The Orioles entered last night’s game against San Diego with the fifth best bullpen ERA in baseball. Félix Bautista has led the charge all season, but the Cy Young candidate has not done it alone. Yennier Cano and Danny Coulombe emerged as tremendous surprises, and several other pitchers have had their moments.
The Orioles’ propensity for close games rarely leaves a margin for error. Guys like Mike Baumann, Shintaro Fujinami and Cionel Pérez have pitched under scrutiny. Bryan Baker, Nick Vespi, and Joey Krehbiel have helped keep a fresh arm around. Cole Irvin, Austin Voth, and even Bruce Zimmermann have provided length, but no pitcher has worked with a “low-leverage” label.
Cano and Coulombe quickly earned appearances in crucial situations. Brandon Hyde provided opportunities for pitchers to earn trust, and he gave it to them. Injuries to Mychal Givens and Dillon Tate threw a wrench into any offseason plans, and the Orioles made do with what they had.
Baltimore entered the season with undefined expectations. The Orioles are clearly chasing a division title today, but Hyde has not changed his approach. He is still providing pitchers an opportunity to perform, and the latest candidate has yet to let him down.
The O’s claimed Jacob Webb last week after moving Voth to the 60-day injured list. Webb had pitched to a 3.98 ERA and a 1.358 WHIP over 29 games for the Angels. Baltimore had internal options available, so the front office had to like something specific to go outside the organization for Webb.
The righty earned a World Series ring and gathered playoff experience while pitching for the Braves in 2021. He posted a minuscule 1.39 ERA over 36 relief appearances in 2019 but eventually had to be shut down due to an elbow strain. He spent all of 2022 in the minor leagues.
Webb signed a minor-league deal with the Angels before the season and failed to make the Opening Day roster. Los Angeles provided Webb an opportunity at the end of May, and he pitched well out of the gate. Webb posted a 2.49 ERA over his first 20 appearances despite issuing 11 free passes in 21.1 innings.
Webb’s lack of control eventually began to take a toll. He walked 12 batters in his final 11 games with the Angels. His ERA climbed above four for the first time on August 1 and the Angels moved on later that week.
There’s no doubt that the Orioles addressed the command issues with Webb upon his arrival. Webb responded by walking only one batter in his first four games. The newest Oriole struck out six and allowed only one hit during the four scoreless appearances.
Hyde summoned Webb in a pair of losing efforts, but the veteran recorded a pair of key outs in an eventual 1-0 victory against the Mariners. The skipper turned to Webb again on Monday in a setup role for Bautista. After only four games, the Orioles appear comfortable trotting out the reliever in almost any type of situation.
Webb does his damage with only three pitches. His fastball spin rate ranks in the 91st percentile, and opponents are batting only .152 against his changeup this season. He mixes things up with a sweeper/slider 23.5 percent of the time.
The fastball sits around 95 MPH and mixes well with his offspeed arsenal. Webb used his sweeper to generate a double play on Monday and finished the inning with a flyout forced by the change.
There’s no telling how the bullpen could change by the end of the year. DL Hall could arrive after working in a relief role at Norfolk. John Means made his second rehab appearance for Bowie last night, and Tyler Wells could return at any point. Still, Webb appears to have walked right into a key role for the bullpen down the stretch.
Webb could lose control at any time, but the Orioles will benefit as long as the righty pounds the zone. Pérez and Cano appear to be trending in the right direction after a few stumbles, but Baltimore will welcome any help getting to Bautista. Coulombe will miss at least another week with left bicep tendonitis, so look for Webb to continue receiving opportunities down the stretch.