeBlanc signed a one-year deal with the Orioles in early February that, if he made the major league roster out of Spring Training, was worth $800,000. He was set to join a crowded rotation with a shot to pitch in the major leagues.

But over the last few months, LeBlanc found another way to pitch -- and other batters to pitch to. 

Instead of pitching to major league hitters in the spring and early summer, he pitched to the seven year olds on his son’s coach-pitch travel team due to the coronavirus pandemic and the delayed major league season.

Now, he’s able to give up that job as the Orioles held their first “summer camp” practice of July at Camden Yards, three weeks from the start date of the 2020 season. But the return to the field wasn’t a normal practice for anyone involved.

“It’s pretty weird to say the least,” LeBlanc said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Today we went out, stretched, played catch, I threw a bullpen today. Get ready for a sim game in a couple days. Washed my hands before and after I was in the bullpen, which was kind of strange. We did some conditioning, took care of some arm exercises and all that kind of stuff.”

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The Orioles, like every team across Major League Baseball, have taken exhaustive measures to ensure the safety of the players in the organization. 

Some of those measures include hand-washing stations scattered across the field, coaches keeping their distance while still giving instruction, and spaced out clubhouses.

For first baseman Chris Davis, one of the biggest adjustments is going to be the act of not sharing the baseball around the infield like he normally does.

“I think probably the weirdest thing for me is going to be throwing the balls out in between innings or even in between just warming guys up and stuff like that,” Davis said. “I think there’s going to be like a recycling ball station on the field where you toss it and they’ll throw it in a bucket. That to me is going to be the hardest or the biggest adjustment, just the attention to detail of not sharing a ball too much.”

Manager Brandon Hyde said everyone, with the exception of Dominican players who had just arrived, reported as scheduled. He declined, however, to say if anyone in the organization tested positive for COVID-19.

“When you’re out on the field, it feels normal,” Hyde said. “It’s definitely different in the clubhouse. It’s different in the coaches’ room. There’s just a lot more protocols that we’ve all bought into to really make this a safe, healthy season, and do everything we can to keep us safe as well as the players and the coaches.” 

As of now, no players or coaches are expected to remove themselves from the Orioles’ roster for the upcoming season. 

Both LeBlanc and Davis said that was never particularly under consideration for either of them. 

“With so many unknowns there’s always going to be some reservations here and there, but outside of that you understand you have a job to do and for the last 13, 14 years this is kind of all I’ve known,” LeBlanc said. “It’s wanting to get back to normal for the most part. Normal as much as possible. It’s something that, as baseball players, we want to get out there and play baseball, so that’s what we’re hoping to do.”

Despite the unprecedented circumstances, the Orioles still have to be focused on the upcoming season. 

For players like Davis, it’s a chance to continue their hot streaks from back in Sarasota, Fla., during Spring Training, games and workouts that seem an eternity ago. 

For younger players on the roster, it’s a chance to earn an opportunity in the majors — despite the shortened season.

“We’re still trying to find out about a lot of guys on our roster,” Hyde said. “I was really encouraged by the momentum we had in camp. I thought we played well, I thought our work days were fantastic. We’ve talked about capturing that momentum again.”

And as Hyde pointed out, the Orioles are in contention from the day they step on the field for the regular season.

“We’re going to be in first place in late July,” Hyde quipped. “That’s really exciting for all of us.”

Through all the excitement, however, exists a new normal that no one on the field has experienced in their baseball careers. 

That includes Davis, a player who in his career has led the league in home runs, won a game as a pitcher, went on an 0-for-54 hitless streak and played a game without fans in the stands. 

Today topped them all.

“This is definitely the most odd, just random, weirdest thing that I’ve ever encountered on the baseball field,” Davis said. “I think it’s going to start to feel more normal the longer we are under all these protocols and guidelines, and that’s kind of my hope, that we develop some sort of routine where this becomes our normal for the time being.”

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