When the voting for Most Valuable Oriole was announced on Sept. 30, we learned that Adam Jones had won the award for the second consecutive season. Jim Johnson and Matt Wieters also received first-place votes to finish second and third, respectively. Wei-Yin Chen and Nick Markakis also were named on a few ballots.
No mention of reliever Darren O’Day.
You could make a strong case for O’Day, who won a career-high seven games in eight decisions, posted a 2.28 ERA in 69 appearances and allowed only 49 hits, walked 14 and struck out 69 in 67 innings.
By the end of the season, O’Day had supplanted Pedro Strop as the primary set-up man. He threw two scoreless innings in the wild card game in Texas, and he appeared in four of the five Division Series games, holding the Yankees scoreless and hitless over five innings.
I thought his arm was going to fall off. At least it wouldn’t have far to drop, with that funky submarine delivery.
Did the baseball world even notice when the Orioles claimed O’Day off waivers? It happened last Nov. 2, while former executive Andy MacPhail’s chair was still empty. Manager Buck Showalter jokes that the transaction occurred during his three days as general manager.
O’Day had to prove he was healthy. Check. He also had to prove that he could still get hitters out. Check.
Now, he just has to prove that he remembers how to find Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. He’s guaranteed a job.
How’s it going to be different for him personally this spring?
“Maybe they’ll make me a starting pitcher this year,” O’Day quipped. “I had a great winning percentage.”
No argument here, but I’m pretty sure Showalter will keep him in the bullpen.
“I know we have a lot longer spring training, so I’ll get some more fishing in this year, maybe a couple rounds of golf,” O’Day said, his sense of humor in midseason form.
“I think they’re going to be a little more careful with us and use us later in the spring, not starting to throw right when we get there. We have some pretty savvy coaches there and they know how we need to be used to get ready.”
I was thinking more along the lines of how the camp will be different for O’Day coming off his career year.
“It’s nice,” he said. “I think it’s going to be exciting to know everybody in the locker room, too. It’s totally off-topic, but I was really excited to come to FanFest, whereas last year, I was trying to think of excuses not to come. It’s just great to see everybody, the coaching staff, coaches wives. It’s amazing. I’ve never been in that environment on any other team.”
Like so many other players, O’Day was impressed by the turnout at the Baltimore Convention Center. More than 18,500 fans showed up, a record turnout.
“This is pretty impressive,” he said. “I woke up and looked out the hotel window and saw some people lining up and I was like, ‘Oh, there are some people waiting outside. That’s cool.’ Then I walked over to get some lunch and walked to the other side of the building and they were wrapping around there, and they were wrapping around the other side and I was like, ‘Holy cow.’
“When I was a little guy, we came to Camden Yards and it was a packed house. We had to sit way up in the outfield. It’s a baseball tradition here and I think we kind of rewoke it last year, so it should be even better this year.”
Few people expected the Orioles to contend last season. Escaping last place would have been considered a monumental achievement. Now?
“It’s a different atmosphere, different expectations now,” O’Day said. “I don’t want anybody to be able to say it was a one-year thing. I know Buck’s the same way. You do it one year, you get lucky. You’ve got to do it multiple years in a row.”
Much of the Orioles’ success hinges again on their bullpen. Can it possibly be as good in 2013? Is it even realistic to hope for nearly as good?
“Everybody comes back, I think we’ve got a pretty good shot at it,” O’Day said. “It was a pretty sustained performance. It wasn’t we got lucky. We did it for a long time.”
Notes: According to a team official, the Orioles are still “in process” of signing left-hander Mark Hendrickson to a minor league deal with a spring training invitation.
Hendrickson isn’t ready to retire and manager Buck Showalter wants to take another look at the veteran in Sarasota after he threw at last week’s minicamp. Everyone seems intrigued with the idea of a 6-foot-9 lefty showing hitters a sidearm delivery.
Apparently, Hendrickson played catch with Zach Britton during the minicamp and the ball was darting all over the place.
Also, because fans keep asking for updates, Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia still hasn’t obtained his work visa. He’s still in Haiti instead of the Dominican Republic.
The Orioles eventually want him in Sarasota. The wait continues.