Dillon Tate made it back on a mound last night beyond the tedious bullpen sessions and simulated action. He was allowed to face hitters on an opposing team in a game that counted, beginning his injury rehab assignment with High-A Aberdeen and allowing one run and two hits with two strikeouts in the fifth inning.
The Orioles will give Tate four or five more appearances, having him pitch on back-to-back days, and decide whether he can be activated from the injured list.
That’s the easy part.
Making room for Tate and Mychal Givens, who is supposed to begin his own rehab assignment later this week, might become a hassle.
Other teams won’t feel sorry for them, but the bullpen’s ERA dropped to 2.88 last night, the third lowest in the majors. Manager Brandon Hyde is pushing many of the right buttons based on the results, and it’s easier to do when guys are getting outs and the rotation isn’t forcing early appearances and excess baton passing.
An exception was Kyle Bradish’s 2 1/3 innings last night, but three relievers combined to allow one run in 6 2/3.
“We have way more stuff than we did my first year and first couple years,” Hyde said yesterday. “The more weapons you have out of the ‘pen and the more different arm angles that you can give to the opposing team to match up, it makes it difficult on them. And we see that with the bullpens against us. It’s very, very hard to score.
“Our guys have just been really, really aggressive throwing strikes. We had so many problems throwing strikes my first few years here, and pitching behind in the count. The results were what they were, and it was hard. We’re throwing strikes now, working ahead in the count. We have good stuff that we want to play on the white part of the plate. I think the philosophy the last couple years has been really good.”
So, who’s getting bumped for Tate and Givens?
Yennier Cano was supposed to be temporary after replacing Keegan Akin, who went on the paternity list April 14, but he’s retired all 20 batters that he’s faced with nine strikeouts in seven innings.
Dean Kremer called him “incredible” Monday night and said the right-hander’s stuff is “unbelievable.” Austin Hays said the bullpen is “electric” and the stuff is “phenomenal.”
To put it simply, Cano currently is a keeper. But his status can be reassessed in a few weeks. The wind can change directions fast around here.
“It was never about stuff with him. It was always about command,” Hyde said. “Right now, he’s feeling really confident on the mound and he’s trusting his sinker and he’s trusting his changeup and he’s got a nice slider, and he’s proving to himself that his stuff really plays up here.”
We know that Félix Bautista and Bryan Baker aren’t going anywhere if they stay healthy. Baker surrendered three runs on Opening Day and nothing in his next 11 appearances. He isn’t moonwalking to Triple-A Norfolk.
Left-hander Cionel Pérez has allowed five runs and 18 hits with six walks in 9 2/3 innings, and a 2.654 WHIP going into last night was a heavy burden, but he posted a 1.40 ERA and 1.162 WHIP last season in 66 games and he’s out of minor league options. The Orioles aren’t just tossing him on the waiver wire and waving goodbye.
Pérez tossed a scoreless ninth last night with one walk.
One of the reasons why Pérez’s slow start isn’t a huge issue is the presence of left-hander Danny Coulombe, acquired from the Twins for cash considerations at the end of camp. He’s also a high-leverage reliever, with one run and three hits allowed and 12 strikeouts in nine innings. He’s appeared in 10 games. And he’s also out of options, though there’s no reason to use one if it existed.
Mike Baumann is thriving in his new role, allowing one run and striking out 13 batters in 14 innings over his 10 appearances. Can’t justify sending him down if this continues.
That leaves Keegan Akin and Austin Voth, who are equipped to provide length. Tate and Givens are used in shorter spurts. And Akin is a third left-hander in an eight-man ‘pen.
Voth surrendered a home run in each of his first five appearances but had back-to-back scoreless outings before allowing one run last night over three innings – retiring the first seven batters. He was a huge find on the waiver wire last season, registering a 3.04 ERA in 22 games, including 17 starts. He’s making $1.85 million and is out of options.
I’ll break out the cliché that these things have a way of working themselves out, and Tate and Givens aren’t leaving the injured list this week.
“So many things can happen on a nightly basis that I just don’t even … I’m looking forward to them coming back but the moves we’re going to make or how we’re going to look in our bullpen at that time, I’m hoping they just get through these rehab appearances healthy and they feel good and they’re ready to go. And then we’ll figure it out when they get here,” Hyde said.
“It’s a ways away.”
Makes sense for Hyde and the Orioles to just enjoy the ride and cross that bridge when they get to it.
“Our bullpen was really good last year, off to a good start this year,” Hyde said. “We struggled on the mound a little bit the first week of the season but settled in nicely.
“Our starters numbers are ridiculously good, and our bullpen has been lights out, and so that’s going to give you a chance to win on most nights.”
Hyde didn’t know what to expect from his collection of relievers last season, which included Joey Krehbiel, who’s in Triple-A this month. Set roles would have been a luxury. It isn’t a whole lot different in 2023.
“That developed over the course of the season,” Hyde said. “When they pitch well, it becomes a little easier for you. And similar this year. We had a lot of guys coming back, but some new guys, as well, and see how they were going to fit in. Waiting on Tate and Givens, other guys needed to step up and were getting opportunities. We’ve done a nice job so far.”