The Orioles' Ryan O'Hearn is forced out at second as...

The Orioles' Ryan O'Hearn is forced out at second as Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres throws to first on a double play off the bat of Austin Hays in the second inning of a spring training game in Sarasota, Fla., on Saturday. Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert

SARASOTA, Fla. — Aaron Boone’s reaction when the defending AL East champion Orioles added front-line starter Corbin Burnes in early February was fairly blunt.

“That could be a little bit of a problem,” Boone said.

Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde also took notice in December when the Yankees added Juan Soto, Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham (especially Soto).

“Good player,” Hyde said with a wry smile Saturday before the Orioles’ 7-3 victory over the Yankees, who finished 19 games behind the Orioles last season. “Adding Juan Soto there at the top of their order definitely is going to help. But we can’t control what other teams do around us. We’re going to focus on our guys, but I think all of our teams in our division have gotten better.”

The Orioles, who had been collecting young talent for years, broke through last season, going 101-61 to win the AL East title by two games over the Rays. They were swept in the Division Series by the eventual World Series champion Rangers.

Baltimore sneaked up on many last season, which won’t be the case in 2024. The expectations haven’t been this high around the team since Buck Showalter had his run a decade ago. And even Showalter’s best teams didn’t have the top-to-bottom organizational talent this group seems to have.

“I don’t think our mindset’s changed,” said Hyde, who is entering his sixth season as manager, having survived the lean years of the rebuild (losing 108 games in 2019 and 110 games in 2021). “I think the way the season ended last year made our guys even hungrier. We won the division last year and we’re proud of that, so we’re trying to defend that. We’re not looking at what other people are saying or writing or anything else. We’re still a really young team that’s going to have ups and downs. We’re going to try and be as consistent as possible. We did a great job of that last year.”

Boone said he expects the Orioles, young as they are, to do just fine with the pressure of being the hunted.

“I think they’ll be really good again. Look forward to that challenge,” Boone said. “They’ve come fully out of their rebuild and established a really good young core of players. It’s the American League East. You always look forward to going up against the best, but certainly they are formidable.”

It's a different Volpe

Anthony Volpe, who spent the offseason working on “flattening” his bat path after a disappointing rookie season at the plate, has been seeing consistent results. Volpe went 2-for-3 with two sharp ground-ball singles Saturday and is 5-for-13 with one strikeout.

"This is the guy I saw [in the minors],'’ said a rival American League scout who watched Volpe throughout his minor-league development and then last season in the big leagues. “I didn't recognize the guy at the plate last year, trying to pull the ball 450 feet. Seems like he's getting back to who he is."

Raising eyebrows

Each year in camp, there typically is a reliever who enters spring training with not a lot of attention but pitches his way onto the roster. A season ago, it was Ian Hamilton. The year before that, Ron Marinaccio.

An early contender this year is righthander Nick Burdi, a non-roster invitee who appeared in only three games last season with the Cubs and, before that, last pitched in a big-league game in 2020. The career of the 31-year-old Burdi, a second-round pick of the Twins in 2014, has been defined by injury. He’s undergone Tommy John surgery twice and had a procedure to treat thoracic outlet syndrome.

After allowing one hit and one walk in an inning in which he struck out three, Burdi, who features a wipeout slider but has had control issues when healthy, has five strikeouts in two innings.

“For him it’s health and consistency and can he do it at the highest level,” Boone said before the game. “He hasn’t had that opportunity a lot because of injuries throughout his career . . . but the pure stuff, you just don’t see. It’s special stuff.”

Said one National League scout: “If he’s healthy, his  stuff is better than Hamilton’s.”

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