Baker confident he can get back on roll that carried through 2022 season

The volatile nature of a major league bullpen can push teams out of their comfort zone and into pure survival mode. Doesn’t matter how good it was in past seasons. Relievers are fickle in nature. They can carry you one summer and let you down the next. Be the pulse and break your heart.

The Orioles departed their camp in 2022 hopeful, but far from certain, that they’d get the necessary support from Félix Bautista, Bryan Baker, Cionel Pérez, Joey Krehbiel and Keegan Akin. They had seen glimpses from Dillon Tate, but nothing that sustained over a full season. They were working to reinvent Jorge López after his failures as a starter.

What resulted was a 3.49 ERA that ranked ninth in the majors and enabled the Orioles to post their first winning record in six years. It instantly made Brandon Hyde a better manager, and a more relaxed one. It meant everything.

Baker had the strongest finish, with his last 11 appearances scoreless over 12 1/3 innings. He flourished when others faded, an unexpected development with only one major league outing prior to joining the Orioles.

The right-hander posted a 2.13 ERA in his final 40 games, compared to a 5.60 ERA in the first 26, which included two starts that fouled up his numbers. The ERA was 1.82 in the last 22 games.

Five relievers are locks for opening day: Baker, Bautista, Pérez, Tate and Mychal Givens, who returns via free agency. Such a dramatic switch only one year later.

Always expect the unexpected.

Tyler Wells and Austin Voth are starting candidates who could settle into long relief roles, or however they might be needed on a particular night. DL Hall reports to camp with the club hoping he makes the rotation and still figuring out what to do if he falls short. Akin and Krehbiel are trying to rebound from poor second halves. Nick Vespi is trying to be ready for opening day after undergoing hernia surgery. Andrew Politi is trying to beat the odds as a Rule 5 pick.

There are others, too, including Mike Baumann, Spenser Watkins and Bruce Zimmermann.

None will arrive at the spring complex on the same roll as Baker.

The saying goes that there’s no momentum in baseball, that it’s the next day’s starting pitcher. Baker isn’t sold on it.

“Definitely confident,” he said Sunday at Crooked Crab Brewing Company in Odenton, where the Birdland Caravan made a stop. “I think momentum’s a very real thing, and hopefully it carries over onto next year, for sure.”

Baker feels the same about the entire bullpen’s production and dependability.

“I think it’s about bringing that same type of attitude and energy to the field every day like we did last year,” he said. “Really, just be with the guys and have a good time, and good things tend to happen whenever you’re working hard and having a good time with your friends.”

The increased expectations bring a certain amount of pressure.

“I think that’s probably a good thing, honestly,” he said. “I think that the high-character guys we have on the team, there’s guys who are ready to step up and execute the way that they can. I’m really excited to see everybody get out there and do what they can.”

Baker’s 66 appearances were one behind Tate, who led the team. His 66 innings ranked third among relievers, but he totaled 69 2/3 including his starts.

The offseason focus began with letting his body recover and making certain that it was right. After that was getting into a good rhythm on the mound and pounding the strike zone.

The caravan provided a new twist. Baker never participated in a FanFest or other interactive event until the weekend.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s just been really cool to be a part of.”

Note: Tate was expected to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, but his name doesn't appear on the roster announced last night. Infielder Ramón Urías isn't with Team Mexico, also a surprise.

Left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez, a non-roster invite, joins outfielder Anthony Santander on Team Venezuela.

Cedric Mullins is on Team USA's roster and Dean Kremer will pitch for Team Israel.

The WBC runs from March 8-21.

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