Bullpen is obvious target for Orioles in trade talks and waiver wire

Chayce McDermott 2024 photo day

Let’s state the obvious, get it out of the way and refuse to treat it as fresh news. Think of it as Chinese takeout in the back of the fridge.

Just don’t bother sniffing it first.

The Orioles are trying to find another reliever, making it clear to other teams that they remain in the market. I say “remain” because they’ve been open to fortifying the bullpen pretty much since the first day of spring training.

Losing closer Félix Bautista to Tommy John surgery led them to veteran Craig Kimbrel, who recorded his 16th save Wednesday and hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last 12 appearances. That didn’t alleviate all of the concerns.

They’d like to strengthen the setup portion of the ‘pen, and closing experience would be ideal. Whether they’d express a preference for a left-hander probably depends on the severity of Danny Coulombe’s elbow injury. Anyone who can get outs.

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Going back to Orioles' bullpen and Akin's recent struggles

Adley Rutschman and Keegan Akin

The Orioles kept their bullpen intact through the off-day that leads into tonight’s series opener against the Rays and begins a stretch of 29 games in 30 days.

They didn’t option anyone. They didn’t make a trade or a waiver claim.

But the day is still young.

The Orioles keep shuffling relievers. They acquired Thyago Vieira from the Brewers Saturday and optioned left-hander Nick Vespi two days later. Jonathan Heasley was recalled May 23 and optioned the next day to make room for Dillon Tate.

Mike Baumann was designated for assignment on May 18 and later traded to the Mariners for Triple-A catcher Blake Hunt.

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On Martinez's bullpen usage and Finnegan's availability


BOSTON – Davey Martinez managed his bullpen to perfection in last night’s 5-1 win over the Red Sox.

In a 3-1 game at the seventh-inning stretch and facing the Nos. 2-4 hitters in Boston’s lineup, the Nationals manager made the decision to go with Hunter Harvey in that moment instead of saving him for his usual spot in the eighth.

Harvey issued a leadoff walk to Rob Refsnyder, but quickly erased the baserunner with a double play ball from Tyler O’Neill. Then he got Rafael Devers, perhaps the Red Sox’s most feared hitter, to strike out on a curveball in the dirt.

That left Dylan Floro for the eighth to potentially pass the ball to closer Kyle Finnegan in the ninth. Floro retired the side in short order with three groundouts on 10 pitches.

“It's nice to have some veteran guys that understand how to pitch in high-leverage situations, especially in the back end of the bullpen,” Martinez said before Saturday’s game at Fenway Park. “Dylan fits that mold. Jacob (Barnes) fits that mold as well. But it was nice to know that, hey, the top of their lineup is tough. We could use Harvey in that moment. And then I like Floro in the middle to the bottom of that lineup. So we did it that way yesterday. Floro has been throwing the ball really well. We talked a lot about how he missed some spring training. But now he's got his feet underneath him, he's throwing the ball well.”

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Martinez on decision to DFA Barnes, stick with Rainey

rainey and adams

The Nationals made an expected roster move in the bullpen this morning, returning left-hander Robert Garcia from his rehab assignment and reinstating him from the injured list after a bout with influenza.

Garcia, 27, returns after missing 14 games. In one rehab appearance with Single-A Fredericksburg over the weekend, he struck out four without allowing a baserunner in two innings. Before landing on the IL, Garcia was tied for ninth among National League relievers with 13 strikeouts, achieving that mark in just 8 ⅓ innings. He also stranded all five runners he inherited this season.

He has been the only left-handed reliever manager Davey Martinez has used this season, having allowed just three extra base hits to lefty hitters in 68 career plate appearances.

The surprising part of the move was the decision to designate Matt Barnes for assignment to clear a spot on both the active and 40-man rosters.

“We needed to get Robert back. It was tough, but we definitely need a lefty,” Martinez said ahead of the Beltway Series opener against the Orioles. “I'd like to have more than one, but one right now will be good enough. But it was a tough call. Matty was such a professional. He's done it for a long time now. His velo just wasn't coming back like we thought it would. So we had to make a tough decision. I wished him all the best. We'll see where he ends up.”

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Coulombe on Webb's save: "It fired me up"

Jacob Webb

A lot can change in a span of a few days for bullpen pitchers. It has for the Orioles bullpen.

Heading into the Yankees series, the O’s ‘pen was coming off a weekend with two blown leads in the ninth. And that ‘pen had been scored on in 13 of the previous 16 games, pitching to an ERA of 5.37 in that span.

Then Cionel Pérez, Yennier Cano and Danny Coulombe combined for 3 1/3 scoreless to close out Monday’s 2-0 win over New York. And Keegan Akin and Jacob Webb combined for two scoreless in last night’s 4-2 victory.

Webb got his first save with the Orioles, getting four outs, three via a strikeout, on three different pitches Tuesday night.

He ended the eighth fanning Aaron Judge on a changeup and began the ninth with strikeouts of Giancarlo Stanton on a sweeper and of Anthony Rizzo looking at a 95 mph fastball. He got a groundout to end the game.

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A longer look at Orioles' bullpen usage and construction

Dillion Tate

The media tends to play its own games during its baseball coverage, and Wednesday afternoon at Camden Yards provided the latest opportunity. A darn good one, too.

Money doesn’t exchange hands. It’s more about wondering, debating and disagreeing. Tossing around ideas like a backyard catch.

How many innings would Albert Suárez work in his first major league appearance in seven years and first start in eight? And, really important here, who’s the long reliever if he’s knocked out early?

The last one didn’t come into play. Suárez tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings – yeah, I wanted to see him complete the sixth – and manager Brandon Hyde didn’t have to worry about extensive coverage.

(Except from the media, of course.)

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Camp long shot Andrew Suarez made a nice first impression

andrew suarez photo day

SARASOTA, Fla. – If you call non-roster invite pitcher Andrew Suarez a long shot to make the Orioles roster, the left-hander completely understands that. And probably agrees with you.

He can also glance at the roster of a team that won 101 games last season and realize his chances to be on it for Opening Day are indeed, well, long.

But he has made a nice first and for that matter, second impression, throwing two scoreless innings twice already. So he has four scoreless allowing just one hit so far in spring games, both against Atlanta.

Suarez is no kid.

He’s 31 and was drafted three times, finally signing with the San Francisco Giants after being taken in the second round in 2015. By 2018, he was a regular starting pitcher in the Giants rotation, making 29 starts with an ERA of 4.49. But he hasn’t had as many chances or found as much success in the majors since.

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A take on how the bullpen could look for the opener

Bruce Zimmermann black jersey

It’s still very early in spring training but never too early to take a shot at guesses – and that is what they truly are, guesses – at the makeup of the Opening Day roster.

Today I will take a shot at projecting an eight-man bullpen that would work behind a starting group of five pitching in some order to include Corbin Burnes, Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer, Cole Irvin and Tyler Wells beginning March 28.

At the back-end closing games is righty Craig Kimbrel, who will have that job for the opener barring a big surprise or an injury issue.

The Orioles, minus Félix Bautista for this season after his surgery, will be turning over the job to a very experienced pitcher who is a nine-time All Star that ranks eighth all-time with 417 saves.

He led the NL in saves four straight years from 2011-2014 and has 11 seasons of 20 or more saves.

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Burnes' impact on Orioles bullpen and other camp competitions

Tyler Wells orange jersey

I’ve written about the end of a traditional spring training storyline, the blame falling upon the broad shoulders of James McCann. Only an injury can spark a debate over the identity of the backup catcher.

It’s happening again with the Opening Day starter.

The Orioles didn’t trade for Corbin Burnes to put him behind someone else in the rotation. The announcement is a formality. Manager Brandon Hyde will be asked about it multiple times in camp, probably in a joking manner. Or for planning purposes, allowing beat writers to launch their stories.

Kyle Gibson wasn’t the immediate choice last winter, but he morphed into the favorite in Sarasota based on his experience, impressive results and the lack of an obvious alternative. If not him, whom?

John Means was handed the ball in back-to-back seasons, after losing the assignment to Tommy Milone in 2020 – yes, Tommy Milone – due to a “tired arm.”

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Nats want to bridge gap between "A" and "B" bullpens

Kyle Finnegan white jersey

The high point of the 2023 season for the Nationals undoubtedly came in August. Specifically, a 22-game stretch from Aug. 2-26 that saw the team go 16-6 and start catching the attention of the rest of the league, which had all but ignored this organization the entire season to that point.

The remarkable thing about that stretch? The Nats didn’t dominate the opposition. The combined score of those games was 106-104. They just found a way to win the late innings, whether rallying to score the go-ahead run or preventing the other team from doing so. The result: They went 8-1 in one-run games during that period.

It requires outstanding bullpen work to do that, and the Nationals got outstanding work from four relievers in particular who were trusted by manager Davey Martinez to pitch the final innings of close games: Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Harvey, Jordan Weems and Andres Machado.

Collectively, those four guys made 43 appearances in those 22 games, totaling 40 2/3 innings. They delivered a 1.55 ERA, 1.057 WHIP and 10 saves (nine from Finnegan, one from Harvey).

The Nationals won all 13 games Finnegan pitched. They won 11-of-12 games Weems pitched and 6-of-7 games Harvey pitched after returning from the injured list mid-month.

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A look at the potential for O's bullpen after Kimbrel addition

Craig Kimbrel

The addition last week of right-hander Craig Kimbrel as Orioles closer certainly could be big for the Birds, who will play the 2024 season without All-Star closer Felix Bautista.

In fact, we could come up with a potential Opening Day O’s eight-man bullpen right now that features four lefties and four right-handers and looks quite strong on paper. And it does not even include Mike Baumann, Jacob Webb or Bryan Baker.

You start with Kimbrel at the back-end, pitching the ninth and looking to add to a resume that includes nine All-Star games and 417 career saves – eighth-most in MLB history.

Some of the criticism of this move is a bit surprising.

For one, he pitched so well last year after early May and yes, we know he had a couple of rough games in the NL Championship Series. But it doesn’t wash away all that happened before that, and he helped get them there.

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Rotation depth could push some real talent to O's bullpen in 2024

Tyler wells

There are a lot of questions to be answered for the Orioles between now and Opening Day 2024 on March 28 versus the Los Angeles Angels.

The makeup of the pitching staff and starting rotation is a big one.

If the Orioles add a starter who could slot into the top half of their rotation – something they have said they seek – it will be getting pretty crowded in that starting five.

There are already the quartet of Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, John Means and Dean Kremer who could easily take four of the five slots. A new addition could grab the last spot.

So where does that leave everybody else, including lefty DL Hall, once one of baseball’s top pitching prospects and right-hander Tyler Wells, a pitcher who had a 3.18 ERA as a starter at the 2023 All-Star break? And a pitcher who on the last day of the first-half led MLB in WHIP at 0.90.

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Bigger winter priority: Starting rotation or bullpen?

DL Hall black jersey

The question of do the Orioles more need a starting pitcher or a reliever may well be asked but isn’t the answer probably “both.” And can’t they get both?

Not only can they, they probably will. They surely can multi-task and it’s very unlikely that any one addition will keep them from making another. Even in the same spot on the roster, that spot being the pitching staff.

What is their biggest need is subjective to all of us pondering the question and whatever we come up with may or may not match the team’s thinking and that is the one that counts the most.

And unless they make a major expenditure here and sign someone to a larger than expected contract, adding someone as a starter or reliever is not likely to impact the addition of the other.

When it comes to the market, how that plays out may also determine in what order the Orioles proceed here. It takes two to tango and sometimes players and their agents want to wait to see others sign before as they say, “setting the market.”

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Even without Bautista, O's look to 'pen in close games with Tampa Bay

Danny Coulombe

In the first nine games this year between the Orioles and Tampa Bay, the Orioles went 6-3 and they were 6-0 in games decided by two runs or less. 

But in the series opener last night in Baltimore, Tampa Bay won a close one by 4-3 on Luke Raley's tiebreaking homer in the seventh. The Rays bullpen put up four perfect innings to protect that lead. The Rays 'pen has thrown 34 straight innings without allowing an earned run.

Tonight, the Orioles hope their 'pen gets a chance to protect a late lead.

Then we will find out - Can the Orioles win close games against Tampa Bay without closer Félix Bautista?

It is really a question they are going to have answer the rest of the way and a big question for October playoff baseball.

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Coulombe's strong season continues as 'pen tries to overcome Bautista's injury

Coulombe and McCann celebrate

As they continue to navigate life in the Orioles bullpen for now without closer Félix Bautista, the Orioles relievers are going to do their best to overcome this loss. But they know this pitcher can’t be easily replaced – if at all.

“I think it’s going to give some guys an opportunity to step up,” said bullpen lefty Danny Coulombe in an interview last night on the Orioles Radio Network. “Obviously you cannot replace him, but we are going to have to step up and move on. We’re going to have to.

“Not only is Bautista a great pitcher, but a great guy too. We love him in the clubhouse. Hard to lose a guy with the year he was having. He is my vote for Cy Young – at least in the top five.”

But maybe the bullpen is better positioned now to withstand this injury than it would have been earlier in the season. Coulombe has returned from the injured list. DL Hall has arrived. Yennier Cano recently threw 11 straight scoreless appearances. Jacob Webb has an ERA of 1.86 as an Oriole. Cionel Pérez has not allowed an earned run his last 12 outings. Shintaro Fujinami has thrown four straight scoreless games.

“Yeah, absolutely,” said Coulombe of the ‘pen’s recent performance. “We’re going to do the best we can and just take it pitch-by-pitch and day-by-day and hopefully keep having success.”

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A few more thoughts on Wells reliving his reliever days

Tyler Wells vs. TB

The Orioles are a long way from setting their pitching staff for the postseason. As manager Brandon Hyde reminds us, he’s just trying to get through each game and hope that no one else is injured.

He won’t count his playoff chickens before clinching is official and the team can hatch a plan.

However, some light was shed yesterday on its bullpen strategy.

Tyler Wells is going back to his former relief role at Triple-A Norfolk beginning tonight, with the Orioles shortening his appearances to freshen an arm that can be used as a weapon. The decision made after he posted a 3.18 ERA and 0.927 WHIP, for a time the lowest in the majors, during a first half that created some chatter about his candidacy for the All-Star team.

Three starts after the break rattled his season.

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Martinez managing bullpen on daily basis to win games

martinez blue

Davey Martinez always lives in the present. He has the mantras to prove it.

Go 1-0 today. Be where your feet are. One pitch, one at-bat, one inning, one game at a time.

And even as the Nationals organization builds toward a bigger picture of success in the future, that’s how the skipper has managed his team to an already higher win total than last year.

That’s how he used his strong, yet exhausted bullpen in last night’s 8-7 win over the Phillies. After the Nats rallied to take a 7-6 lead in the fourth, Martinez used six relievers to close out the last five innings en route to victory. That included his top bullpen guys Jordan Weems, Andrés Machado, Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan, who was pitching for the third straight day.

“Losing's not fun. I don't like losing,” Martinez said during his pregame media session. “So when you feel like you have an opportunity to really win a game, then you take that opportunity. Yesterday was one of those games where we knocked the starter out and we got into the bullpen. I felt like some of our guys were still fresh enough to be able to pitch yesterday. So we went for it and it worked out well. Today might be a different story, but we'll see. We'll play today, Jake Irvin's gonna start for us. I hope he gives us what he's been giving us. And if he does that, then we have another opportunity to go 1-0 today.”

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Reliving the relief situation in Baltimore

Cionel Perez

Austin Voth’s injury rehab assignment moved to Triple-A Norfolk yesterday, his third affiliate on the road to a return from elbow soreness that’s plagued him at various times since spring training.

Updates on three other relievers – Mychal Givens, Dillon Tate and Keegan Akin – have been scarce at best. But Voth could be close to reinstatement unless the Orioles choose to use the entire 30 days.

Or if they put heavy emphasis on results.

Voth lasted two-thirds of an inning and was charged with two earned runs and three total, with three hits, a walk and two strikeouts. He threw 33 pitches, 21 for strikes.

He’s lurking either way, a pitcher who’s out of minor league options and capable of providing length out of the bullpen when healthy.

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Bautista on bouncing back from blown save

Felix Bautista

The same whistle played and the same video appeared with the flashing ballpark lights. The crowd roared as usual, quick to forgive the previous day’s blown save.

Félix Bautista wanted the ball again Sunday afternoon. He understands the life of a reliever, and how failings are magnified in the ninth.

The memory of the two-out, game-tying home run that he surrendered to Mike Ford disappeared like his first-pitch four-seamer. Bautista recorded back-to-back strikeouts, allowed a single and blew away another hitter to preserve a 3-2 lead.

The tying run stood on second base after a steal. Bautista’s first pitch to Teoscar Hernández was clocked at 103.4 mph, the fastest by an Oriole in the Statcast era that began in 2015.

How did we live without it?

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Off to good start, O's offense scores well in a few surprising areas of stat sheet

Anthony Ssantander

As the Orioles offense has gotten off to a productive start to this season – and they rank among the AL leaders in several categories, including very important ones like runs per game, team OBP and OPS, walks and pitches per plate appearance – there are a few stats where they are at or near the top of the league that might be surprising.

As of Monday, the Orioles lead the American League with 13 sac flies which is two more than the next closest team, Cleveland with 11 with the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers next with 10. Anthony Santander is the O’s leader with three sac flies while Jorge Mateo, Ryan Mountcastle and Adley Rutschman have two each.

Sometimes it is important to get that run in with less than two outs from third. Heck, when is it not? Sunday at Detroit – in a game the O’s would win 5-3 – Mountcastle led off the fifth with a double and then Kyle Stowers moved him up a base by hitting the ball on the right side for a groundout. Austin Hays' fly ball to right got him in. Beautiful - get him on, get him over, get him in.

This was an area where the Orioles were not always proficient. Last year they did okay, ranking seventh in the AL with 43 sac flies. They would have 75 this year producing them at their current pace.

The Orioles are also tied for the AL lead to this point with Oakland with six sac bunts. They ranked seventh in the league in 2022 with 12 all year. Mateo, Cedric Mullins and Terrin Vavra have two each. Those that believe “never bunt” will not like this stat but there are times advancing a runner seems pretty important.

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