When the Orioles traded Kevin Gausman on July 31, everybody knew that the rotation would take a hit. But I don’t think anybody expected the situation to become this dire. With sixteen games remaining in the season, we legitimately don’t know who is going to make starts.
Gausman’s departure meant that the rotation had three locks remaining: Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, and Dylan Bundy. After getting off to a horrid start, Cobb has become the pitcher that the O’s handed $57 million to this offseason. His posted an ERA of 4.34 in July, 2.66 in August, and 1.13 in eight September innings. He’s been one of the bright spots in a disastrous summer. But Cobb has been fighting a blister on his finger that caused him to have his latest start pushed back and was removed from that start early because the blister opened. Roch Kubatko reports that he won’t make his next start and could be pushed back to next weekend’s series in New York.
Cobb says it’s a cut and not a blister, but it doesn’t really matter what it is if he can’t pitch. At this point, I’d argue that shutting him down to make sure he’s healthy for offseason routines and spring training is the best course of action. Blisters can be serious for pitchers; we’ve seen Marcus Stroman’s chronic blister issues disrupt his season. Cobb will be too important to the 2019 Orioles (either to their success or as a trade chip) to have this linger into next season.
Andrew Cashner posted sub-four ERAs in June and July but has regressed since. His ERA has jumped nearly a full run to 5.29 since the end of July and Buck Showalter hinted that an injury could have had something to do with his ineffectiveness and short outing on Wednesday. We found out yesterday that Cashner will get an injection in his left knee but plans on starting again this season. Dan Connolly indicated that he may miss some time.
Dylan Bundy continues to be a source of frustration for O’s fans. While we haven’t been told that there’s an injury, it’s hard to figure out what caused his ERA to jump to 5.48 this season. We should be past the point in his career where innings are monitored, but he’s still thirteen short of last season’s total of 169.2. He should be in line to make three more starts.
But what about the other two rotation holes, and and maybe more if and when Cobb and Cashner miss time? This time of the year, this answer is more complicated than “give young pitcher X some starts!” Organizations carefully monitor the innings of their young starters and we will see some players be shut down. Josh Rogers is an example of that. He was told by Buck Showalter that he will not be making any more starts this season after having logged 151.1 innings between AAA and the Orioles. Last year he pitched only 91.2 innings and the Orioles want to protect his arm.
While there’s no way of knowing for sure, the starts that are up for grabs will probably be made by some combination of the following pitchers.
Ortiz will make tonight’s start against Chicago, the first MLB start of his career. He made his debut last week and the performance left his ERA at 40.50 after recording two outs. We hope that number will decrease tonight. If he shows any sort of effectiveness, he will probably be able to finish off the season in the rotation. Last season he pitched 94.1 innings. Going into tonight’s start, he’s thrown a total of 100.1 between the minors and majors. Four starts (including tonight) could reasonably increase that total to 120-125 innings. That seems like a good progression from last year’s total.
Showalter confirmed that Ramirez will start tomorrow night. He doesn’t have much left to prove in the minor leagues (he’s posted ERAs down there of 3.88 and 3.47 over the past two seasons) and is auditioning for a spot on next season’s roster. Innings should not be a concern for him down the stretch. Last year he tossed 132.1 innings, up from 124.1 in 2016. He currently sits at 122 going into tomorrow’s start. Two or three more starts should put him at a nice increase over last year.
When it was announced that Ortiz and Ramirez were getting starts this week, the corresponding move was that Hess was moving to the bullpen. This move was not innings related and seemed like a way to get other guys a shot at starting. Last year, Hess pitched 154.1 innings. He has accumulated 132.2 so far. It would probably be good for his development if he reached last year’s total. After a rough summer, Hess has turned things around. A rough start on August 3 left his ERA at 6.41. Six starts later, it is now 5.17. I think he will be the next man up to take Cobb’s start, assuming he doesn’t get hit in the face by another football.
Yacabonis was recalled to the Orioles on September 3 when Norfolk’s season concluded after he rode the Norfolk-Baltimore shuttle all season. The O’s are trying to transition Yacabonis into a starter, seemingly making him a fit if Cashner misses time. Working exclusively in the bullpen last year, he pitched 82 innings. His workload was regulated this year and he is currently at 101.2 innings. The organization probably doesn’t want to go too much higher, but he’s probably got a start in him if needed.
This is is not likely to happen, as Means’ season with Norfolk ended nearly two weeks ago. Buck Showalter has said that he prefers to use starters who are currently in the clubhouse. But the lefty had a very solid season, posting a 3.72 ERA in 157.1 innings. That was fifteen innings more than 2017, so he could stand to make another start or two.
Are any of these options particularly appealing to you?