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Will the Orioles ever turn to knuckleballer Mickey Jannis?

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Desperate for pitching depth, would the Orioles promote knuckleballer Mickey Jannis? It may be the 40-man roster, not his pitch of choice, preventing his long-awaited debut.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Baltimore Orioles Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few weeks, I’ve posted stories referencing Orioles in potentially career-defining years. I speculated that DJ Stewart could be running out of time to prove his worth in Baltimore, and mentioned that Stevie Wilkerson and Austin Wynns were fortunate to find their way back to the majors after missing all of 2020.

In some ways, it’s fairly straightforward. “Players hoping to stay in majors must play well.”

The simplicity is not lost on me.

On the other hand, there’s a bit more to it. The length of a player’s audition can be impacted by a variety of factors. A player’s age, position, contract and competition all play into the outcome. Rio Ruiz received more than two years to demonstrate improvement. He may have received more time if the Orioles did not sign Maikel Franco.

The state of the team also influences the decision. The Orioles remain in a rebuild, and several of the club’s top prospects have yet to reach Triple-A. The recent loss of John Means further exacerbated Baltimore’s need for pitching. The club needs innings filled.

Enter Mickey Jannis. A 33-year-old righty that has never pitched in the major leagues. Sounds like the answer to me.

Unfortunately for Jannis, the Orioles have yet to give him a shot. There is really no reason to hype up a non-prospect on the wrong side of thirty, but a majority of readers on this site know his name. Why? His weapon of choice.

Jannis throws a knuckleball. It’s odd, it’s quirky, it’s unique, rare and fun. Those are all reasons for fans to desire a glimpse of Jannis. There is only one reason for the Orioles to give Jannis a chance— if it works.

It would be reasonable to assume that if a last-place team desperate for pitching depth will not provide an opportunity, there is probably not one out there. That makes 2021 a crucial season for Jannis.

Jannis holds a 2.75 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in six games at Norfolk. He has worked multiple innings during each appearance. His best outing of the season featured an outcome potentially more rare than a knuckleball. Jannis did not allow a hit or walk in five innings but received a loss after the designated runner scored in extra innings. The loss hurt, but the game briefly provided some attention to Jannis.

All publicity is good publicity.

The knuckler’s other four appearances were a mixed bag. At this point, he probably is who he is. Whether or not Baltimore intends to give him a look remains a question.

The Orioles have used young starters to provide extra relief this season. Keegan Akin has started and pitched out of the bullpen. Bruce Zimmermann had a brief relief stint before rejoining the rotation, and Zac Lowther limped through a start and two relief outings.

Baltimore gave Jay Flaa a look before claiming and waiving Brandon Waddell. The club hopes Isaac Mattson will contribute eventually out of the bullpen. He kept his spot on the 40-man after one game and a quick return to the minors.

Next to performance, the state of the 40-man roster will determine if Jannis ever gets a look. He would need to be placed on the 40-man to join the team. If Jannis comes on, another player must come off.

Shawn Armstrong pitched his way off the team after a brutal start to the season. Matt Harvey could eventually do the same if he continues to struggle. Baltimore desperately needs starting pitchers, but the veteran has not completed five innings since May 1. The Orioles have other players that can allow five earned in three or four innings.

Baltimore’s decision to carry a pair of Rule 5 choices could doom Jannis. Tyler Wells has flashed enough potential to justify his spot, and Mac Sceroler should receive a long look after he returns from a shoulder injury. Neither appears to be leaving the roster anytime soon.

There could be a sweet spot for Jannis after the trade deadline. If Baltimore deals Paul Fry, César Valdez, or really anybody else, it would clear a place for someone. The Orioles could easily promote prospects Kyle Bradish, Mike Baumann or Alexander Wells—Baumann and Wells already occupy spots on the 40-man—but may wish to provide them more time. Mattson figures to show back up at some point, but that may depend on performance.

During another difficult season, it’s natural to wish for something fun to watch. Jannis would generate excitement, but Mike Elias does not make decisions based on short-term entertainment value. That’s probably for the best.

Jannis could bully his way to Baltimore with more outings like his five-inning loss, but the former Tampa Bay prospect has never posted eye-popping numbers on the farm. Orioles fans may never see Jannis pitch—aside from videos on Twitter—but if they do, it may take the perfect 40-man storm to get him to Baltimore.