Still battling to grasp Orioles' bullpen plans

SARASOTA, Fla. – Each morning brings a little reflection on the previous day’s events and whether we’ve gotten closer to figuring out the 26-man roster on Opening Day.

Each morning comes a full cup of coffee and that familiar empty feeling.

I thought we might be making some progress on DL Hall’s status. Specifically, whether he could begin the season in the bullpen rather than building up his innings in Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation.

“We could go a lot of different directions when the season breaks. You don’t want to close the door on anything with him,” said manager Brandon Hyde.

“We do think he’s still a rotation candidate. … But we could also put him in the ‘pen and be like a bulk-inning guy. There’s a lot of things we could do with him.”

So, boom, Hall could be a reliever on March 30 in Boston.

But when I brought up the dilemma for a club that doesn’t want to steer away from the development path in order to address a current need, Hyde responded, “We think he’s got a chance to be a really good starter in this league, and so, to limit him right now, you don’t want to do that. We’re not ready to do that yet.

“We want to see him as a starter candidate. Starters are at a premium in this league. … For DL, the best thing for him is to continue to get stretched out and see if he can be a starter.”

So, maybe yes and maybe no on the whole reliever thing.

At least the coffee is fresh.

Reliever Joey Krehbiel has worked through his brief camp crisis.

It’s been retired along with most of the hitters that he’s facing.

In Krehbiel’s first two appearances, he was charged with eight runs and eight hits in just 1 2/3 innings and reached his pitch count in Lakeland without registering the final out. But he began to resemble his first-half self with a spotless inning in Clearwater on March 9 that included two strikeouts, shut out the Red Sox for an inning on Sunday and retired both Toronto batters he faced Thursday after replacing starter Cole Irvin.

“Obviously, the start was not good with results, but I felt fairly comfortable the whole time,” he said. “But obviously feeling a little more comfortable now, getting into the swing of things.”

“I feel like it kind of happened last year, too, in spring training,” Hyde said. “Sometimes, some guys just take a little bit longer to kind of feel right on the mound, and Joey the last three times out has looked like himself.

“Good changeups (Thursday) night. That was kind of a short outing but wanted to see him get in there. Last three outings he’s pitched extremely well, so that’s been great to see.”

Krehbiel remains in the bullpen mix and Mike Baumann is joining him.

The Orioles want to use Baumann more as a one-inning power arm. They’ve tried to develop him as a starter but the process breaks down when he’s recalled and used in relief, then sent back down to rejoin the Triple-A rotation.

Only four of Baumann’s 17 major league appearances came as a starter. Allowing him to settle into one role, and with an anticipated increase in velocity and improved command, could ignite his career.  

“Sometimes, that happens with players,” Hyde said. “It’s not like the minor leagues where it’s scheduled outings. The big leagues is a little bit different. Sometimes, you plug holes or you want to see if a guy can make this work.

“We just felt like with where we are with our rotation, to be able to see what he can do in just a shorter outing out of the ‘pen, see if his stuff ticks up a little bit. Felt (Thursday) night it did.”

The question has been posed at the Birdland Caravan and in spring training. Would the Orioles consider a six-man rotation?

They certainly possess the numbers for it, but it isn’t a consideration. Hyde said yesterday that the Orioles are “more than likely” going with five starters.

“With the bullpen restrictions now, the challenge in optioning guys, as well as the off-days in April,” he said.

Point made.

Meanwhile, Bryan Baker can’t get back to being the reliever who didn’t allow a run in his last 11 appearances in 2022 and posted a 2.70 ERA and 1.100 WHIP after the All-Star break. Kyle Farmer homered off Baker yesterday, and the right-hander has surrendered nine runs and 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi didn’t arrive in camp on the same solid ground, but he’s been scored upon only once in six appearances, when the Phillies hit a pair of two-run homers in Clearwater. He retired the side in order yesterday in the sixth, getting Joey Gallo on a grounder and Max Kepler on a fly ball. The last of his 14 pitches was a 94.2 mph fastball.

He’s keeping it interesting. And helping to keep the bullpen an unsolved riddle.

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