I wondered aloud yesterday whether Orioles manager Buck Showalter would be willing to carry three left-handers in his bullpen. He began the 2012 season with one, Troy Patton, who beat out Zach Phillips. Showalter spent much of the summer wishing he had a second southpaw, which is why J.C. Romero eventually found his way to Baltimore.
Brian Matusz solved that issue by converting to a lefty specialist. He’s going to compete for a rotation spot in spring training, but the bullpen beckons if Showalter chooses someone else from a long list of candidates.
Patton and Matusz could be joined by Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland, who also will be given a chance to crack the rotation. The Orioles can’t send him down without first exposing him to waivers and offering him back to the Indians, which presents a complication for Showalter that he’d like to avoid, given his preference for maneuverability among his pitchers. That’s especially true of his relievers.
All it takes is one extra-inning game to deplete a bullpen and cause Triple-A Norfolk manager Ron Johnson’s cellphone to ring. And it’s much easier to call for reinforcements if the bullpen isn’t loaded with non-optional arms.
Anyway, McFarland could become the seventh reliever in a bullpen that currently is set up to include Matusz, Patton, Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day and Luis Ayala. However, Tommy Hunter is out of options and might be assigned to the ‘pen unless he’s traded before opening day.
Don’t be surprised if Hunter’s name comes up in trade rumors after pitchers and catchers report in two weeks. I like him as a power arm in the ‘pen - his fastball flirted with triple digits as a reliever - but what happens if he doesn’t crack the rotation and the Orioles need McFarland or someone else to fill the last spot in the bullpen?
I’m expecting Tsuyoshi Wada to remain at extended spring training, but it’s not totally out of the question that he’s so far ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John surgery that he’s ready for opening day and forces Showalter into another tough decision. Heck, he could be the third lefty reliever.
Each pre-spring training discussion comes with a disclaimer: The landscape can change with one trade. Other teams keep checking on the Orioles’ willingness to part with some pitching, and the bullpen could be overflowing.
We haven’t even mentioned three other lefties who will be in camp: Mike Belfiore, Daniel Schlereth and Zach Braddock.
The Orioles placed Belfiore, the PTBNL in the Josh Bell trade to Arizona, on the 40-man roster before the Rule 5 draft. He was 5-1 with a 2.85 ERA in 28 games at Double-A Bowie, and he struck out 13 batters in 12 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League.
The Tides bullpen probably beckons, but hey, he deserves to be in today’s discussion.
So does Schlereth, the former first-round draft pick who posted a 2.89 ERA in 18 games with the Tigers in 2010 and a 3.49 ERA in 49 games in 2011. Left-handers are hitting .213 against him in 184 plate appearances.
Braddock went 1-3 with a 4.41 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 51 innings for the Brewers in 2010-11. He posted a 2.94 ERA over 33 2/3 innings, with 11 strikeouts per nine innings, in 2010. He held left-handed hitters to a .185/.313/.296 line in 99 plate appearances.
The Brewers released Braddock on May 4, 2012. He once landed on the disabled list with a sleeping disorder, and he’ll be asked about it in spring training. Stay tuned for that blog entry.