Exactly half of the current Orioles bullpen committed the baseball equivalent of arson in Wednesday’s 12-8 loss to the Guardians. They can no longer consider themselves part of the “we” in Billy Joel’s 20th century news and culture survey because they did start the fire. For more than one of these pitchers, this was not exactly a one-off failure in 2023.
What is to be done about this problem? It is surely one of the things taking up the brain power among Mike Elias and the rest of the Orioles front office right now. When to say enough is enough on Cionel Pérez and his 2.066 WHIP in 24 games or Mychal Givens and his diminished velocity plus six walks and a hit batter in only six games are things they must be thinking about. If there is to be roster churn, Keegan Akin and Austin Voth cannot be immune either. Akin can still be optioned. Voth cannot.
The Orioles are probably not going to call up anybody unless they’re sure that person is and will continue to be better than someone they’ve already got. I know, I’m ready to say anybody must be better than Pérez or Givens by now, but that doesn’t make it so. With that in mind, I’m going to survey the field of Norfolk pitchers to see who could potentially be a better choice.
On the 40-man, starter or long relief candidates
LHP Cole Irvin - In the original plan for the 2023 season, Irvin would have been a steady, inning-eating presence in the starting rotation. That’s why the Orioles traded for him, sending infield prospect Darell Hernaiz to the Athletics. It was clear after three starts something was off with Irvin’s recent history of pinpoint command, so down to the minors he went. In seven starts with the Tides, he’s walked just four batters. I think he ought to be starting the next time Grayson Rodriguez’s turn comes up.
In case you were wondering, Hernaiz entered Thursday with a .342/.401/.523 batting line in 39 games for Oakland’s Double-A club as a 21-year-old. I would rather he’d have been traded for someone more immediately useful. Elias probably would rather that too.
LHP Bruce Zimmermann - Was scheduled to pitch Wednesday and didn’t, then scheduled to pitch Thursday and didn’t. My guess is we’ll discover later today that he met the team in San Francisco, if not as an active player then for the taxi squad. Has a 4.05 ERA in nine starts for the Tides and respectable if not great strikeout/walk rates. I wouldn’t say I’m excited for him to get another MLB chance (5.65 ERA in 31 games) but there needs to be a long reliever around here and Voth’s not showing much sign that he can carry over his 2022 success with the O’s, so it’s not going to be him.
RHP Spenser Watkins - 7.11 ERA in six games is a quick no for me. Could be the next candidate to come off the 40-man roster if the team doesn’t designate an out of options MLBer (Givens, Pérez, Voth).
LHP Drew Rom - The 23-year-old prospect was already with the Orioles for two days this year, though he didn’t debut yet. It’s been a rocky road at Triple-A, with Rom walking 22 batters in 44.1 innings and giving up lots of hits when not walking batters. A 1.692 WHIP is bad! The Orioles are surely using more sophisticated means to evaluate him than that, of course. Maybe Rom fares better under that microscope, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
I don’t really know what to make of what the Orioles are deeming the “intentional de-load” for Hall, which Elias described as having Hall ramp up some weight room work that he was unable to do due to his offseason back injury while pitching a bit less, but also still pitching some. It’s been a three inning start once per week. He seems unlikely to be an option to join the O’s while this is going on, and with 19 walks in 35 innings, you might not want to be.
On the 40-man, short relief
LHP Nick Vespi - I’d have him in San Francisco right now too, but since he pitched two innings for Norfolk yesterday, it seems unlikely. Vespi has pitched in 17 games for the Tides, with 19 strikeouts and just five walks in 17.1 innings. His big league results last year were not so good and also not that awful, so I’d much rather see him than Pérez now.
RHP Logan Gillaspie - Has already failed his way out of the Orioles bullpen this year, with a 6.75 ERA in nine games.
RHP Noah Denoyer - Could make the case to list him under long relief, but he’s pitched more than two innings just twice in 12 games this season. The 25-year-old signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019 pitched his way onto the 40-man with last year’s results, but he’s walked 17 guys in 26.2 innings and is giving up a lot of hits in his first taste of Triple-A. Hopes were higher.
Not on the 40-man, short relief
RHP Eduard Bazardo - 27 years old, appeared with the Red Sox in 2021 and 2022 with a 2.33 ERA over 14 games. For Norfolk this year, 2.42 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 22 innings. His WHIP is under 1 and his strikeout/walk rate is 4. Like Vespi, he tossed two innings yesterday.
RHP Reed Garrett - This 30-year-old pitched in 2019 with Detroit and 2022 with the Nationals. He was good neither time and has a 7.66 ERA and 2.351 WHIP in 20 big league games. Triple-A’s going better for him this year, though of course it is just Triple-A. Garrett has a 1.93 ERA after 16 games, with 22 strikeouts (and nine walks) in 18.2 innings.
The Rodriguez turn in the rotation - which became the Akin/Voth disaster on Wednesday - does not come up again until eight days from now, thanks to the off day yesterday and another on Monday. We could see Akin optioned today, with Zimmermann taking the possible emergency long relief role until the Rodriguez turn hits again.
Irvin pitched in a doubleheader on Wednesday, as did Rom, so those guys are, or can be, on the same turn. Irvin seems like a no-brainer for that to me. He must make it through at least one more Tides start without getting hurt in the interim.
What happens in the rest of the bullpen depends on whether Elias has seen enough of Givens and Pérez as you or I have. The lefty-for-lefty swap to get Vespi in and Pérez out also seems obvious, but clearly not as obvious to the Orioles or Vespi would already be in SF instead of having pitched two innings yesterday.
It’s a tougher task if Givens is to be displaced. The Orioles surely must have hoped Dillon Tate would be in the mix by now. He ain’t. It’ll probably take a little longer before the O’s would decide Givens must be cast aside for a currently non-roster reliever like Bazardo. In the meantime, hopefully Givens only pitches in games where the Orioles are already losing by multiple runs.