When spring training 2023 began we didn’t know how big a factor he would be on the Orioles last season. Okay, that was because he wasn’t even on the team yet.
Later we struggled to pronounce his name and those of us that had to write it may have taken a while to spell it without looking it up. But lefty reliever Danny Coulombe (say it KOO-lohm) sure was big for the Baltimore bullpen. And without Félix Bautista, he figures to be very important to the 2024 ‘pen.
Coulombe is yet another Mike Elias acquisition added for a low price that produced big results. He was acquired via a trade on March 27 from Minnesota for cash considerations. Coulombe had been signed by the Twins to a minor league deal and had an opt-out. If the Twins were not ready to give him a roster spot, but another team was, he could use the opt out. That led to the cash considerations deal that got him to Baltimore.
Once he got there his impact was vast.
He went 5-3 with a 2.81 ERA. In 51 1/3 innings he posted a 1.110 WHIP with a 2.1 walk and 10.2 strikeout rate. He allowed a .231 batting average and .605 OPS and was good against both left and righty batters. His 5.7 walk percentage and 27.6 K percentage were both the second-best of his career.
At 34, Coulombe has been around a while, but he cannot be a free agent until after 2024. So yeah, nice pickup for cash considerations. Another bullpen add from another club that came up big for the Orioles joining the likes of Bautista, Jorge López, Yennier Cano and Cionel Pérez to name a few.
Not long after the Orioles added him, I asked Coulombe how he liked to attack hitters?
“When I’m going well, I’m attacking the zone,” Coulombe said during an April interview. “Not getting in bad counts. Pitching is count leverage – that’s the name of the game. When I am going well, I am throwing a lot of strikes and throwing balls when I want to.”
In 2023 he allowed a .256 average and .627 OPS to lefties and those numbers were .212/.618 versus righty hitters. That was a big improvement last year on his career .760 OPS against righty batters heading into the year.
The guy is a master at keeping the ball off the big part of bats. He used movement, whether it's his oft-used cutter (43 percent) or curve or slider, to get weak contact.
“I have always been a (good) spin guy, always been able to spin the ball my whole career. The best pitch analytically in the game is a left-on-left slider. So, I have a slider, curveball, sweeper and cutter. Lot of different types of spin to try and keep the hitters off balance. Against righties I added a changeup last year and that has helped to try and neutralize them,” he said.
Coulombe spent two weeks in August on the injured list with left biceps tendinitis. At the time he insisted it would be a minor setback and he prove to be right, returning to finish the year with a 2.92 ERA and .599 OPS against his last 14 games.
The guy got big outs and a lot of clutch outs all season for the Birds. He also became a quiet clubhouse leader. He fit in great with the Orioles.
“I love it here. I love the guys, I love this clubhouse," he told me late in the season. "For me, the success has come from one, the coaches have put me in a great position to succeed. And two, we have great catchers. Great catchers who know these hitters and who we trust completely. I think I’ve just been having more fun than ever in the clubhouse and playing this year. And I feel that my stuff is probably now the best it’s been in my career and it’s fun to pitch when that is true."
He was using those solid breaking pitches to both left and righty hitters. In that late-year interview, he said he was going with pitches he has big confidence in.
“They preach that. Your breaking stuff is so good, so trust it. Trust it. That is such a breath of fresh air. I think that is why guys come here from other places and have success. They always preach positive reinforcement and that has been so positive for a lot of us," Coulombe said.
In addition to such good numbers, Coulombe ranked in the top six percent of MLB in chase rate, top five percent in hard-hit rate allowed and top four percent in average exit velocity.
It might be hard to duplicate some of the numbers next year, but he is sure going to try. And now that we can both say and spell his name, we’re ready to see that.