When the Orioles acquired Jack Flaherty, they believed they were gaining a veteran starting pitcher with top-of-the-rotation stuff. Flaherty would bring stability, postseason experience and an ability to work deep into games. Better yet, he would help the club win.
The move has not gone as expected. Flaherty impressed in his first start, and then proceeded to post six consecutive mediocre outings. The Orioles, looking to provide extra days of rest to a young staff, continued with a six-man rotation for more than a month. Baltimore originally believed Flaherty could improve his 4.43 ERA through 20 games with St. Louis. A month later, Brandon Hyde found himself hoping for five reasonable innings from the 27-year-old.
Flaherty looked sharp early against Tampa Bay but still allowed three runs in four innings. Now, with a division title in sight, the Orioles will return to a more traditional five-man rotation.
Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez have clearly distinguished themselves as the top of the rotation starters. Dean Kremer and Kyle Gibson have had their moments, and John Means demonstrated enough in two five-inning starts to prove he can take the ball every fifth day.
Mike Elias and Co. were not about to cut a player they sacrificed three prospects for less than two months ago, but Flaherty was an easy choice to bump from the rotation. The Orioles announced Flaherty would move to the bullpen prior to last night’s game in Houston.
MASN’s Roch Kubatko had the quotes from Hyde yesterday evening. The skipper pointed to Means’ return and said the Orioles have their five starters. Hyde praised Flaherty as a competitor and a professional. Hyde discussed the move with Flaherty, and the pitcher said he just wanted to help the team win.
Hyde then, without making any guarantees, pointed out something that remains true. Jack Flaherty can still help this team win games.
“You’ve seen the fastball to 97, you see the sharp curveball, so let’s see what it looks like out of the ‘pen,” Hyde said. “Maybe he can be a piece for us.”
Hyde followed the “maybe” with an “I don’t know.” Flaherty hasn’t exactly inspired confidence with his performance in black and orange. Still, Hyde expressed genuine interest with how Flaherty fares as a reliever. He mentioned the Orioles are looking for right-on-right relievers, and implied Flaherty could earn more responsibility than mop-up duty and long relief.
Has Flaherty been a disappointment so far? Absolutely. Would the Orioles make the move again? No way. Can Flaherty still contribute over the final two weeks of the season? Stranger things have happened.
Flaherty has four innings of relief experience compared to 660.2 innings as a starter. There’s no telling how this could go, but it’s not difficult to picture Flaherty walking around the mound with something to prove like he did in the first three innings against Tampa last week.
The Orioles might ask Flaherty to ditch his slider after opponents hit .333 and slugged .556 against the pitch this season. Flaherty has experienced much greater success using his curveball with batters hitting only .204 against the pitch. His fastball should live in the high 90s, which could trigger additional use of the changeup.
Flaherty will be a free agent at the end of the season, and the second half has hurt his cause. A few strong relief appearances could help save face before the hot stove season this winter.
The Orioles have taxed their bullpen all season, and the loss of Félix Bautista only made things worse. Baltimore has shuttled Bryan Baker, Joey Krehbiel, Mike Baumann and Cole Irvin between Norfolk and Camden Yards. Jorge López, who is not eligible for the postseason, has not replicated his All-Star performance from 2022.
Shintaro Fujinami remains a bit of a question mark, and Jacob Webb could turn into a pumpkin at any time. Flaherty, even without experience working as a reliever, does not feel significantly less trustworthy than some of the other pieces in the bullpen right now.
Ideally, the Orioles will slowly introduce Flaherty to his new role with a low-leverage situation. He entered last night’s game with Baltimore leading by four, but he could easily pitch in a tie game at some point this week.
Flaherty immediately fit the profile of a frustrating reliever with quality stuff. The righty retired Jeremy Peńa before allowing a single to José Altuve in the seventh inning. Flaherty plunked Yordan Álvarez, allowed both runners to advance into scoring position with a wild pitch, and ended the inning by striking out the guy that leads the American League in RBIs.
Flaherty returned to the mound in the eighth and allowed a leadoff single to José Abreu. Working from the stretch, he struck out Chas McCormick and generated an inning-ending double play from Yainer Díaz.
Hyde and Elias want to milk the last ounce of baseball Flaherty has left in him this season, and Flaherty wants to help the team win. The former All-Star should view this move as his last opportunity to do so.