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Darren O’Day is looking like his old self again

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After appearing to be just a bit off to start, Darren O’Day’s month of may is showing like a symptom of his old self.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

How bad did the Orioles need that series with the Yankees?

It’s easy to snark and jab at the O’s for losing seven-straight just as positive momentum was soaking the clubhouse. Much like the guy at a ballgame instinctively trying to kickstart “The Wave”, the Orioles were the other guy(s) saying “let’s not”.

The O’s bats stranded a lot key base runners, ceded to the big inning, and did a lot of swing and missing. At their worst, this is what the now 27-24 Birds are capable of becoming. Even so, the O’s did a lot of things right these last three games.

It was a welcoming change of pace to see the Orioles knock in two-out runs and smack their gloves after a much-needed strikeout, while a number of previously-slumping bats contributed to a 10-run splash.

On a less quantifiable note, the Orioles, even after starting 25-16, just seemed due to dial down. Maybe not quite to the level of we saw, but matchups with both a flaming-hot Twins team and an Astros club just starting its own fire were probably never going to go well for an O’s group not seeing enough contributions from the big guns.

Though the Orioles may just be starting to touch gloves after a lopsided round, Darren O’Day has sneakily worked back into the fight.

A four-inning second appearance in early April ballooned his ERA all the way to 18.00 after only two innings, but he’s since worked it back down 3.80 ERA despite surrendering a run last night. Regardless, O’Day has a had a very O’Day-ish month.

Posting a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings, O’Day has slashed his walk rate in half—from 14.3 percent to 7.1 percent—while the strikeouts have reversely rocketed, inducing strike three at a frequency of 42.8 percent this month. An injury-plagued 2016 muddied what was, at the time, a $32 million deal for O’Day that helped pioneer baseball’s transition from year-to-year bullpen carousels to the league’s late-inning arms race.

For an Orioles team without its most potent reliever, O’Day was one of the guys that Buck Showalter was going to need to get out of an early season funk, and he’s mostly done that.

One of the aspects of O’Days first contract with the Orioles that made him such a burden for the opposition was his ability to create swings and misses. Managing a 13.4 percent whiff rate in his first four seasons in Baltimore, O’Day was down to only 5.4 percent in April. That figure has soared to nearly 16 percent in May, and it has almost everything to do with pitch execution.

Velocity dictates that O’Day work away from the middle of the plate, and in April, O’Day was unable to locate in to lefties, or away to righties. As good as O’Day’s three-pitch mix, not being able to command to his glove side of the plate made it much easier for hitters to track his slider and get on top of his fastball. O’Day, without any significant changes in his release point, has forced to hitters to respect that side of the plate once again.

For O’Day, his biggest pitch is obviously his slider, a pitch that tends to gives righties fits, also acting as a changeup away to lefties. Obviously, O’Day’s feel for the slider was leaking into the heart of the plate with too much pace, but In his last eleven appearances, the side-slinger has regained the magic touch.

While not overwhelming, O’Day’s slider has started to see more quality showings away from lefties/into righties, as it has also seen its usage shift to missing down or off the plate. Effectively changing speeds and moving batter’s eyes around the plate, this also opens up the patented rising fastball up in the zone, a pitch he’s again trusting.

It’s crazy to think that O’Day will see this upcoming offseason as a 35-year old, but soft-throwing guys with a good out pitch capable of keeping the ball down in the lower quadrants of the zone tend to delay the inevitable. Without Zach Britton for another month or so, the Orioles will need O’Day to continue whatever it is he’s harnessed. Especially as the starting rotation—minus one—refuses to show any sort of a beating pulse.

For better, or wor...mostly better, O’Day is going to be kind of important.