The Orioles’ bullpen entered last night’s game with 598.1 innings pitched this season. The number, sixth in baseball, signifies the workload that Baltimore’s relievers have faced this year.
The Orioles began yesterday ranked 27th in the bigs with just 39 quality starts. Jordan Lyles has consumed innings, but he couldn’t eat them all. The Birds stretched out Tyler Wells and Austin Voth, and made an effort not to burn out arms early in the season. The bullpen, somehow, has answered the call all season long.
There have been exceptions on both sides. The Orioles put together an absolutely dominant three-game stretch last week that involved three pitchers working into the ninth inning, and the bullpen failed to clinch a pivotal game on Saturday against Houston. Still, Brandon Hyde and the O’s have done everything they could to manage fatigue.
The Orioles were no stranger to player options during the Buck Showalter/Dan Duquette era. Pitchers have ridden the Norfolk shuttle for years, and every manager would ideally like to have a fresh arm or two in his bullpen.
Major League Baseball made an attempt to minimize player shuttles by creating new regulations on player options this season. A player can only be optioned five times all season before being exposed to waivers. Position players must remain in the minors for at least 10 days and pitchers require 15 days in the minors.
Nick Vespi has punched his Norfolk Shuttle ticket five times this season. The Orioles optioned Vespi on September 6 and he has remained with Norfolk since then. Fifteen days have passed, but the Orioles have yet to recall the reliever. Baltimore could not option Vespi if they promoted him again.
That being said, there are eight games left. The Orioles could easily recall Vespi and allow him to finish the season on the major league roster. Has the 26-year-old pitched well enough to warrant another trip to Baltimore?
Vespi has not allowed an earned run at Norfolk in 25 games this season. He holds a ridiculous 0.614 WHIP and an extremely impressive 35/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Vespi has officially entered the “nothing left to prove” category with the Tides this year.
Vespi mostly impressed at the big league level this year. Half of his earned runs came in just one bad outing back in June, and the Miami native limited opponents to six earned runs in 23 other appearances.
Vespi’s sub-90 MPH fastball is uncommon for a relief pitcher, but the crafty lefty has made things work with a pair of offspeed pitches. Vespi has used his slider and curveball to keep Triple-A hitters off balance all season, and his above-average breaking balls have mostly played at the big league level.
It’s really fun to watch major league hitters flail at Vespi’s slider. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen if fans will get to watch the lefty work again this season. The Orioles selected Logan Gillaspie from the taxi squad this week after optioning Keegan Akin. Gillaspie remained with the club after throwing 2.2 innings on Monday.
The move effectively ended Akin’s season with the 15-day minimum in place. Akin’s absence leaves only two lefties in Baltimore’s bullpen with Cionel Pérez and DL Hall. Hall’s development takes priority, but the Orioles also need to see what they have in Vespi moving forward.
Vespi should not go anywhere this offseason. The Orioles have other players that can be removed from the 40-man roster, and Vespi will have options again in 2023. A lefty with options is valuable to any club.
Understandably, Vespi’s walk rate spiked in the majors. The rookie issued eight free passes and struck out 28 in 25.2 innings. The soft-tosser relies on pinpoint control, and experience at the major league level should help the cause.
Things could get a little wacky down the stretch with Wells done for the year and a potential start for Grayson Rodriguez looming. Beau Sulser remains an option, but do not be surprised to see Vespi make one more appearance in Birdland.