Before every pitch, Tyler Nevin goes through his mental checklist.
How many outs are there? Who’s on base? Who’s hitting? Where should he throw it if the ball comes his way? It’s not a unique routine for players, but as Nevin hops around the field, answering those questions before the ball has a chance to reach him is the first step toward making the play.
“The pre-pitch thought process is crucial,” Triple-A Norfolk manager Buck Britton said. “And when you’re moving around, I think it’s even more important.”
Inside Nevin’s locker are three gloves, sometimes more. There’s his favorite one, the third base mitt he’s played with for years. There’s a first baseman’s glove, which was the hardest one to break in because of the extra padding. And there’s an outfielder’s mitt, the newest addition to his collection after picking up left and right field in 2019.
He never knows which one he’ll pull from his locker that day when he arrives at the ballpark. So he keeps them all ready, taking them from city to city, in case the need arises. In Detroit, for instance, Nevin played first base during the first two games of the series before sliding over to third for Sunday’s finale.
Since his call-up in late April, Nevin has played third base five times, first base three times, left field twice and right field once. On four occasions he’s played a different position on consecutive days, requiring him to roll through that mental checklist with special focus.
“I can’t get too comfortable with where I’m at,” Nevin said, “because the next day I’ll probably play somewhere else.”
But it’s that discomfort, in a way, that has helped Nevin stake a place with the Orioles, providing a utility ability that covers for injuries and off-days. He’s a natural third baseman, but he can play all four corners and feature as a designated hitter, too — the kind of versatility that helps a manager fill out a lineup card each day.
“It’s huge,” Trey Mancini said. “If you can get slotted into one of five spots, it’s huge, and it’s a huge plus to be able to play up here and stay up here, just to have that dynamic ability to play in different spots.”
The path to becoming a utility player wasn’t one Nevin sought on his own. After the Colorado Rockies drafted Nevin in the first round of the 2015 MLB draft, the path to the big leagues appeared crowded.
The Rockies had Nolan Arenado patrolling third base for the foreseeable future, and in Single-A ball, Nevin also competed with infielder Colton Welker for playing time at the hot corner. So he was approached with a challenge — more of a command than a question.
“Hey,” Nevin remembers a farm director telling him, “we’re gonna have you play first.”
It wasn’t entirely foreign, since he played there as a freshman in high school and at times in little league, where coaches often put the largest player there. But it was still an adjustment he made on the fly. His experience as a third baseman helps, though.
Nevin said there are plenty of similarities between the corner infield spots, but the major differences come down to how much time he has to make a play. At third, he doesn’t get to choose which hop to go after — if he waits, the runner might be safe. He can sit back for a better bounce at first, however, and he doesn’t need to go after every ball, given the assistance of the second baseman and pitcher. So when he’s at first, he feels as if the experience of making more athletic plays at third only helps him make the standout ones look more routine.
“I enjoy saving errors and I enjoy not just being a big guy at first,” Nevin said. “I enjoy making plays that they don’t expect first basemen to make.”
His introduction to the outfield followed much of the same path, with the Rockies proposing the idea to him in 2019. That was a more difficult adjustment, jumping to a spot on the field he hadn’t played before, but the understanding of the position has helped him gain increased playing time.
Nevin doesn’t sugarcoat it: He’s not the fastest player. So instead, he focuses on the little things that can make a monumental difference, such as hitting the cutoff man with his throws, keeping the ball in front of him and making accurate first reads off the bat.
“No one’s expecting me to be [10-time Gold Glove winner] Andruw Jones, but I definitely don’t want to be a liability,” Nevin said. “And every day I try to get better at it to be as close to Andruw Jones as I can, but I feel like I’m comfortable enough now to where I can be solid and reliable, and you don’t have to be worried about me out there.”
That’s what Mancini has noticed, too. When Mancini began performing well during spring training in 2017, the natural first baseman was stuck behind Chris Davis. To find a way to get his bat into the lineup, the Orioles charged him with learning the outfield — “you’ve got to learn it, or you might be an odd-man-out,” Mancini said.
In the future, Nevin hopes to prove himself as an everyday player worthy of holding down one position. But he pointed to Ketel Marte with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chris Taylor of the Los Angeles Dodgers as evidence that there’s a market for utility players.
And as Nevin continues to play a role in Baltimore, he’s proving how valuable that versatility can be.
“Just because you play all over doesn’t mean you can’t play one,” Nevin said. “It means you can play everything. We’ll see where the road takes me. But for right now, I’m very ready to play wherever I’m needed.”
What’s to come?
An impending promotion for catcher Adley Rutschman, the top prospect in baseball, isn’t out of the question this week for Baltimore. The Orioles begin a seven-game homestand against divisional opponents, hosting the New York Yankees for four games beginning Monday and the Tampa Bay Rays for three starting Friday.
A Friday night home crowd with Rutschman making his debut almost makes too much sense. The 24-year-old backstop will have an off-day Monday with Triple-A Norfolk that could serve as a travel day, too.
Rutschman went 0-for-4 with three groundouts and a lineout Sunday, and he’s hitting .304 with an .871 OPA across High-A, Double-A and Triple-A so far. Rutschman might’ve made Baltimore’s opening day roster if he hadn’t sustained a tricep injury as major league spring training got underway.
What was good?
The Orioles can breathe a sigh of relief. For the moment, the injury to outfielder Austin Hays — while grisly — doesn’t appear as if it’ll keep him off the field for an extended period of time. And for Hyde, that’s about as good of news as he could hear, especially as he watched his offense scuffle mightily in Detroit.
Hays had his hand stepped on as he dove toward first base Thursday in St. Louis, and while he finished out the game, he required stitches to close the wounds. The fortunate part? He didn’t break any bones or tear any ligaments, avoiding what could’ve been a major loss for the Orioles.
“We got really lucky,” Hyde said. “Lucky something wasn’t broken in there or more stitches or whatever.”
Hays is hitting .291 this season and recorded 12 hits in 21 at-bats before three straight hitless games against the Cardinals. The 26-year-old said he hopes to begin baseball activities again Monday, wanting to maintain his rhythm at the plate.
With 16 strikeouts in Sunday’s series finale and Trey Mancini’s solo homer in the ninth the only run, Baltimore closed out its series in Detroit with three runs scored and three losses. It was a display that looked closer to the performances of April rather than May, taking a considerable downturn from the beginning of the month.
Before the Tigers secured a sweep, the Orioles hadn’t lost any of their previous four series, including taking two of three games from the Kansas City Royals and Cardinals last week.
But on Friday, Baltimore stranded 14 runners and went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. The bats weren’t as lively Saturday or Sunday, putting pressure on the pitching staff. And while the outings were solid on the mound, the lack of runs couldn’t support those displays.
On the farm
Entering Sunday, infielder Gunnar Henderson had played 29 games this season for Double-A Bowie. He had reached base in all 29.
His streak, however, ended Sunday in the first game of a doubleheader, as he went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts.
The 20-year-old, who ranks as the No. 4 prospect in Baltimore’s pipeline according to Baseball America, holds a .292 average and .924 OPS while drawing 31 walks to 24 strikeouts. He’s scored 26 runs to go with five doubles and four homers.