SARASOTA, Fla. — Before the Orioles’ final Grapefruit League game Thursday night, manager Buck Showalter said one of his main goals for the day was to get out of Florida having avoided an injury.
The Orioles appeared to dodge a major scare in the fourth inning of their spring finale against the Tampa Bay Rays when designated hitter Nelson Cruz left the game after he was hit in the batting helmet by a pitch from Alex Cobb.
Cruz was taken to a local hospital for a precautionary CAT scan, which came back negative, according to the club.
Cruz, who signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Orioles last month to provide the middle-of-the-order power bat the club had coveted all offseason, crouched down after the impact of the pitch knocked his helmet off.
Even though the pitch was a breaking ball, it cracked the edge of the bill of Cruz’s helmet, silencing the crowd at Ed Smith Stadium.
"He cracked the helmet. It sounded hopefully worse than it was," Showalter said. "He seems to be fine. I’d like to say we dodged a bullet, but he didn’t. So far, so good. I think it’s a little early, but I think he’s going to be fine. Right now, I think he’s OK."
Cruz stood up quickly but was removed from the game after being evaluated by head athletic trainer Richie Bancells and Showalter at home plate.
He immediately went back to the Orioles clubhouse with Bancells under his own power.
“I don't want to make excuses, but my front foot slipped a little bit," Cobb said. "It was a curveball; just got away from me.
“I don't think any pitcher wants to hit a guy in the head. It was a curveball. If any pitch you can hit him with, you prefer it to be that, but it still stinks to see a guy go down like that. But [I] heard he’s OK, so that’s good."
Delmon Young replaced Cruz, who was slated to start in left field and likely bat fifth on Opening Day on Monday.
Two springs ago, a pitch from Cobb hit Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold in the head in the Grapefruit League opener in Port Charlotte. Reimold was taken to a local hospital and given a CAT scan, which came back negative.
** Nonroster pitcher Alfredo Aceves will exercise an opt-out clause in his contract, according to an industry source.
Aceves, 31, had two opt-out dates in his minor league deal, one Friday and another on June 30. He reportedly was guaranteed to make $1.2 million if he made the major league roster and could have earned as much as $3 million, based on incentives.
Aceves was battling right-hander nonroster invitee Evan Meek for the Orioles’ final bullpen spot. When the club signed Aceves in January, he offered the club a veteran pitcher with experience starting and relieving in the American League East.
He was 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA over 10 spring innings, allowing five earned runs, including three homers, on 11 hits with 11 strikeouts and six walks.