A longer look at Orioles' bullpen usage and construction

The media tends to play its own games during its baseball coverage, and Wednesday afternoon at Camden Yards provided the latest opportunity. A darn good one, too.

Money doesn’t exchange hands. It’s more about wondering, debating and disagreeing. Tossing around ideas like a backyard catch.

How many innings would Albert Suárez work in his first major league appearance in seven years and first start in eight? And, really important here, who’s the long reliever if he’s knocked out early?

The last one didn’t come into play. Suárez tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings – yeah, I wanted to see him complete the sixth – and manager Brandon Hyde didn’t have to worry about extensive coverage.

(Except from the media, of course.)

Being off yesterday probably had some influence on how the bullpen was used. But Yohan Ramírez didn’t figure to be available, at least for anything substantial, after working 1 2/3 innings the previous night. Mike Baumann logged 1 1/3.

This team doesn’t have a true long reliever, since Cole Irvin is in the rotation. There’s only so much distance that Hyde is going to get from his bullpen.

Ramírez stood up Wednesday, took off his jacket and began loosening his arm as the game threatened to move into the 10th inning. It didn’t get there because Cedric Mullins hit his first career walk-off home run. Haters of free baseball rejoiced.

My throat was hoarse.

Hyde did some baton passing that began draining the ‘pen. Danny Coulombe replaced Suárez and faced three batters. Jacob Webb faced three and Keegan Akin only one. Yennier Cano handled the eighth and Craig Kimbrel the ninth, but with the score tied.

Dillon Tate has made one appearance since April 12 and two since April 6. His most recent outing was Monday night in the series opener against the Twins, and he earned the win with 1 1/3 scoreless innings – his first victory since Sept. 6, 2022.

The Orioles were encouraged in camp and remain so with Tate allowing one earned run and three hits in seven innings. He’s pitching like his old high-leverage self, but with his appearances spaced out.

Tate didn’t surface for five days before tossing two scoreless innings April 12 in an 11-1 loss to the Brewers, his longest outing since June 25, 2022 in Chicago, with 2023 spent trying to rehab from elbow/forearm injuries.

Asked earlier in the day whether Tate was fine physically, Hyde said, “The opportunity hasn’t gotten there. Should be tonight probably.” And it was.

“We’ve faced a lot of left-handed lineups,” Hyde added, “so trying to pick the right matchups for him.”

Right-handed hitters are slashing .208/.272/.303 against Tate in his career, and left-handers are slashing .248/.352/.457. Definitely a difference but nothing too alarming. I’ve seen a lot worse.

Suárez would be ideal as a long man in the ‘pen, but there’s that whole starter thing. He’s getting at least one more opportunity, as Hyde confirmed, with Tyler Wells on the injured list.

Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, who was bypassed for Suárez, started last night for Triple-A Norfolk and allowed two runs in five innings, the same as his previous outing. His ERA has gone down from 11.57 to 6.52.

It was the 47th start of Zimmermann’s Tides career to move him past Jake Arrieta and into a tie with Andy Mitchell for fifth-most in franchise history as an Orioles affiliate. He'd like to avoid chasing that record.

Hyde was asked Wednesday whether John Means needed one more rehab start before returning to the Orioles. He replied, “Yeah, at least.”

Means retired one batter that night in Jacksonville and was charged with five runs and five hits. He surrendered two home runs.

Means hasn’t gone more than three innings in his four starts. He was stretched out to 61 pitches in his previous outing.

The late-April or early-May projected return is in play, but he’s got more work to do on his assignment.

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