Danny Coulombe and Jacob Webb, two Orioles relievers who project to make the Opening Day roster but with different odds, have slightly dissimilar approaches in the offseason to attacking their perceived weaknesses.
Both pitchers are doing less mechanical tweaking and more mental adjusting, but with goals that don’t exactly match up.
Coulombe appears to be a lock to break camp with the team as one of three or four left-handers in the bullpen. Cionel Pérez, DL Hall and Cole Irvin also are front and center in the discussion, with Bruce Zimmermann and Nick Vespi trying to crash the southpaw party.
An opening still exists in the rotation, which obviously could impact the bullpen’s composition. But it won’t touch Coulombe, who posted a 2.81 ERA and 1.110 WHIP in 61 appearances after the Orioles acquired him from the Twins toward the end of spring training.
“I was really happy with it,” he said at the Birdland Caravan. “I’m a perfectionist, so there’s things I know I can get better at, but I was really happy with the way it went. I really enjoyed the role and I’m excited to get it rolling again.”
Asked what clicked for Coulombe, he said, “It was more, I just didn’t take any weapons away. I threw all six of my pitches and as a reliever that’s kind of rare. They said, ‘Hey, go be you,’ and that’s why I was successful.”
If you’re thinking that Coulombe won’t bother fixing what isn’t broken, well, he doesn’t look at it that way.
“It’s just a few pitch sequences,” he said. “It’s not necessarily like pitch movement or mechanics or anything. It’s really just being able to throw the right pitches at the right times a little better.”
You’d also be wrong to assume that Coulombe is approaching spring training as a way to prepare for the season rather than battling to make the club.
“I think that in this game you’re always competing in some way or another, even if you feel like you have a spot locked up,” he said. “It can change really quickly, so I took this offseason like any other offseason, and I feel really, really good right now and I’m really excited with where I’m at.”
Webb arrived much later than Coulombe, with the Orioles selecting him off waivers in August. He didn’t surrender a run in his first nine outings and 13 of 14, but the Rangers homered twice off him in the Division Series, including a grand slam in Game 2.
The right-hander’s primary plan for improvement doesn’t center on his mechanics.
“Personally, I would try to at least control my emotions a little bit better,” he said at the Caravan. “Sometimes I get a little out of control with my emotions, I would say, when I’m out there. So personally, I would like to just be better emotionally, maintain my pitches, work on things daily and execute.”
The infield is going to provide the most intense battles in camp, but the bullpen also should be roped off like a boxing ring.
“It’s going to be a little bit of a competition in spring, obviously,” Webb said, “but I think they’ve got some good guys to come along and help us.”
Closer Craig Kimbrel remains the biggest addition of the winter, signed to a contract at the Winter Meetings that guarantees $13 million.
“I think it’s good having some more veteran presence out there,” Webb said. “He’s obviously a really good reliever and I think he’s going to help on that back side, showing us a little bit what it takes and what it means to be good. Just help that bullpen.”
Kimbrel is joining a unit that knows how to stay loose – and not just their arms.
“We had a blast,” Coulombe said. “It’s such a good group. You can’t take it too seriously. We play too many games to take every game too seriously, and we did a really good job of that. But once the fifth inning came, it was all business and we were ready to go.”
* Cedric Mullins is past the adductor/groin injuries that twice forced him onto the injured list last season. He’s healthy and ready for a normal spring training.
“That was a huge focal point going into the offseason, whatever time it took just to make sure the body was completely healthy before getting into workouts and running and things like that,” Mullins said at the Caravan. “Bounced back pretty well, my body’s feeling good. It’s just a matter of putting it through a full season.
“It was really just rest and some soft tissue work just to make sure we really got in there and loosened everything up the way it’s supposed to be. Testing it out and making sure it was in a good place, and it was. It’s a matter of strengthening that area and continuing to focus on what it’s going to take to keep that area secure and be good to go for the season.”
Mullins joined some other teammates who fell into lengthy slumps that carried into the playoffs, where he went hitless in 12 at-bats. He slashed .188/.221/.391 in 18 games in August and .191/.240/.326 in his last 29 games of the regular season.
“I think my play kind of followed the injuries,” said Mullins, who hit for the cycle on May 12. “I look at how well I started that year and it was just an unfortunate, freak situation. So, me focusing on my health, I’m looking forward to a good season.”