Multiple-inning relievers could be big for future O’s bullpens

The average outing by a starting pitcher in the postseason this year was 4 2/3 innings. That is a pretty surprising stat for me. Sure, some early knockouts brought that number down but 4 2/3 innings on average for some of better starters in the game?

No doubt the bullpens get more use in the postseason and the off-days in each series made it possible for some relievers to pitch almost every game.

The Orioles bullpen is rather important to the team, especially one that gets fewer innings from its rotation than most - or has in recent years.

Tanner Scott Bowie throw front sidebar.jpgAlong those lines, I wonder if the development plan the Orioles used for hard-throwing lefty Tanner Scott this year could be used for other pitchers on the O’s farm moving forward.

If Scott, one of the organization’s best pitching prospects, remains a reliever, perhaps the ability to go two and three innings will be a real plus for him on the major league level.

There have been plenty of games in recent years when an O’s starter was lifted after five innings and the Orioles would then use, say, Mychal Givens, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach and Zach Britton for one inning each to pull out a close win. Nothing wrong with that; those are four of their best relievers. And if they go just one inning on a Monday, they could probably do the same to help win a game on Tuesday.

But they can’t pitch every night.

Having more relievers that can go two or three innings - maybe Scott can do that now - means more rest for that other group. Three innings from Scott or any reliever and one from Britton to wrap up a game gives other key relievers a day off.

The potential downside to this strategy is that Scott pitched every fifth or sixth day on the farm this year and you would not want a reliever to pitch and then be unavailable for four or five straight days. You would have to find what is optimal in terms of how many outs can a guy get to reduce the number of relievers you use and still be available a day or two down the road. And in the instance of Scott, he would throw a bullpen session between outings as a starter, so he did throw more than the stat sheet tells us.

Orioles director of player development Brian Graham designed the plan for Scott this year and it produced very solid results. It especially provided Scott more pitches per outing to work on his slider and it became a much improved pitch for the lefty.

Will we see more Orioles minor leaguers on the “Scott plan” next season?

“I think you need to pick and choose the right guys for that,” Graham said. “(Jesus) Liranzo is a perfect example of that and Tanner Scott is an example of that. That kind of plan is designed for the guys that throw hard and need (more) time on the mound to repeat their deliveries and command the baseball. That is what that plan is used for, guys like that.”

Graham reminded me that as we try to project the future and which pitchers in the O’s organization could become key multiple-inning relievers, it’s important to look beyond just the current bullpen arms.

“I would say over 80 percent of the bullpen guys in the big leagues were previously starters,” Graham said. “And the World Series showed that your bullpen is super important.”

So pitchers like Chris Lee and David Hess. for instance, that have been starters most of their minor league careers, could be starters at the next level. But they might also be multiple-inning relievers.

Right-hander Lucas Long pitched in both roles this past season at Double-A Bowie and was solid with both. But Long was better in relief, where he had an ERA of 1.90, an average against of .217, a walk rate of 1.9 per nine innings and a strikeout rate of 8.9 per nine innings. As a starter, where hitters got to see him two and three times per game, he pitched to an ERA of 3.56 with a .277 average against, a walk rate of 2.6 and 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

It seems we always take note of those pitchers that could come up to the Orioles and help in the starting rotation. But as the bullpens become more and more important, those multi-inning relievers will as well.

Speaking of Liranzo: The right-hander that pitched at Bowie this season was recently shut down after pitching in four games for Salt River in the Arizona Fall League.

“He had a tender shoulder,” Graham said. “It wasn’t anything serious; it was very minor. But when you are in the month of November and there is any kind of tenderness, you really are cautious.”

Liranzo, who was added to the Orioles’ 40-man roster in November 2016, pitched 4 2/3 innings in the AFL. He allowed seven hits and six runs with six walks and three strikeouts. He did give up five of those runs in one game.

There were reports his velocity was down in Arizona. With the Baysox, Liranzo would often pitch between 95 and 98 mph and he touched 100 mph. In the AFL, he reportedly topped out at 93 mph in one outing, but did touch 96 mph in his last game there Oct. 25. With Bowie, the 22-year-old Liranzo went 3-4 with a 4.85 ERA. Over 65 innings, he allowed 54 hits with 43 walks and 75 strikeouts.

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