One of the more intriguing aspects of the early 2018 season thus far has been Buck Showalter’s willingness to throw his two Rule-5 picks into the deep end. One has made it there and back again. The other was swallowed up by the armies of Mordor.
Pedro Araujo and Nestor Cortes, over the Orioles’ first 11 games, pitched 7.2 innings and 4.2 innings, respectively, with both Rule-5ers being asked to either extinguish threats or maintain the status quo. Simply given the leverage of Cortes’ appearances and the likelihood the bullpen was never the place for him to be, he probably got the raw end of the deal.
He walked four of the 10 lefties he faced, and watched a long two-out grand slam find the bleachers against Josh Reddick, a lefty, on April 3, a game the Orioles were still very much alive. Righties also had a 1.313 OPS against Cortes, and he was responsible for at least one earned run in three of his four appearances. His designation for assignment was an understandably quick trigger.
However, Araujo weathered an early storm. Following a scoreless outing in his major league debut, Araujo surrendered a solo home run in 1.2 innings in his second outing (a ballgame that was long over), and was responsible for three of the runs scoring on said Reddick grand slam. Since, he’s been really good.
Over his last 4.1 innings, Araujo owns a strikeout rate of 40 percent, while also managing a BABIP of .125. After Mike Wright’s implosion on Sunday in The Bronx, where Wright only managed to record two outs in contrast to five runs allowed, Araujo was handed the keys to a rudderless ship. And yet, he steered the O’s north.
Keeping the Orioles within striking distance, Araujo dominated over the course of 2.1 innings, striking out five of the eight Yankees he faced. In a game the Orioles eventually won, Araujo was the first responder to the early dumpster fire, and he did so rather ceremoniously.
Araujo isn’t a prototypical reliever. His fastball averages 91.9 mph, with its range thus far spanning from 94 mph to 88 mph. He doesn’t throw THAT hard, and generally speaking, his fastball is fairly flat. But for Araujo, it’s all about the changeup.
Much like himself, Araujo’s changeup is somewhat unorthodox. His changeup velocity averages 87.9 mph, a mere four mile-per-hour difference between his fastball. Though, he throws his changeup almost 31 percent of the time, allowing his changeup to mask his fastball, and vice-versa, quite steadily. It also helps when you’re able to locate your best pitch.
Araujo’s weirdly-paced changeup fits into a strange realm. It doesn’t symbolize what most would view as traditional, because of its quicker-than-normal velocity. But it works in more ways than one.
At a rate of 8.2 percent, Araujo’s changeup has induced the 11th-highest number of swinging strikes among such offerings in the league. with none of his 133 changeups so far being hit safely into the field of play. He keeps the ball down, he works it into his repertoire a lot, all of which has helped to create a staggeringly low .200 overall opponent BABIP.
Using mostly a fastball-changeup attack, while peppering in an average slider to boot, Araujo has to do a little more actual pitching compared to his hard-throwing colleagues. Despite a 5.87 ERA, Araujo owns a 3.78 FIP and a lowly line-drive rate of 12.5 percent. He has pitched a little bit, no matter what the ERA says.
And who knows? Had he been the beneficiary of some better batted ball luck, and had likely nerves not scuffled him to two walks and a hit batter in his first road appearance in Houston, his peripherals would certainly match his output.
Though, I liked seeing Buck toss Araujo into the 7th inning of a 5-5 ballgame. It’s early April, he’s still measuring the totality of the roster, why the hell not? Coming into this year, Araujo had only seen two innings in Double-A, pitching mostly at High-A. I enjoyed Buck testing Araujo’s mettle early on, in arguably the most hostile environment against the most feared lineup in baseball. Whether it was out of necessity or if Buck was truly challenging Araujo, he needed an outing such as that.
Though he’s only had two appearances since being humbled, he’s come out the other side...so far. It’s not hard to see why Buck likes him and why the organization utilized one of three Rule-5 picks on him. It’s also not tough to understand why he’s the last of them standing.