Politi: "It was a great team to be picked by"

Andrew Politi didn’t want to think about the Rule 5 draft.

Being in San Diego, near the Winter Meetings, was merely a coincidence. A way to escape the cold back East. He decided to go on a hike with his girlfriend, Molly, for the exercise and the distraction. Fresh air and clear mind.

“Nothing crazy,” he said yesterday. “Just didn’t really want to sit there and watch it, because I know how unpredictable it is.”

The Tigers and Reds passed when their turns came, two teams believed to be interested in him. Politi stuffed his phone back in his pocket. He was done tracking the event. Just concentrate on his steps.

And then came the call from Eve Rosenbaum, the Orioles’ assistant general manager of baseball operations.

“That was the last team I thought, actually,” he said.

The Orioles selected Politi at No. 17. He was on their list of about seven candidates. Now, he gets a chance to be on their Opening Day roster.

“We’re thrilled to have him,” said Orioles director of pro scouting Mike Snyder. “He was our guy.”

Politi shared in the excitement, after the shock wore off.

“I was pumped,” he said. “It was a great team to be picked by. Yeah, I was pumped.”

Politi read some of the Rule 5 previews. He found his name mentioned after registering a 2.34 ERA and 0.966 WHIP in 50 games, 48 in relief, between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Worcester.

The statistics and upper-level experience at age 26 were attractive. He’s averaged 11.1 strikeouts in four minor league seasons, with a fastball that sits at 93-95 mph but can touch 97. Some scouts think he shows middle relief upside.

“I knew in the back of my head that there was a chance,” he said.

Mostly a reliever in 2018 and 2019, Politi made 15 starts among his 21 appearances with Portland in 2021 and took a giant step backward. He had the strikeouts, with 89 in 75 innings, but posted a 6.36 ERA and 15.33 WHIP.

“Double-A is pretty tough,” he said, “and kind of learning a new thing, I was just reinventing myself.”

A return to a bullpen role in the Arizona Fall League didn’t solve the problem, with Politi allowing eight earned runs in 12 1/3 innings.

If the production wasn’t going to change, Politi would need to do something different in the offseason. He began working with John DeRouin, the pitching coordinator at Hop’s Athletic Performance in Rhode Island who was hired by the Tigers last month as rehab pitching coordinator.

“We figured out how to get back to how I used to throw and get my pitch mix back and seeing where my pitches play,” Politi said. “It was a lot of data and analytics that went into it. Just trying to get back. And I felt back at home when I was a reliever again. Felt more natural.”

Pitching coach Chris Holt already has reached out to Politi. The right-hander won’t blindly enter the Orioles’ data-driven world.

“I like the way they use their analytics. It kind of fits the way I use it,” he said.

“It’s not going to be anything new to me. It’s something that I’ve taken time to learn and research and use it to improve my game.”

The results almost earned Politi a call-up in September. The Red Sox considered it.

“You hear some rumors. You hear that stuff and see what people are tweeting, but I kept my mind off it and just kept competing,” he said.

“I put up the numbers, I’ve had the stuff, and I think I was pretty close and I think I could have been there, and I honestly think that I should have been there, but a lot more goes into it than just the numbers and your on-field performance.

Politi was invited to spring training in 2021 but headed to the minor league side this year. He understood why.

“I don’t think they took as many guys as the year before, and it was just coming off a down year,” he said. “Big league camp is a good reward and you’ve got to earn it.

“I think it was kind of like a wake-up call. It’s like, ‘All right, I’ve got to get back to work.’ You’ve got to earn the big league camp, and struggling in 2021, I didn’t get the opportunity to go back.”

Politi is on the Orioles’ 40-man roster. He’s going to be in Sarasota, with a legitimate chance to work out of the bullpen on a team that’s set a goal of reaching the postseason.

“I think it’s just taking care of business and sticking with my routines. Just not letting the moment get too big at spring training and compete like I always do and just going out there and doing what I do,” he said.

“This is a great organization and I think it’s a nice change of scenery for me. I’m excited to get there and compete with the team. I watched a lot of their games toward the end when they were playing really good baseball, and they have a young and talented team. It’s going to be a good team to kind of jump in and try to compete for a spot with them.”

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