With Alec Asher’s appearance in last night’s heartbreaking loss to the Walgreens Nationals, Dan Duquette continues to masterfully yo-yo his optionable bullpen pieces in an effort to keep them from wearing down. And he’s needed to thus far. Thirty-three games into the season, the Orioles are continuing to run with a five-man bench.
It’s been a change from years past, when the Orioles have opted to keep an extra reliever in the ‘pen, particularly due to their struggles with the starting rotation. With this year’s team not being terribly different and September call-ups being over 100 days away, you have to wonder how long they can keep this up.
Is trying to save the bullpen hurting the team?
Despite the gut-wrenching loss last night, things are cruising for the Birds in the win/loss column. It’s hard to really complain about this team right now. That being said, there have already been pretty good examples of the short bullpen causing problems for the Birds.
It’s pretty clear Ubaldo would have been yanked on Monday night prior to giving up the 3-run homer in the 8th inning with a rested bullpen. After working 7 seriously un-Ubaldo-like innings, he gave up a lead-off walk. He was toiling. Sitting at over 100 pitches, everyone and their mother was hoping to see Buck walk out to the mound, but he didn’t. Unfortunately, confirmation bias soon kicked in with Adam Lind’s 3-run homer.
Buck specifically mentioned it in the post-game press conference too. When asked if his 6-man bullpen factored into the decision to leave him out there, Buck answered, “Oh yeah, that figured into it strongly.” Luckily for the O’s, it all worked out in the end.
Another situation arose from the short bullpen last week when the Orioles had to call up Tyler Wilson to make a spot start in Boston. Yes, this one worked out for the O’s too. But, you have to think the team would have been better prepared to handle Kevin Gausman’s early ejection with another reliever capable of going multiple innings in the bullpen. Instead, Ubaldo, the next day’s starter, had to come in and pitch three innings of relief and Tyler Wilson was given a start in Boston instead of Norfolk.
Neither situation wound up costing the O’s the win so maybe this is all to do about nothing, but it’s clear the short pen has put Buck in a lot of binds. Even with Duquette and Showalter swapping out relievers seemingly by the day, the regulars are still starting to show some wear. Take this Brad Brach related tweet for instance:
Brad Brach's first 11 appearances: 0.00 ERA in 12 IP... Brad Brach's last 8 appearances: 10.29 ERA in 7 IP. #Orioles— Eduardo A. Encina (@EddieInTheYard) May 11, 2017
Hmm sounds a lot like when he got overused last year and wore down a bit in mid-August. Unfortunately, saving the bullpen is not as easy as calling up Verrett, Asher, or Aquino full time. Someone has to get sent down in a corresponding move.
Who would be the one to go?
When looking through possible candidates for demotion, it must be pointed out that this entire situation stems from Trey Mancini’s hot bat in the spring and now into the season. It’s become abundantly clear that he is a major league hitter. Despite his options, he’s got to stay. You’re not going to send down the guy with an OPS nearing 1.000.
The main victim that has been losing at bats due to Mancini’s hot start is Hyun-soo Kim. It’s unfortunate for a player who many fans were excited to see get regular playing time this year. So far, he’s been platooning even less than he was at the end of last season. When it comes to his roster status, however, neither his playing time nor his cool bat matter much.
As we are all well aware, Kim’s contract stipulates that he must remain on the 25-man roster. The Orioles aren’t going to cut bait on a guy who got on base 38% of the time last season. Not happening.
Super utility extraordinaire Ryan Flaherty and the back-up catcher are givens on the roster which leaves just Joey Rickard and Craig Gentry. Both players bring similar skill sets to the table as contact hitters that provide speed and defense. Rickard has been swinging a hotter bat as of late, but Gentry brings more speed and better defense. As primarily bench players in the first place, I think you have to value defense over offense.
Most importantly, Gentry is a veteran with no options remaining and would need to be DFA’ed to bring up a reliever. I don’t think the Orioles are ready to give up on him quite yet. As a much better center fielder than Joey, Gentry is defensive insurance in case of a potential Adam Jones injury.
What should the Orioles do?
If the Orioles do want to go down to a 4-man bench anytime soon, I think their only choice is to option Rickard. Despite being a fan favorite from his hot start in 2016 and his starring roles in Royal Farms commercials, he’s a below average hitter and his defense is redundant with Gentry.
It would limit the Orioles’ ability to continue subbing in plus defenders at both corner outfield spots in the final innings, but it could easily be argued that the short bullpen is currently hurting the team even more than the defensive subs are helping it.
In the meantime, I’d expect the Norfolk shuttle to continue to log serious miles in the coming weeks. Between Asher, Verrett, Nuno, Aquino and Wilson, you know Dan Duquette is going to continue to take full advantage of each of their options and keep this 5-man bench as long as possible. But, if the bullpen continues to look as worn as it has this past week, maybe it’ll be time for the front office to make a tough decision.
Who knows what will happen. You obviously never root for an injury, but we have been lucky to this point in avoiding injuries to position players. It’s very possible that the five-man bench works itself out in time. It could all wind up being a moot point soon enough.
What do you think? Should we let this ride or is it time to bolster the bullpen? Maybe you think none of this even matters since it stems from Britton’s absence which can’t simply be fixed. Pop in the comments and let us know.