Last season, the Orioles had some of their minor league affiliates at times use six-man starting rotations. This season, the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds and Single-A Frederick Keys are expected to begin the season using six-man rotations and it's possible that Double-A Bowie may as well, O's director of player development Brian Graham confirmed recently.
Orioles director of pitching development Rick Peterson said there are several benefits gained from this.
"The advantage, quite simply, is that you get ample rest for kids," Peterson said. "The rest and recovery is huge. Plus, the fact that you get two bullpen sessions (between starts). Having two bullpens, you can really specify. Maybe one is just a fastball command bullpen. Maybe one is a fastball-changeup combo bullpen. Maybe one focuses on put-aways. We start the count 0-2 and then how are we going to expand the strike zone? You have so many options of teaching points with two bullpens.
"Typically with a full year of about 25 starts, you have 50 bullpens and those are huge teaching moments. That's a huge advantage."
A six-man rotation could also be used to limit the season innings total for some pitchers, but that doesn't have to be the case for all in the six-man.
"It won't necessarily limit the innings that much," Peterson said. "If it's an issue of stretching a guy out so the next year he can throw 175 or 180 innings or so, you can always bring a guy to instructional league and stretch those innings out there."
But is there a problem with the six-man in that pitchers could have issues adjusting back to a five-man rotation if they get to the major leagues?
"Let me say this," Peterson said. "The years I was in New York (as Mets pitching coach), for example, we had many pitchers at that point that needed the extra day when they could get it, including Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez. As it turned, out our starters got 32 or 33 starts for the year and only twice before the All-Star break did they go back-to-back four-day rest starts and twice after the break. It's somewhat of a myth that guys don't get that extra day in the big leagues. You can manage it that way."
He's certainly not wrong about that. Wei-Yin Chen made 32 starts last season and 16 came on four days' rest and 16 on five or more. Of Jason Hammel's 20 starts last season, he made 10 on four days' rest and 10 with five or more.
By the way, both pitchers were better working on five days or more rest.
Hammel had an ERA of 5.37 when pitching on four days' rest and 1.62 with five or more. Chen's ERA was 4.39 on four days' rest and 3.64 with five or more. It is probably not a coincidence that both pitchers' first start of the regular season next week comes on five days' rest.
Peterson also addressed two other topics. He said that, generally speaking, most O's minor league starting pitchers will be able to throw 90-95 pitches in their first starts. That is a deeper pitch count than we have seen the O's minor leaguers at in past seasons in April. The club doesn't have a hard and fast rule for a maximum pitch count as the minor league seasons go on, but they look to keep most pitchers at 110 or under in most starts.
Peterson added that year two of the organization putting some pitchers through biomechanical analysis produced some very good results. He said some of the minor league pitchers have reaped big benefits from the analysis.
"I sat down with a group of our core guys over the last few days that got the analysis and it was spectacular," he said. "I've never seen so many come back from the lab and several of our pitchers have little or no flaws in their deliveries. We saw significant improvements across the board in comparing their analysis from last year to this year."