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Orioles positional preview: Bullpen

The Orioles bullpen will begin the year with multiple high-leverage spots up for grabs. Will anyone take them?

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles solidified their plans for the start of 2022 by announcing their Opening Day roster on Wednesday. The list of 28 names resolves any spring competitions, but leaves several questions left to play out as the season begins.

Baltimore only announced four starting pitchers. A lack of bona fide starters and a shortened spring training will lead to plenty of innings for Baltimore’s bullpen. After a recent deal sent two of the O’s most tenured relievers away, it’s fair to wonder who exactly will be coming out of the bullpen at Camden Yards this year.

The Departures

The Orioles sacrificed experience and familiarity when they sent Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser to Miami last week. Baltimore received a pair of prospects and a draft pick but dealt away its best reliever (Sulser) and the arm once thought to hold the most potential (Scott).

Most reactions to the deal involved some type of shoulder shrug and a puzzling “who the hell is going to pitch if the Orioles take the lead?” Baltimore further exacerbated the issue by stretching out Tyler Wells and converting him into a starter.

Late-Inning Relievers

The Orioles balanced out the promotion of Wells by sending Jorge López to the bullpen. Baltimore moved López to a relief role after he consistently demonstrated an inability to complete five innings of work. López flashed potential out of the ‘pen before a sprained ankle cut his season short.

With Scott in Miami, López holds the crown as the reliever with the best stuff. The Orioles could use López in a tandem role, but it would be no surprise if he settled in as a backend reliever capable of working multiple innings.

Dillon Tate appears poised to inherit more high-leverage outings after showing an improved slider this spring. The former first-round pick will look to put it all together in his fourth season with the Orioles.

Paul Fry returns to the Opening Day roster after a dreadful 2021. The lefty has experience pitching in high-pressure situations, but he will need to demonstrate a return to form before he earns the trust of Brandon Hyde.

Will there be a closer?

If nobody from the aforementioned group jumped out as a clear-cut closer, well, it’s because none of them fit the bill. With Wells in the rotation, Sulser seemed like the only Oriole with a real chance to earn that title.

The Orioles will play matchups and use their best reliever, whoever it may be at the time, during the most important moments in the game. Long story short, there are no fantasy sleepers here.

Tandem Pitchers

Baltimore announced that John Means, Jordan Lyles and Tyler Wells would start in the opening series, and that local product Bruce Zimmermann would get the nod for the home opener. The fifth starter remains a mystery.

Keegan Akin, Mike Baumann and Dean Kremer all made the Opening Day roster. Kremer is rumored to be the favorite for the fifth spot, which would leave Baumann and Akin for periods of long relief.

Wells will likely not be tasked with providing six innings on a routine basis. Akin, Baumann or López could be slated as a tandem pitcher to relieve Wells or Kremer early in the season. Top prospects D.L. Hall, Grayson Rodriguez and Kyle Bradish will not be asked to work deep into games if/when they arrive this season.

Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells failed to make the initial 28-man roster, but they will both fit the mold whenever their time comes. Chris Ellis and Spenser Watkins could also contribute in a similar role if they work their way back to Baltimore.

The Others

Bryan Baker, Félix Bautista, Joey Krehbiel and Cionel Pérez will round out the bullpen to start the season. Baltimore claimed Baker from Toronto last November. Baker flourished at Triple-A Buffalo with a 6-1 record, 1.31 ERA and 0.847 WHIP in 39 relief appearances last season. Baker pairs a mid 90s fastball with a slider and has minor league options remaining.

The Orioles claimed Pérez from Cincinnati just a few weeks after snagging Baker. Pérez’s stock shot up after the Birds traded Scott to the Marlins. The lefty boasts an impressive fastball but struggled with his control in Cincinnati. Perhaps the Orioles feel they can fix him.

The Orioles added Bautista to the 40-man roster in an effort to protect him from a Rule 5 draft that never took place. Bautista posted a ridiculous 14.9 K/9 across the minors last season, but the 26-year-old has never pitched at the Major League level. There are concerns about his ability to consistently throw strikes.

Krehbiel pitched in five games for Baltimore this season. The former Tampa Bay reliever allowed four runs in five hits over 7.1 innings. Krehbiel is a 29-year-old righty who will keep his spot until he struggles or another pitcher forces their way to Baltimore.

Travis Lakins Sr. will likely pop up at some point when the Birds need a fresh arm. Isaac Mattson is still recovering from shoulder inflammation, and Marcos Diplan will start the year at Triple-A.

Final Thoughts

This group will begin the year with more questions than answers. That problem is not specific to the bullpen. Yes, the lack of established talent is concerning. It’s extremely possible that half of these guys are no longer on the roster at the end of this season.

Still, there are a few stories worth keeping an eye on. How does López fair as a reliever? Does the tandem pitching experiment work out? Can Bautista control those filthy pitches?

What are you most excited/curious about with this group?