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Brad Brach made the most of his chances with the Orioles this year

Brad Brach could have turned out to be another low-risk Dan Duquette move that didn't matter, but instead he pitched himself into a role with the Orioles.

Mitchell Layton

When the Orioles acquired Brad Brach from the Padres last November in exchange for minor league pitcher Devin Jones, it had the feel of one of those low-cost moves that Dan Duquette loves to make, figuring that if a few of them hit, they will all be worth the effort. Brach, then a 27-year-old reliever with a penchant for walking everyone in sight in the big leagues, could have just as easily ended up on the list of busted moves, joining names like Matt Antonelli and Edgmer Escalona, forgotten if you ever knew them at all.

Instead, the 6'6" Brach pitched his way into a role on the team, filling an important niche in the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever. Take a chance on the right talent at the right time and you will be rewarded, as the Orioles were in acquiring Brach.

It's not hard to see why the Padres were ready to give up on Brach, who walked 59 batters in 104.2 innings over parts of three seasons with the big league club. He also got a lot of strikeouts, recording 117 in the same time frame, but what good is that when you walk everybody? After a 1.774 WHIP in his 2013, the Padres had enough. They'd designated him for assignment to clear a 40-man spot. The Orioles traded for him during the 10-day window.

Duquette loves relievers with options almost as much as he loves his own children.

It's also not hard to see why the Orioles were interested in him. A former 42nd-round pick from Monmouth who was already 22 when drafted, Brach plowed through the minor leagues, closing games in four different levels over three years. He had an absurd strikeout rate, like striking out 64 batters in 42 innings in Double-A in 2011 absurd, and in the minor leagues at least, he barely walked anybody. That's what you call old for the level, but you could see the potential there.

Perhaps as important as the potential he'd showed is the fact that Brach had an option remaining. Duquette loves relievers with options almost as much as he loves his own children. Maybe more; he can't option his kids for a fresh arm after a 16-inning game.

The O's took that option and stashed Brach in Norfolk for the first month or so of the season. For the Tides, he continued to show why the O's would have wanted him. In three different stints for the O's affiliate, Brach struck out 43 batters in 23.1 innings, with only six walks - two of which were intentional.

That's worth a look on the big club. The O's recalled Brach on May 2. He was in a game the next day. Brach did not have an auspicious debut for the O's, giving up a three-run home run to Joe Mauer in his first game. A couple of days later, he was riding the roster merry-go-round back to Norfolk, with lefty long man T.J. McFarland taking his place.

What's good about a player with options isn't just that you can send him away, but that you can bring him back. Sure enough, Brach was back within a couple of weeks, because Evan Meek just wasn't working out as a middle-inning reliever for the O's. In his second game back, Brach was summoned in the second inning of one of Chris Tillman's 1+ IP stink bombs and ended up pitching four scoreless innings.

That four inning outing was his season high, but it established a role for Brach as a guy who could be counted on to eat innings and keep a close game close - that four-inning outing was one where the O's were only losing 8-6 after Tillman left - or even just to keep the back-end relievers from pitching as much in a lost cause.

Counting the postseason, Brach appeared in 48 games for the Orioles, totaling 64.2 innings. Of those 48 games, he pitched for more than three outs in exactly half of them.

Brach received seven wins for the O's on the season. A reliever getting wins is largely out of his control. Either the offense scores or they don't. Still, Brach helped himself to those wins by straddling multiple innings and by not giving up many runs in situations where it mattered most. He pitched his best in those outings, in fact, allowing only a .518 OPS in what Baseball Reference deemed high leverage plate appearances.

That stands in stark contrast to Meek, who took four losses and had a 1.044 OPS in high leverage situations. Little wonder that one of the transactions involving Brach this year was to be called up to replace Meek when he was finally designated for assignment in mid-May. That's a small sample size, for sure, but for relievers, that's pretty much all you get, so if you're good in your small sample size, great. If not, take a hike.

What changed for Brach this year? Maybe nothing changed and San Diego just gave up on him at the wrong time. Maybe the tandem of pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti helped him be a better version of the player who'd already notched 109 MLB appearances. Brach kept his strikeout percentage at a comparable level (22.0% of batters struck out in 2013 vs. 21.3% in 2014) while cutting a 13.5% walk rate by about a quarter.

That's still on the high side, but it was enough this year. According to Fangraphs, he added 1.4mph to his average fastball velocity this year compared to last. Perhaps with another year in the organization, knowing he's carved out a role for himself here, Brach will be able to improve a little more. From June 23, when Brach was up for good, until the end of the year, he had a 2.25 ERA.

Jones, whom the Orioles traded to get Brach, only appeared in nine games for the Padres' Double-A club in San Antonio, putting up a 7.23 ERA.

Still a player on the lower end of service time, Brach won't be arbitration eligible until the 2016 season. He made $509,500 for his trouble this year and won't get much more next year. The O's have control of him, if they want, until after 2018's campaign.

If Brach pitches as well as he did this year or better, the team will find a place for him.