It was the ninth inning of an insignificant spring training game last Wednesday night. The Orioles would go on to beat Boston 5-3 and, in that ninth frame, Pedro Strop struck out three batters.
Sure they were against players ticketed for the minors and not Dustin Pedroia or Jacoby Ellsbury, but it was the dominant pitches Strop was throwing, or at least it sure appeared that way during the MASN telecast.
Strop looked to have his usual mid-90s, or better, heat that game, but also a dominant slider.
Have we forgotten how good Strop was at times last year?
Maybe, because Strop pitched to an ERA of 8.38 in his last 15 games last season. That stretch began Aug. 27 and, largely because of it, it seems a segment of fans have some doubts about him heading into the 2013 season. Their last memories of Strop were not good ones, even though he did pitch two scoreless innings for the Orioles in a do-or-die Game 4 against New York in the American League Division Series.
But if you look at his numbers as a whole last season, you see a pretty solid and, at times, was a dominant big league reliever. Strop went 5-2 with an ERA of 2.44. Over 66 1/3 innings, he walked 37 and fanned 58. He had a very impressive ground-to-air out ratio of 2.47 and a batting average against of just .217. By comparison, Jim Johnson, who led the majors with 51 saves, had a 2.04 ratio and .220 average against.
Strop held left-handed hitters to a batting average of .252 while right-handed batters hit just .184 off him. When he pitched with runners in scoring position, opposing batters hit only .197. He averaged 96.4 mph with his fastball velocity, topping out at 99.
The slider can be a devastating pitch for the 27-year-old right-hander. It was last week in that game against Boston, when he snapped off some very nasty ones. It was at times last season, when opposing batters hit just .131 against that pitch.
But it will mostly come down to control for Strop, who led all AL relievers with 37 walks. At the end of last year, when he struggled so badly, he walked 10 over his last 9 2/3 innings as his ERA jumped from 1.43 to its final 2.44.
Did Strop tire at the end of the season? He says no, that his issues were mechanical, but perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. Either way, Strop was the O's eighth-inning setup guy for most of the season until he was replaced by Darren O'Day late in the year.
But we shouldn't forget that Strop was scored on in just seven of his first 55 games last year, even if he did give up at least one run in seven of his final 15 games.
In a bullpen filled with talented pitchers, don't overlook the young right-hander from the Dominican Republic.