Again pondering what's happening with the Orioles' 'pen

SARASOTA, Fla. – Just as the Orioles appear closer to deciding on their eight relievers for Opening Day, they toss another grenade into the projections and mocks that already are ill-equipped to instill absolute confidence.

I’m expanding my locks to six, with Dillon Tate absent due to the forearm strain that’s kept him out of games but closer Félix Bautista back in the mix.

Bautista is pitching later today against the Phillies in Clearwater, increasing his number of games and innings to three. He’s expected to make another appearance Thursday night against the Tigers in Sarasota. The big man inching closer to that charter flight to Boston.

Cionel Pérez, Mychal Givens and Bryan Baker already were secure. Baker had a nice bounce back outing yesterday with a scoreless sixth inning, striking out a batter and allowing just a soft single from Ji-Man Choi to the opposite field. He retired Oneil Cruz and Carlos Santana on fly balls and fanned Bryan Reynolds.

Baker insisted that felt good on the mound and the results would get better. Not an ounce of concern from the reliever or anyone else in the organization. And yesterday proved why.

Austin Voth is out of options. That’s an advantage. And his value was displayed last summer after the Orioles claimed him off waivers from the Nationals.

They’ll be patient while Voth works through some issues on the mound. He was really good for two innings Saturday against the Red Sox in Fort Myers before running into trouble again.

“Curveball’s still not quite there yet and that’s going to come,” manager Brandon Hyde said yesterday, “but his fastball and cutter were what they were like last year and you can just see him getting better every outing.”

Left-hander Keegan Akin has hopped off the bubble. He’s held opponents scoreless in four appearances totaling six innings, with only one walk and seven strikeouts. He can give Hyde multiple innings. I can’t envision a scenario where he’s optioned.

Joey Krehbiel ran his streak of scoreless appearances to four yesterday by retiring the Pirates in order in the seventh. He also hasn’t allowed a hit over his last 3 2/3 innings, striking out five batters.

Ke’Bryan Hayes and Connor Joe flied out to center field yesterday and Jack Suwinski struck out. Krehbiel wouldn’t have broken a sweat even if the temperature had risen into the 70s.

It was a breeze.

If Krehbiel is in, and I'm just falling a tad short of saying he's a lock, that leaves only one vacancy and so much drama.

Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi hasn’t allowed a run in six of his seven appearances. He’s walked one and struck out seven in 5 2/3 innings. It would pain the Orioles to give him back to the Red Sox, but can they avoid it?

Spenser Watkins and Bruce Zimmermann would be able to gobble innings, providing important coverage for the rotation. Watkins allowed one unearned run and two total over four innings Sunday against the Yankees in Tampa. He followed Tyler Wells. He could do that for Grayson Rodriguez, for instance, if the Orioles are willing to piggyback. So could Zimmermann.

And what about Wells? Would the Orioles really option him and keep him as a starter at Triple-A Norfolk if he isn’t in their rotation? He’s been good in both roles during his two major league seasons – the Rule 5 setup man and closer, and the starter who was the most consistent of the group during the first half.

Nothing left to prove in the minors, but the roster crunch is ear piercing.

What happens to DL Hall is going to be have lips flapping. His first game is coming later today or Tuesday. It would feel like a rush job to get him ready for a bullpen role, and we don’t know whether the Orioles want to do that anyway.

And now, the grenade.

Mike Baumann wasn’t going to break camp in the rotation. However, he’s emerging as a much stronger bullpen possibility with back-to-back impressive showings in short spurts.  

The latest was yesterday against the Pirates. Walk, strikeout, fly ball, strikeout.

“Even that walk, there were a couple close misses there,” Hyde said. “Aggressive, trying to get ahead early, and on the attack from the first pitch. He’s got really good stuff, so a good outing by him.”

The Orioles want Baumann to be a bullpen bully. He’s got the size and stuff to do it. But they could option him with the explanation that they want to continue this transition at Triple-A.

Or …


Baumann may not end up in the Opening Day bullpen, but he’s gotten into the discussion and that’s significant.

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