The Orioles haven’t clinched the American League East, and that’s the item on manager Brandon Hyde’s mind. That’s where his focus lies this week. The unfinished business before the playoffs begin.
Has he thought about specific roles for players during the postseason?
“No,” he said.
Short and to the point.
I’m sure that the club has considered various options regarding the roster, who might be added depending on health, how the rotation could line up. But Hyde, while trying to be accommodating to the media, doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself.
Bullpen roles are the hardest to define. Félix Bautista was the undisputed closer, and a dominant one, before his UCL tear on Aug. 25. Placing him on the 10-day injured list has created disruptions from top to bottom.
“Losing Bautista for me really hurts that club. Really hurts,” said a scout from outside the organization.
“That was a ninth inning lockdown.”
Yennier Cano looked the part last night by striking out the side for his eighth save in a 1-0 win over the Nationals. The bullpen is catching its breath with Monday’s off-day and the last three starters working seven or more innings.
Tyler Wells closed in 2021 as a Rule 5 pick and could inherit save opportunities, but again, Hyde isn’t ready to make a declaration. He might not do it.
“He’s thrown (two) innings, so we’ll see,” Hyde said yesterday afternoon. “I want to continue throwing him out there to see what he looks like. Two innings, and that was in the middle part of the game. But you might see him in the middle part or later on. But I definitely want to see what he can look like out of our bullpen.”
DL Hall can be used in multiple ways. You can’t pin down Hyde and make him name just one.
“I like the way he’s throwing the baseball, so a lot of roles for me, whether it’s a middle type or …,” Hyde said. “I pitched him in a four-run lead the other day. This team’s pretty left-handed, Cleveland was really left-handed. The options I have with three left-handed guys, I’m really comfortable with all three of them pitching, whether it’s in the middle or the back end of a game. But DL’s proven so far that he’s been pounding the strike zone and has multiple pitches he can get righties and lefties out with.
“I think he's getting more comfortable, also. He likes the big spot. It seemed like with that four-run lead a couple days ago, I thought his stuff was some of the best we’ve seen since he’s been with us. So, I feel comfortable with him in any spot.”
Jack Flaherty came out of the rotation and made one relief appearance, with two scoreless innings in Houston. He can provide length, though the same is true of a starter who goes to the ‘pen for the playoffs.
“In Cleveland, it was kind of a weird setup where they were really left-handed, but Jack was up (Saturday) in the ninth inning in a 2-1 game for a righty, so I was going to utilize him in that spot,” Hyde said. “Wellsy was getting up (Sunday). So, if the spots fit, you might see both those guys in high-leverage situations.”
Hyde praised the bullpen guys for the way they’ve handled the uncertainty and disruptions. Can't shake their focus, either.
“I think they’ve done a really good job of it,” he said. “Losing Bautista, things all of a sudden change. Now, those last six to nine outs have mainly just been matchup based, where they are in the order, what the score is, who they have off the bench to pinch-hit. Houston, I did it two different ways, where I brought Cano in to start the ninth and finished with Cionel (Pérez) the other day, and after that I brought Cionel to start and finished with Cano. And everybody has adapted extremely well.
“They’re really right now just in a winning mindset, where it doesn’t really matter who’s getting the last two outs. Just trying to win the game. I think everybody’s bought into how we’re doing it right now."
* A quick thought about the passing of legend Brooks Robinson.
That one really hurt.
You knew his time was dwindling based on his age and past health scares, including prostate cancer, an infection while recovering from abdominal surgery, a fall off a platform at a banquet. I met someone last week while waiting in line for my flight to Houston who knew Robinson and had spoken to him a few weeks ago. I asked how the Hall of Famer was doing.
"Not well," he replied.
And still, it was shocking to hear the news yesterday. And hard to accept for someone who grew up a rabid Orioles fan, attending my first game in 1971 - the World Series at Memorial Stadium.
It was an honor to meet Robinson many years later during my sportswriting career. To shake his hand at the Winter Meetings and have him call out my name and say, "I always read you to get my Orioles news." I turned to everyone within earshot and asked, "Did you get that?"
We talked in person multiple times. We talked at least once over the phone for a story I was writing. And the 12-year-old Roch would surface every time. Just with a deeper voice.
Brooks knew me. So cool.
We've been blessed as Baltimore sports fans to call two of the greatest our own - Brooks and Johnny U. Great on the field and off.
Examples that, sometimes it's OK to meet your heroes. They don't always disappoint.
Sometimes, they far exceed our expectations.