Rodriguez, Lester, O'Hearn, Cordero and Westburg among Orioles' camp cuts (updated)

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles will begin the 2023 season without their two top pitching prospects on the Opening Day roster.

DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez have been optioned to minor league camp in the past two days – Hall to get stretched out as a starter and Rodriguez based on his spring struggles.

The news on Rodriguez came earlier today, with the right-hander sabotaged by one bad inning in each of his last three appearances. He allowed a combined 11 earned runs and 14 total with 14 hits over 10 2/3 innings in those three games.

“Any time you have those type of conversations, it's not easy,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I think that, like all of our guys, he handled it like a pro. And we'll move on from there."

Also today, the Orioles reassigned infielders Josh Lester, Ryan O’Hearn and Jordan Westburg, outfielder Daz Cameron, catcher Maverick Handley and pitcher Eduard Bazardo. First baseman/outfielder Franchy Cordero and outfielder Nomar Mazara exercised the opt-out clauses in their contracts and were granted their release.

The official camp roster is reduced to 31 players, but a source confirmed a Boston Globe report that Rule 5 reliever Andrew Politi has been designated for assignment. Politi was scored upon in only two of nine appearances, allowing two runs and three hits in two-thirds of an inning in his final outing against the Pirates. That opens another 40-man spot.

John Means, Dillon Tate and Mychal Givens are going on the injured list, and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said backup catcher James McCann is likely to join them. Catcher Anthony Bemboom must be added to the 40-man roster.

“Last day of camp, I think we’re thankful that, other than a couple injuries toward the end with McCann and Givens, we’ve been relatively healthy,” Elias said. “We had some very tough roster decisions and we still do leading into Opening Day. I anticipate that our entire Opening Day roster, particularly on the bench and in the bullpen, will not be settled until all of the activities around the league, until we get to Opening Day and know the entire context of our health situation and our roster situation.”

Elias said he’s hopeful that Givens’ absence won’t be too long. Givens didn’t pitch after March 16 due to left knee soreness and his simulated game yesterday lasted only 10 pitches.

“I don’t see a way to get him ready for the season now,” he said. “He’s doing fine, he’s doing better. He walked off the other day, but I don’t think it’s anything catastrophic. It just didn’t feel great and it’s put him behind in terms of getting ready. He’s going to be late to join the team. I don’t have a timetable yet but I’m hopeful that it’s possibly even a first half of April thing.”

McCann didn’t play for a week because of soreness in his left oblique, similar to his injury last year with the Mets but not as severe.

“Let me put it this way, we’re going to bring another catcher with us to Boston, and we’ll decide tomorrow, but it’s possible that James doesn’t get on the plane to Boston tomorrow, too,” Elias said.

“I think that’s likely an IL, and honestly, the necessity to add another catcher to the 40-man informed some of our moves today.”

Elias confirmed that Tyler Wells has won the last spot in the rotation. He joins Opening Day starter Kyle Gibson, Dean Kremer, Cole Irvin and Kyle Bradish.

Rodriguez registered a 7.04 ERA and 1.565 WHIP in five starts totaling 15 1/3 innings. He allowed 17 hits, walked seven batters and struck out 19.

The club wanted to bring him north, stating it publicly on multiple occasions, but his inconsistency raised concerns about his readiness.

“That was a big competition and certainly a difficult one,” Elias said. “It wasn’t the hope or the expectation that I had or I think anybody had coming in, but bottom line, we want to put ourselves in the best position to win these first five games and the games that come right after that. We’re trying to win every game that we can to start the season and we evaluated that those five pitchers – Gibson, Kremer, Irvin, Bradish and Wells – give us our best bet. And we don’t want to put Grayson Rodriguez in the bullpen, so our move was to then option him to the minor leagues, get him back on track.

“It was not a representative spring training for him and I anticipate that we will get him up ASAP and I look forward to doing so.”

Rodriguez would have made his long-awaited debut last June except for a Grade 2 lat strain that sidelined him for three months. The Orioles declined to promote him to their expanded roster, giving him some innings in the minors and letting him rest.

The stuff from Rodriguez drew rave reviews this spring. McCann said Rodriguez has a chance to be “very special.”

“He’s going to be a really good starter in this league for a long time,” McCann said in Fort Myers.

Everyone will have to wait a little longer for it.

The consensus is that Rodriguez has nothing left to prove at Triple-A Norfolk, but work can be done a level down to make the results match the stuff.

“He just didn’t really have a good start this spring and kind of didn’t get out of the fourth inning,” Elias said. “Even at the end that was the case, and it seemed like that second time through the order in that third inning was an issue. I thought he wasn’t able to establish his slider as well as we’ve seen him do in the past, command’s not as good as we’ve seen in the past, and these other guys stayed healthy and pitched better and they all have major league track records and they’ve earned these spots, too.

“Like I said, I think that coming down really to him and Wells for the final spot. These are starting pitchers and they’re good ones, and they’re parts of our organization now and in the future, and to take them and put them in the bullpen is not something that we want to do lightly. We’re going to need all of these starting pitchers to get through the season, and it’s just the start of the season. This isn’t anything permanent. I’ve never seen a team go through the entire year with the same five starting pitchers for the whole season, so we’re going to need more starters, we’re going to need Grayson, we’re going to need DL Hall, we’re going to need (Spenser) Watkins, we’re going to need (Bruce) Zimmermann, we’re going to need all these guys. They’re just starting the year off the roster but that can change in one day.”

Asked what the Orioles want Rodriguez to work on at Triple-A, Elias replied, “He needs to look like himself and get some longer outings.”

“This was not ready to jump into a major league rotation, not getting past the fourth inning," Elias said. "We know what he’s capable of. I wasn’t expecting this and we were hoping that he would show up as a better version of himself than I think we got here. We just had five other guys that were more deserving at this point in time. But we know what he’s capable of. I think he’s going to show it again really quickly. Soon as he does, we’re going to be all over it.”

It wasn’t just traditional stats that hurt Rodriguez. The Orioles examined data relating to his command and establishing pitches and getting through innings.

“I think with all of those things, we prefer the five other starters to start the season,” Elias said. “As I said, I do not want to relegate him to the bullpen role given the potential that he has and what we’re going to need from him in the near future and then also the long-term future. So, this was the right move for the team in my estimation. But had any one of those five not surpassed him, I think he’s the next guy in there. So, that’s pretty much the case right now.”

The Orioles didn’t want to piggyback Rodriguez with a bulk reliever. They discussed it and declined.

“These guys aren’t hugely built out as it is, the ones that we are breaking camp with,” Elias said. “April tends to be a little bit strenuous on a bullpen because of that to begin with, and so if you’re going six-man rotation or you’re going piggyback, that’s one fewer true bullpen spot. I also find that piggybacks are really hard to execute at the major league level when you’re trying to win.

“These games are important. Boston’s in our division, Texas we expect may be a wild card foe if we’re in the wild card race and they’re in the wild card race, so we want to manage the games to win and not have piggybacks set up for these first five games. Nor a six-man. We don’t have the bullpen for that right now.”

Elias shot down the suggestion that service time factored into Rodriguez being optioned.

"I really get frustrated with that topic, too," he said. "We had five starting pitchers here, with all of them established major league success as starting pitchers. They had good camps, better camps than these guys, and it really wasn't tough to decide on that last rotation spot through the lens of who do we want to help us win these games, and at least the first five games of the season. We'll take it from there after those games. And once you get past that, OK, do we want to put these guys in the bullpen? And the answer is 'no,' so we option them.

"Adley (Rutschman) got hurt last year, that was unfortunate. As soon as he was healthy, we brought him up. Gunnar Henderson, we brought him up. He's obviously making the team. When guys are ready and the job is theirs and there's not better options, we bring them up to the major league team. We're going to continue to do that. This group's working their butts off. We're getting better and there's lots of competition. To send some of these guys out is very difficult, but it would also be wrong of us to send out somebody more accomplished, had a better spring, has earned it, is looking sharper, because somebody was a high pick or something a couple years ago. We're out of that mode and we're going to go with the best guys and put ourselves in the best position to win these games."

The Baltimore Banner first reported that Rodriguez didn’t make the club.

O’Hearn homered in the ninth inning today in an 8-2 loss to the Cardinals, but the Orioles aren’t keeping any of the three finalists for backup first baseman.

“Impressed by all of them,” Elias said. “We, both internally and externally, had a lot of competition for a couple of bench spots and first base and also corner outfield, left-handed hitters to go with (Ryan) Mountcastle, to go with our outfielder a little bit and help DH, and they all showed up and they all played well and they all put up numbers, and that includes Terrin Vavra and Kyle Stowers, and includes Franchy and Lester and O’Hearn. And Mazara had a decent camp, too.

“With some of the other things that we’re having to do with our 40-man, we’re unlikely to be adding rights there, but I think there’s a possibility there. Franchy’s got some rights in his contract to look around, but we’d love to get him back. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of days. And I expect that we will see many, if not all of those guys, play for the Orioles at some point during the season. That’s the plan and that’s why we built so much depth.”

Vavra, Stowers and outfielder Ryan McKenna remain in camp and will be at Fenway Park on Thursday, as long as a late move isn’t made that impacts the roster.

“If they haven’t been optioned, I think that’s somewhat instructive right now,” Elias said. “But look, it’s Monday, we don’t set the rosters until Thursday. There’s the entire league with opt-outs and putting guys on waivers and all kinds of crazy stuff. I just wait to speak to things when it’s time to speak to things in this business because stuff can happen.”

Westburg, the organization’s reigning Minor League Player of the Year, stayed with the Orioles until the end in case of an injury to a position player. He batted .306/.368/.510 in 22 games.

“He’s really close,” Elias said. “He’s had 400 plate appearances in Triple-A, he’s had this really good spring training now under his belt. He continues to open eyes. When we’ve viewed our big-time prospects to be ready  - Adley, Gunnar - we bring them up, and so far they’ve done pretty well, and a big part of it is because I feel like we know what we’re doing with these promotions. We want guys of this caliber to come up and stay up.

“I don’t like sending guys up and back. We’ve had to do it with DL Hall just because of some circumstances with his health and his innings and all that stuff. But I want these guys to come up and stay, and I expect that’s going to be the case for Westburg, I expect that it’s going to be soon, and I expect he’s going to do really well. But I feel like we have a systematic way of assessing when these guys are ready to come up and impact the team and be there to stay. We’ll let the track record kind of speak to that.”

Elias thought this was the best Hall has looked since being in major league camps. The velocity was down a bit but he threw strikes, had good tempo and exhibited the “pitchability” that the Orioles saw in the past.

“He’s in a really good spot,” Elias said. “He’s just no where near built out. He missed the first three weeks, he only threw like three innings officially or something. We need to get him stretched out. I do not want to make him a reliever right now. He’s too good. We want to build him back up as a starting pitcher. And look, if we’re in a position where the five guys that we have now are throwing now and Grayson’s throwing well and DL’s throwing well and others in that group are throwing well, we’ll be very happy to sort that problem out, but this is baseball. We’re expecting some injuries and some ups and downs. Going to be a long year.”

Stretching out Hall in the 'pen wasn't viewed as a viable option.

"When you're trying to win right out of the gate and we're facing Boston and Texas right out of the gates, we maybe have some starters who aren't going to be able to get into the seventh or eighth too easily," Elias said. "The games are unpredictable, so to throw a guy in the bullpen and just be able to say with certainty that you're going to be able to throw him three innings and then four innings and then have the appropriate rest, it affects the whole rest of the bullpen, it's very unlikely that that's going to go to plan. You also have rainouts. So, the most important thing for him is to get built up as quickly and safely and assuredly as possible.

"He came up last year, had some moments, did well. Numerically he had some struggles. He just didn't beat these other five guys, nor was he built out for it. We like what he offers for the future and we're going to go work on that right now. But he's going to be part of this team this year, he's going to be up, and I think he's going to help us win."

The camp roster still includes relievers Joey Krehbiel, Mike Baumann and Logan Gillaspie. But left-hander Danny Coulombe, 33, has been acquired by the Orioles per The Athletic and SKOR North Radio.

Elias didn’t confirm the move.

“I can’t kind of comment on things prematurely publicly in my position. We are looking at the waiver wire, but the out-clause market, too, and that’s part of the uncertainty that carries into the next few days going into Thursday.”

Coulombe allowed two earned runs with nine walks and nine strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings with the Twins last season and has a career 3.92 ERA and 1.313 WHIP in 194 major league games. He’s also pitched for the Athletics and Dodgers.

Update: The Orioles announced the trade tonight, saying they acquired Coulombe for cash considerations. He hasn't reported to camp.

In today’s game, Dean Kremer allowed five runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. Jacob Buchberger launched a three-run homer with two outs in the fifth and Baumann came out of the bullpen.

The first two batters reached against Kremer in the first inning and Paul Goldschmidt had a sacrifice fly. Nolan Gorman homered with two outs in the fourth inning.

Kremer has allowed seven home runs this spring, six of them solo.

“I thought he was really good until the last couple hitters, he got tired,” Hyde said. “We wanted to stretch him out as far as we possibly could. … I thought he had really good stuff. One cutter mistake for the homer, but good life to his fastball today.”

Baumann tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up one hit.

Félix Bautista went 1-2-3 with two strikeouts in the seventh in his fifth scoreless appearance. He struck out 10 batters in 4 2/3 innings.

Chandler Redmond hit a three-run homer off Nolan Hoffman in the ninth.

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