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In a bad Orioles season, Paul Fry stood out by being adequate

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Before the season began, Paul Fry was barely an afterthought in the Orioles roster mix. Disaster struck, he got a chance, and he looked decent - which for the 2018 O’s is pretty good.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Baltimore Orioles
Paul Fry savoring his first career save on September 16.
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

When the 2018 Orioles season began, lefty reliever Paul Fry was so far off the radar that the O’s assigned him to Double-A Bowie to open up his age 25 season. That’s not where you want to be, especially since Fry spent last season at Triple-A Norfolk after being acquired from the Mariners in one of those Dan Duquette specialty “trade international bonus slot money for a player who will probably never matter” deals.

The O’s outrighted Fry off the 40-man roster in the middle of last season, then had him begin this year with the Baysox. You don’t want to be in your mid-20s and heading back down to Double-A.

That’s where Fry had to go, though, since the O’s were locked in to Richard Bleier and Donnie Hart based on past performance, Nestor Cortes based on Duquette’s misguided Rule 5 obsession, and Tanner Scott because of his high-velocity fastball. And that’s not even counting the expected closer, Zach Britton, recovering from his Achilles injury. Those were all of the left-handed relievers ahead of Fry on the depth chart.

A lot had to go wrong for the Orioles to even turn to Fry at all. As we know, a lot did go wrong with the 2018 season. Of those lefties ahead of Fry, Cortes bombed out within two weeks of the season beginning, Bleier got hurt in mid-June, Hart looked nothing like the guy who had a half-season of success in 2016, and Scott still had major command problems.

These things were not good developments for the short-term quality of the Orioles. They certainly didn’t make things much fun for fans. What they did represent was an opportunity for a pitcher like Fry, who might have been seen as organizational filler in most places where the team was not 31 games out of first place in late June with a stump dump fire of a pitching staff night in and night out.

Fry pitched well enough in Bowie to be brought back to Norfolk and pitched well enough there to be the next pitcher called to join the worst team in MLB. He was summoned to the big league team on June 29 and made his MLB debut that same day, pitching the last 1.2 innings of a game the Orioles lost to the Angels, 7-1.

Fry’s first seven outings were all like this: Summoned into a game where the Orioles were already losing and where they would go on to lose, because someone or multiple someones before him pitched poorly at the same time the offense was hitting poorly, and the O’s just needed anyone at all to quasi-competently chew through some innings.

A number of men were asked to pitch such innings for the 2018 Orioles. Most did not respond with the level of success that Fry did. Among all O’s pitchers throwing any amount of innings, the only pitchers who finished the season with an ERA below Fry’s 3.35 were Bleier and Sean Gilmartin. If you also want to count Danny Valencia’s 0.00 for his one-third of a scoreless inning, be my guest.

For Fry, this success came in a bit of a weird way for a left-handed pitcher. That is, lefty batters hit .264/.281/.321 against him - a .702 OPS. Righty batters, who you would expect to do better against a lefty pitcher, batted .219/.292/.264 - just a .556 OPS. These are small sample sizes of 63 and 96 plate appearances respectively. They do track with how he’s pitched in the minors for the last couple of seasons, as well.

“He came and pitched and he was fine” is extremely faint praise. Still, even that faint praise cannot be offered to many Orioles who shuffled through the roster this season. Fry is probably not a closer of the future or anything like that unless something goes either very, very right for him or very, very wrong for a number of other O’s pitchers.

In a similar vein, Fry is not likely to make himself into an in-demand trade piece who will generate article after article in July about which contender might want him. What he was in 2018 that will probably keep him a roster spot for next season, when the O’s have no immediate designs on being good, is a guy who can pitch the 6th inning of a rare win or the 8th and 9th innings of more frequent losses without embarrassing himself and the team.

At the risk of compounding the error of relying on small sample sizes by also setting an arbitrary endpoint, I do think it’s worth noting that before a pair of three-inning scoreless outings against the nothing-to-play-for Red Sox and Astros, Fry had a 3.98 ERA at the MLB level for the season. This is much less interesting than a low-3 ERA... but still better than almost everyone else who pitched for the Orioles this year.

Tomorrow: Jimmy Yacabonis