SARASOTA, Fla. – Bryan Baker sees the glimmers of good through the pile of poor spring statistics.
Baker has made six exhibition appearances and allowed runs in five of them. Nine total and 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings. A serious issue if he were fighting for his professional life, if he hadn’t become a trusted high-leverage reliever for the Orioles last summer.
“I’m trying to focus on the positives with how good I feel bouncing back from outing to outing right now, which is better than it’s ever been. So, I’m trying to focus on that and kind of rejoice in the fact that I’m throwing a bunch of strikes right now,” Baker said yesterday morning.
“I think the rest of it will figure itself out.”
Baker retired the first two Twins batters on Friday and served up a home run to Kyle Farmer, on a day that the ball was flying out of Hammond Stadium. So close to a clean inning.
“I think it’s getting better and better,” he said. “It’s usually like one pitch an outing where I’m like, ‘Ah, I wish I had that one back right now,’ which is a lot better than wishing you had 10 back, where you’re walking guys and giving free passes out.
“I think the damage on the one pitch that I leave over the middle will kind of balance out, and eventually they’ll start hitting it to people instead of over the fence or finding the hole. I think those numbers will probably balance out eventually, but I’m better off being in the zone and trying to work around guys, so I’m trying to find that first and then making sure I’m able to throw strikes with every pitch, which I know is going to play better, especially the later the season goes with all the scouting reports these guys have. Being able to mix it up is going to be important later on in the season. So, I think that will be big.”
Manager Brandon Hyde offered his support of Baker yesterday when I asked about the reliever’s numbers and tried to gauge the level of concern.
There was none. Not a trace.
“The fastball velocity was there (Friday),” Hyde said. “Just made a bad pitch with the changeup. The cutter-slider was better, so those are positives. He’s going to have a few more appearances, also, to get as sharp as he can before we break.”
In other words, Baker is on the team and he’s prepping for the season. Security that didn’t come to him until he registered a 3.49 ERA last year in 66 games and a 2.70 ERA and 1.100 WHIP in the second half.
Hyde didn’t bite yesterday when asked to calculate the number of open spots in the bullpen, but Baker seems safe at home and on the road.
“It can honestly work backward sometimes,” he said. “You have a bunch of really good outings early and you don’t get to work out of some tough spots. Or you struggle a little bit and learn from it. Where, if you’re just kind of cruising at this part of the year, it usually comes back to get you at some point, to where you get in a situation you haven’t been in yet and then you need to kind of relearn how to work through some adversity.
“I’d rather have a little bit better results right now, but I think it’s part of the process. I think eventually it will work itself out.”
Dig out of an exhibition hole and unearth the positives, like no walks issued in the last three appearances after doling out four over the first three games.
“As long as that stays the way it is, I think it’ll be better,” Baker said. “But just from a stuff perspective, it’s actually pretty good. I’m actually getting ahead of a lot of guys, too. It’s just kind of finding that path to get to that quick out is what I’m really trying to find, where you eventually save your own arm and you save the rest of these guys’ bullets later on in the year, where you can roll through an inning in 12 pitches. You’re going to have success in the long run.”
The Orioles are playing split-squad games today, with a trip to Tampa to face the Yankees and a home date against the Pirates. Tyler Wells hits the road, and Kyle Gibson stays in Sarasota.
Spenser Watkins will come out of the bullpen in one of these games.
Ryan O’Hearn returned to the lineup yesterday after a week’s absence and went 0-for-2 before being replaced. He’ll get more at-bats today.
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