On Wednesday afternoon, the Orioles designated third-string catcher Francisco Pena and finally put a seventh man into the bullpen. For a team whose starters have pitched the second fewest innings of any team in the league, it’s really amazing that the Orioles even lasted with a long bench until the third week of May.
It certainly wasn’t always pretty, and casual fans have had to learn a lot of names, but hey the Orioles went 23-14 with a six-man bullpen. With those kind of results, it’s hard to be too upset, as frustrating as it may have been at times.
Now that the Orioles are hopefully settled into a seven-man bullpen, the Norfolk shuttle should start to slow its roll. You’d like to see relievers get a chance to establish themselves on the big league club and carve out niches in the ‘pen.
There will definitely be some short starts that cause some reshuffling along the way, along with a certain MLB veteran looming with an opt-out in Norfolk, but for the most part it would do the team well to get some consistency back in the bullpen. But with who?
First and foremost, Brad Brach is staying in there as one of the late-inning guys even though this has not been his finest month. Let’s be real, Orioles fans pessimistically all saw the grand slam on Tuesday night coming from a mile away, but he’s been a dependable guy for years now. He’s going to turn it around, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Along with Brach in the later innings, Givens and O’Day can be penciled in there as well. They are two no-brainers. Givens has pitched more innings out of the ‘pen than anyone else on the team and done it quite well. O’Day struggled out of the gate and has recently fought shoulder soreness but since allowing 5 ER in his first three outings, the sidewinder has pitched to a 2.13 ERA while holding batters to a .163 batting average. That’s the O’Day we’ve come to know over the past five seasons.
Surprisingly, the last of the shoo-ins right now is probably Alec Asher. His acquisition in late March came with little fanfare, but he has looked every bit the part of a major league pitcher. His FIP suggests a regression may be imminent, but on the eye test alone, he is one of our better pitching options. The 2.63 ERA doesn’t hurt either.
Unfortunately for the Orioles, those are probably the only easy decisions and the Birds will have three more slots to fill after the foursome of Brach, Givens, O’Day and Asher.
Who else deserves a spot right now?
If he wasn’t currently at AAA Norfolk, Donnie Hart would have been included among the shoo-ins. I’m not the biggest Donnie Hart fan out there, but it’s hard to argue with the success he has had. Until the month of May, he had only given up 1 ER in his career through 25+ IP.
Barring an injury to someone on the Orioles roster, Hart will have to spend 10 days in the minors before being able to be recalled again. Unless he stinks it up for the Tides, I’d expect him to be right back on the big league club once available. Despite the fact that both righties and lefties are hitting over .300 against him this season, he somehow remains one of our better options.
After Donnie Hart, I think it really becomes a matter of personal preference. Every fan has pitchers they trust more than others for seemingly no reason at all. Case in point, I like Richard Bleier. I don’t particularly know why.
To this point, the 30-year old has given up a lot of runs while striking out less batters than some guys in my slow-pitch softball league. That being said, he was successful for the Yankees last year, and he has been stellar for Norfolk this season. He’s left handed too. I don’t particularly care, but you know Dan Duquette loves it.
One more spot to go, and even with Bleier, I think it’s got to be a left-handed longman. The Orioles certainly have their choice of AAAA arms for the role that have been shuttling between Norfolk and Baltimore.
Between Nuno, Verrett, and the currently injured Ynoa, I like Verrett. He has already come up big in two extra innings appearances and just seems to have a bulldog mentality on the mound that you like to see out of relievers in clutch situations. His velocity has been a nice surprise as well, often hitting 93/94 with his fastball.
On the outside looking in
With Verrett getting the call-up in this hypothetical situation, that leaves Nuno and Ynoa in AAA with another long reliever, Tyler Wilson. In contrast to my baseless optimism for Richard Bleier, I don’t want Nuno or Wilson on the Orioles in their current forms as long as the Birds can prevent it. As for Ynoa, I think he is much more valuable pitching every 5th day in Norfolk to provide depth for the starting rotation.
Stephan Crichton is up with the O’s for the moment and may get an extended shot to see what he can do in the coming week or two. He’s been stellar in Norfolk over 17.1 IP with an ERA of 1.56 while striking out a batter per inning, but whether that can translate to the big leagues has yet to be seen.
No one is ruling Crichton out just yet, but I’m still skeptical considering he had never pitched above AA Bowie prior to this season. Only one way to find out though.
Another interesting name to remember is Edwin Jackson. The 33-year-old veteran is down in Norfolk looking to latch onto his 12th major league team. I left him off the lists above for now, but it’s only temporary. Jackson is likely to take someone’s spot in two weeks. He threw another scoreless outing for the Tides last night and the Orioles would be crazy not to give him a shot before his June 1st opt-out.
Who do you want to see?
If it’s not clear, most of this is conjecture at this point. I half expect two of these guys to be demoted this afternoon just to blow up my arguments entirely. That being said, what are your thoughts besides wanting Zach Britton back?
Do you have any pitchers in particular you want to see given an extended shot to lock down a role? Who gives you an excuse to walk the dog when they enter the game just so that you don’t have to see the impending doom that you know is coming? Pop in the comments and let us know.