A few questions relating to Orioles bullpen

The Orioles are concentrating on upgrades for their rotation, but they also could acquire at least one new reliever on a major league or minor league deal. They don’t usually bring back the exact same unit while expecting the exact same results. That's a dangerous little game.

If nothing else, they can increase the camp competition.

The trust that the bullpen instilled in manager Brandon Hyde keyed the 2022 turnaround. Leads didn’t dissolve like teaspoons of sugar in water.

The Orioles were 60-2 when ahead after the sixth inning, 64-3 after the seventh and 71-3 after the eighth. They kept deficits manageable and allowed for late comebacks.

The ‘pen’s 3.49 ERA ranked ninth in the majors. The Orioles were last in 2019 and 2021, and 27th in 2018.

Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott were traded to the Marlins late in camp. Closer Jorge López was traded to the Twins at the deadline, thrusting rookie Félix Bautista into a new role.

Bautista was dominant until late in the season, and he’s the closer heading into spring training. He was missed in a setup role, however, and the Orioles could seek to strengthen the bridge to him.

How they attempt to do it is one question. I have a few others regarding the bullpen. Here are two for today.

What will the Orioles get out of Keegan Akin in 2023?
I could pull a muscle in my neck with the intensity of my shrug.

Akin, a second-round pick in 2016 out of Western Michigan University, made his first opening day roster and lasted until Sept. 26, when the Orioles optioned him. He was recalled two days later.

The first half was a breakthrough. Akin posted a 2.36 ERA and 0.881 WHIP in 24 appearances and opponents batted .178/.229/.351. He worked at least two innings in his first 19 outings, the longest streak by a reliever to begin a season in major league history.

In the second half, Akin had a 4.76 ERA and 1.482 WHIP in 21 games and opponents batted .310/.353/.416. He registered a 2.63 ERA, .092 WHIP and .196 average against in 33 games through Aug. 14, but had a 5.40 ERA, 1.74 WHIP and .333 average against in his final 12 appearances.

The final three were scoreless after the Orioles recalled Akin, but he allowed two hits over one inning and escaped jams in the last two.

The total body of work made it a successful season for Akin. He set career highs in games (45), wins (three), ERA (3.20), WHIP (1.090) and opponent average (.227), and recorded his only two saves. His 70 strike percentage, a stunning reversal after past lapses in control, was second-best in the majors and tops among relievers with a minimum of 1,000 pitches.

Akin became the first Oriole to throw more than 800 pitches in a season with a strike percentage of at least 70.

He also logged the most innings in the majors at 33 1/3 without allowing a home run to a left-handed hitter. They went 22-for-119 for a .185 average.

Maybe the late fade was due to almost doubling his previous high in appearances, though he logged 95 innings with the Orioles in 2021, when he made 17 starts. His 79 1/3 innings ranked third among relievers.

Akin, who has one minor league option remaining, comes to camp next spring expected to again provide some length out of the bullpen. To hold onto his newfound aggression, attack hitters and pitch with confidence. And to get results.

Other splits grab your attention.

Akin had a 2.11 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and .167 average against on the road and a 4.15 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and .273 average against at home. He posted a 1.84 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and .206 average against at night and a 5.23 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and .258 average against during the day.

Manager Brandon Hyde won’t use him exclusively in night away games. He’ll just hope for proper balance.

Is Bryan Baker the real deal?
Baker certainly looked the part in the second half, posting a 2.70 ERA and 1.100 WHIP in 30 innings. Opponents slashed .202/.281/.284 over his 30 appearances.

No one could state with any confidence that he’d become one of the Orioles’ most dependable relievers. He had one major league appearance when they selected him off waivers from the Blue Jays last November.

Making the club wasn’t a certainty. Neither was lasting the entire season without being optioned.

Baker became the first Orioles rookie to appear in 66 games since Mychal Givens in 2016, and he was tied for second on the club. He was tied for seventh among rookie relievers with a 1.4 fWAR.

The strong finish really made Baker stand out. Somehow, he managed to flourish while others showed fatigue.

Baker registered a 2.13 ERA in his last 40 appearances, compared to a 5.60 ERA in his first 26, which included two starts. He had a 1.82 ERA in his last 22 games and didn’t allow a run in the last 11.

Opponents went 8-for-45 (.178) against Baker in September. The fastest pitch of his career came during the month, a 100.2 mph fastball against the Blue Jays.

Baker has two minor league options. The Orioles will use one if he’s struggling, but they believe that he can replicate his second-half run and be an integral part of the bullpen.

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