The Orioles have recently been lauded as the land of opportunity. Maikel Franco, one of the more coveted free agents still remaining in the middle of March, echoed that sentiment shortly after he signed with the O’s.
“They gave me an opportunity to play, to show my talent,” Franco said.
Rebuilding clubs provide players an opportunity to establish themselves in the majors. It’s a win-win situation that is hardly a new concept. Still, this must make it more difficult for players within the organization that do not make the team.
Travis Lakins Sr. took advantage of his first full, albeit abridged, season in the bigs last year. Despite his previous success, Lakins still found himself on the outside looking in at the end of spring training.
Lakins pitched to a 3-2 record with a 2.81 ERA over 22 games last season. His 1.481 WHIP did not wow, and his 25-to-13 K/BB ratio checked in just under two-to-one. Nevertheless, Lakins found his place. He held lefties to just a .133 average, and his ERA ticked down every month of the season.
In a vacuum, those numbers put you back with the big club next season. But the rebuilding Orioles are not a vacuum, even if they... nope. Not making that joke. Not this early in the season.
Lakins conducted himself well in a small sample size last season, but he struggled during an even smaller one this year. The 26-year-old posted a whopping 8.59 ERA over 7.1 innings this spring.
Lakins was not the only pitcher who struggled in Sarasota (see Fry, Paul), but the righty had an option remaining. The Orioles needed roster spots to keep Rule 5 selections Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells, but Brandon Hyde made it clear Lakins would be back in Baltimore sooner rather than later.
“He’s not going to be on the roster to start the season, but I would expect him to be with us really soon,” Hyde said. “I think our pitching is going to be in flux all year, and we’re going to need as many arms as possible.”
Hyde has been candid with the media throughout his tenure in Baltimore, and this proved to be no exception. The Orioles recalled Lakins yesterday to serve as the 27th man in their double header against Seattle.
It was fair to wonder if Lakins would show any rust, especially after the early struggles of certain relievers, but Hyde threw Lakins to the fire.
John Means battled through five innings, and Hyde summoned Lakins to keep a one-run game close in the sixth. Lakins answered the call with a dominant one-two-three inning to shutdown Seattle and keep the game within reach.
Lakins entered after a leadoff walk by Means, and nearly put another man on right away. Luis Torrens took Lakins’ first three offerings outside of the zone, but the O’s extra man battled back.
Torrens watched a 92 MPH cutter for strike one before whiffing on a 95 MPH fastball. Lakins went back to the cutter with the count full and sent Torrens down looking.
The Mariners countered with pinch-hitter Jose Marmolejos, but Lakins went after him. Marmolejos laid off a breaking ball to start, but Lakins used that same breaking ball to send him down swinging. Tom Murphy followed with two swings and misses before popping out to end the inning.
Lakins’ performance was a sight for sore eyes. The Orioles’ greatest pitcher and current MASN broadcaster did not mince words when pointing out how Lakins compared to Sceroler and Wells.
The Orioles returned Lakins to the alternate site last night, but Lakins did his best to remind Hyde and Mike Elias what he can do. Baltimore knows Wells and Sceroler are both works in progress, but Lakins’ performance showed how valuable each and every roster spot can be. Even rebuilding clubs need reliable relievers.
There is an argument to be made that Lakins deserves a spot over Wade LeBlanc right now. The Orioles liked LeBlanc enough to sign him to a major league deal at the end of spring, but the former starter has yet to go more than one inning in relief. Baltimore may hope to convert LeBlanc into a trade chip by the middle of the season, but only Lakins could factor into the club’s future.
Shawn Armstrong is out of options, and the Orioles would like Dillon Tate to figure things out at the major league level. Baltimore will likely remain dedicated to both Rule 5 guys unless either becomes blatantly overmatched.
Lakins will be back in Baltimore at some point this season, but there is a case to be made that he should be there right now. If he keeps pitching like he did last night, it should become more clear to the Orioles.