One year makes a big difference for Danny Coulombe

The last day of camp.

Danny Coulombe won’t forget it. A visitor to his locker fumbles for the exact date, and Coulombe says evenly, “The last day of camp.” And then he smiles.

The reliever is talking about March 27, 2023, when the Twins traded him to the Orioles for cash considerations. They might have wanted to consider holding onto him, since they’d lose a couple left-handed relievers during the summer and since he’d craft the finest season of his major league career with a 2.81 ERA in 61 appearances and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

The guy with a low profile became high leverage.

Coulombe’s career carried him from 40-man roster exile to lock status in spring training 2024. Baseball can break your heart or build you back up.

“That’s how everybody’s career is. One year makes a huge difference,” he said over the weekend. “I look back all the time. I’m just really thankful for where I’m at. Just, man, God is good.”

Coulombe’s contract with the Twins contained an upper-mobility clause, where they’d have to put the left-hander on the Opening Day roster or surrender him if a team expressed interest. He pitched in seven exhibition games and allowed only an unearned run with 13 strikeouts in nine innings. Getting him down to Triple-A wasn’t going to be easy.

“The Twins had 48 hours to either put me on their team or let me go, and they decided to let me go,” Coulombe said in his usual friendly manner, with no bitterness or gloating.

“That was a very interesting day.”

The news broke in Orioles camp that they were trading for Coulombe, and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias confirmed it to reporters after the game. Better learn how to pronounce his name.

Coulombe said he was hanging out with teammate Bailey Ober, who was optioned, when the phone call arrived from his agent.

“I was like, ‘OK, let’s see what happens in the next 48 hours,’” he recalled. “I was just so thankful. I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else but here.

“I knew I had a job in the majors. Once I found out that they claimed me, I knew it was going to be in the majors, but I didn’t know if the Twins would want to keep me. The hard part was, they already told everybody on the roster who made it and who didn’t, so it’s kind of hard to be like, ‘All right, just kidding, man, you’re going to Triple-A.’ But I totally understand and I’m really thankful to them and every opportunity that they’ve given me, but I’m just happy to be here.”

What Coulombe didn’t know behind the scenes was how much his new organization wanted him and for how long. The amount of homework done, the outings against it memorized and dissected in the pitching lab.

The trade, as it turned out, was in the works for a while.

“I had no idea that, talking to some of our analytics guys, they said, ‘Yeah, we’ve always liked you, and then you became available,’” Coulombe said.

“Actually, Elias told me I pitched against them five times last year and I pitched really well against the Orioles in spring training. He’s like, ‘Hey, he became available, let’s go get him.’ He’s like, ‘We didn’t really know what the plan was going to be with you,’ but I’m just really thankful it’s turned out the way it has.”

So, spring numbers really are important after all. At least in some cases. It isn’t a universal truth.

“It really does, it really matters,” Coulombe said. “I’ve seen, even the year before that, I had a similar clause in my contract and two other teams claimed me, but the Twins kept me that year. It really does matter, performance, and you never want to burn any bridges with any team because you just never know what’s going to happen.”

Coulombe keeps proving that he’s also a good teammate.

Sitting at the next locker is pitcher Jonathan Heasley, a few days before the Orioles optioned him to minor league camp. Coulombe has been available to his friend for workout sessions, veteran advice, words of encouragement. They’d meet at “Athlete Training and Health” about an hour outside of Dallas and arrange throwing sessions in the offseason.

“We’ve worked on stuff together, but last year throughout the year, they (Royals) were trying to make some mechanical changes for him, so we talked,” Coulombe said. “Me and (major league development coach) Grant Anders and a few of the other guys would talk about it, so they were very familiar with him. And they were like, ‘Hey, I think we’re going to go get your guy Heasley,’ and I said, ‘That’s a great choice.’ So, he texted me and said, ‘I got claimed,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I know.’

“Obviously, he’s a really good pitcher, so I’m glad we got him.”

“I’ve been fortunate to build a relation with him kind of through mutual friends the last couple offseasons,” said Heasley, who came to the Orioles in a December trade with Kansas City. “Definitely being able to have a familiar face coming in helped out a lot. I think he’s not too bad himself, so he definitely helped out with that. But obviously, baseball-wise, just some small things here and there he’s helped me out with a lot along the way.

“Just being around it a little bit, he’s got some pretty good knowledge and been through it. Being able to have another guy to bounce idea off and stuff like that, it’s been really helpful.”

John Means joined them for workouts at “Athlete Training and Health,” offering his own wisdom as a former All-Star and owner of a no-hitter.

Talking about it also allows Coulombe to sharpen that trademark sense of humor.

“It’s really good,” he said. “When you have really good pitchers around you, too, it’s like, ‘Hey, this is what I see.’ We help each other. It’s not just one person. We’re all helping each other. ‘Hey, this looks a little different.’

“We’ve helped him way more than he’s helped us. No, just kidding.”

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