Teammates trust that Holliday can handle pressure

Gunnar Henderson and Jackson Holliday

BOSTON – The reporter approached Ryan Mountcastle’s locker yesterday, asked if he had a minute and explained that only one topic could be covered. The important one. You know it.

Mountcastle turned around, smiled and said, “Jackson Holliday.”

Of course. It wasn’t the best lobster rolls in New England.

Players learned about Holliday’s promotion late Tuesday night. They, too, have sources scattered throughout baseball.

“Somebody sent it to me over a text,” Mountcastle said. “Super excited for him and super excited for the team and fans to have him up. Hopefully, he does well. Super excited to have him here.”

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Heasley surrenders walk-off single in 11th inning in Orioles' wild 5-4 loss (updated)

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PITTSBURGH – Maybe it was the sunshine and dry conditions that flustered the Orioles. They couldn’t get Pirates starter Bailey Falter to live up to his name. They needed him to leave. Nothing good would happen until he was back inside the clubhouse.

The game still ended poorly, but at least there were flickers of hope. Too bad they'd get burned in extra innings.

Danny Coulombe escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the 10th, but the Orioles failed to score in the top of the 11th and Oneil Cruz singled off Jonathan Heasley to plate Henry Davis for a 5-4 walk-off win at PNC Park.

Cedric Mullins made a sensational diving catch to rob Ke'Bryan Hayes, but Cruz lined a first-pitch sweeper into right field and the Pirates stormed the field.

The Orioles went 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position. They scored on a ground ball, two fly balls and a fielder's choice. But they still had a chance.

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One year makes a big difference for Danny Coulombe

Danny Coulombe

The last day of camp.

Danny Coulombe won’t forget it. A visitor to his locker fumbles for the exact date, and Coulombe says evenly, “The last day of camp.” And then he smiles.

The reliever is talking about March 27, 2023, when the Twins traded him to the Orioles for cash considerations. They might have wanted to consider holding onto him, since they’d lose a couple left-handed relievers during the summer and since he’d craft the finest season of his major league career with a 2.81 ERA in 61 appearances and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

The guy with a low profile became high leverage.

Coulombe’s career carried him from 40-man roster exile to lock status in spring training 2024. Baseball can break your heart or build you back up.

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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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Mullins' motivation for 2024 and Coulombe's new deal with team

Cedric Mullins black jersey

Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins may well be a player driven and motivated this year by what happened last year.

And I don’t mean how the Orioles’ season ended against Texas. But how his season ended and went at times – he was on the injured list twice during the year. After missing nine games total in the 2021-22 seasons, he was limited to 116 games in ’23.

Mullins hit just .198 last September and then was 0-for-12 in the AL Division Series.

During Birdland Caravan, O’s first base and outfielders coach Anthony Sanders talked about Mullins late-season struggles. In the end was he just too banged up to play?

“We as a staff, we know the vibe of the players,” said Sanders. “We know the bumps and bruises they have. You have to trust in those guys that are professionals. Even though Ced’s bat didn’t probably show up, he still brought another element to the game that this team relies on. He’s a leader of this team and I would not have done it any different way.”

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How Coulombe and Webb intend to improve, Mullins itching to have healthy season

Danny Coulombe city connect jersey

Danny Coulombe and Jacob Webb, two Orioles relievers who project to make the Opening Day roster but with different odds, have slightly dissimilar approaches in the offseason to attacking their perceived weaknesses.

Both pitchers are doing less mechanical tweaking and more mental adjusting, but with goals that don’t exactly match up.

Coulombe appears to be a lock to break camp with the team as one of three or four left-handers in the bullpen. Cionel Pérez, DL Hall and Cole Irvin also are front and center in the discussion, with Bruce Zimmermann and Nick Vespi trying to crash the southpaw party.

An opening still exists in the rotation, which obviously could impact the bullpen’s composition. But it won’t touch Coulombe, who posted a 2.81 ERA and 1.110 WHIP in 61 appearances after the Orioles acquired him from the Twins toward the end of spring training.

“I was really happy with it,” he said at the Birdland Caravan. “I’m a perfectionist, so there’s things I know I can get better at, but I was really happy with the way it went. I really enjoyed the role and I’m excited to get it rolling again.”

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Sanders offers strong endorsement of Kjerstad's outfield defense, Wells and Irvin unsure of roles

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On the day that Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias selected Heston Kjerstad in the 2020 draft, he talked about the second-overall pick playing right field at Camden Yards. As if the position was just waiting for him.

The diagnosis of myocarditis and a hamstring injury prolonged the wait, but Kjerstad made his major league debut on Sept. 14 and was put on the American League Division Series roster. His power could make jaws drop. But would his defense keep him in the field?

Fly balls dropping wouldn’t work in any ballpark.

The Orioles are geared toward getting Kjerstad more comfortable in the corners. He made 37 starts at first base in the minors last year, but they don’t see his future in the infield. In an emergency, perhaps, but they want to develop him where they pictured him.

I’ve talked to scouts from outside the organization who believe that Kjerstad can be, at the least, an average defender with room to grow. Capable of getting better jumps, taking better routes and covering more ground.

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Cowser on 2023 in majors: "I choose to take it as a learning experience"

Colton Cowser gray

Aaron Hicks injured his left hamstring on July 24 in Philadelphia while racing in for a fly ball from Johan Rojas in the third inning. Colton Cowser replaced him in center field.

Cowser batted in the ninth inning and lined a tie-breaking double to left field off Phillies closer Craig Kimbrel that scored rookie Gunnar Henderson.

Henderson will be in the Orioles’ Opening Day lineup in March. Kimbrel will sit in the bullpen as the new closer. Cowser could be in the lineup, on the bench or at minor league camp.

“We’re going to have a really competitive spring,” Cowser said at the Birdland Caravan. “I know that we have a lot of really good outfielders on this team and a lot of guys who can play multiple positions, but I’m looking forward to competing and having a good time out at spring.”

Cowser needed more of those fantastic Philly finishes. He collected two more hits in 22 at-bats. The RBI was his fourth and last.

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Birdland Caravan notes with Means, Mountcastle, Cowser and more

John Means

On the first day of Birdland Caravan, where reporters got the chance to interview some players and coaches at the Warehouse, lefty John Means pronounced himself healthy and ready to take on a full season innings load in 2024.

Means returned from Tommy John surgery to get back on a big league mound on Sept. 12 and went 1-2 with a 2.66 ERA in four starts down the stretch. He pitched a huge game Sept. 23 at Cleveland allowing one hit and run over 7 1/3 innings. But he missed the AL Division Series when his surgically repaired left elbow became sore leading up to the series with Texas.

“It was just tight (then), and they looked at the MRI and they told me to take a break on it. Build up in the offseason and be ready to go. I feel really good, really good (now). Had a nice build up this offseason and should be ready to go.”

After throwing 45 1/3 innings in 2023 counting minor league rehab games, can he take on a full-season innings load this season?

“Yeah, I’m ready to go. I’ll be ready,” Means said.

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Hard name to spell, tough guy to hit

Danny Coulombe city connect jersey

When spring training 2023 began we didn’t know how big a factor he would be on the Orioles last season. Okay, that was because he wasn’t even on the team yet.

Later we struggled to pronounce his name and those of us that had to write it may have taken a while to spell it without looking it up. But lefty reliever Danny Coulombe (say it KOO-lohm) sure was big for the Baltimore bullpen. And without Félix Bautista, he figures to be very important to the 2024 ‘pen.

Coulombe is yet another Mike Elias acquisition added for a low price that produced big results. He was acquired via a trade on March 27 from Minnesota for cash considerations. Coulombe had been signed by the Twins to a minor league deal and had an opt-out. If the Twins were not ready to give him a roster spot, but another team was, he could use the opt out. That led to the cash considerations deal that got him to Baltimore.

Once he got there his impact was vast.

He went 5-3 with a 2.81 ERA. In 51 1/3 innings he posted a 1.110 WHIP with a 2.1 walk and 10.2 strikeout rate. He allowed a .231 batting average and .605 OPS and was good against both left and righty batters. His 5.7 walk percentage and 27.6 K percentage were both the second-best of his career.

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Three more Orioles surprises in 2023

Yennier Cano orange jersey

I rolled out three unexpected developments a few weeks ago relating to the Orioles’ 2023 season. Looking beyond the posting of the best record in the American League.

Austin Voth wasn’t impactful. Dillon Tate wasn’t able to pitch. Mike Baumann wasn’t big only in size.

Here are three more that come to mind.

Yennier Cano was an All-Star.

Cano staying on the 40-man roster over the winter qualified as surprising to me. It also illustrated why I’m not paid for my talent evaluating skills.

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Bullpen buckles after Bradish leaves game in Orioles' 2-1 loss (updated)

Kyle Bradish gray

HOUSTON – Kyle Bradish needed to be the stopper today on a team with a winning streak.

The right-hander and staff ace was tasked with halting the deluge of phone calls from the visiting dugout to the bullpen, to restore a sense of calm and resume his dominance of the Astros.

Bradish did what he could with six scoreless innings and nine strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 3.01 and raising his quality start total to 17, but what happens after he leaves?

Jacob Webb preserved a slim lead in the seventh, but Shintaro Fujinami issued a pair of walks in the eighth that set up Jeremy Peña for a game-tying double off Mike Baumann.

Manager Brandon Hyde turned to Danny Coulombe in the ninth and the game was over after three batters. A chance at a 10th series sweep was gone.

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Means holds Astros to one run, Mullins hits go-ahead homer in ninth for 8-7 win (updated)

Means holds Astros to one run, Mullins hits go-ahead homer in ninth for 8-7 win (updated)

HOUSTON – Orioles manager Brandon Hyde ran out of pitching. He also was running out of ideas.

His club regained the lead over the Astros tonight on Cedric Mullins’ three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning, and he had to get creative to avoid losing control of the situation. But typical of the 2023 Orioles, they figured it out.

They seem to thrive on weird.

Aaron Hicks came out of the game in the bottom half of the inning with a cramp, creating a chain reaction and some confusion in the Orioles’ 8-7 win before a stunned crowd of 34,456 at Minute Maid Park.

Cionel Pérez inherited the ninth and recorded two outs after Hyde surrendered his designated hitter by putting Heston Kjerstad in left field and moving Austin Hays to right. Ramón Urías entered at third base and committed a throwing error on a routine chopper by Yordan Álvarez.

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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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Orioles understand importance of division title

Danny Coulombe

BOSTON – Ryan O’Hearn wouldn’t get lured out of his baseball comfort zone. The dangling carrot was swatted like a pesky fly. Or a grooved fastball that wraps around the Pesky Pole.

Asked about the significance of the Orioles winning the division and leaving wild card aspirations in the dust, O’Hearn was willing to confirm that the American League East title is “very important.” But don’t press it.

“To me, the No. 1 goal is to make the playoffs, but you’re not going to get me to predict the future or get too far ahead of ourselves,” he said, smiling.

“We focus on every day, same thing we’ve been saying. One game at a time, trying to win a ballgame, and that’s it. If we do that, that’ll take us where we want to go.”

Trust the process, a slogan the Orioles can carry from rebuild to contender. It doesn’t get stale.

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O's pregame notes on facing lefty starters, Webb back in Anaheim and more

Jacob Webb throwing gray

Anaheim, Calif. - The Orioles will face three left-handed starters this series against the Angels, a rare occurrence. For tonight, it puts Ryan O'Hearn on the bench as Adley Rutschman rests.

O'Hearn is hitting .300 with an .830 OPS in 83 games. He has just 22 plate appearances this year against lefty pitching and is 5-for-20, but two of the five hits are homers.

"Well, it gives guys opportunities," manager Brandon Hyde said of his lineup against left-hander Kenny Rosenberg tonight. "But a lot of times in those games, too, those lefties come off the bench in big spots. So even though we are facing a lefty a lot of times O (O’Hearn) will hit, (Adam) Frazier will hit. I have Adley off the bench tonight, too.

"Best-case scenario is we can chase a starter early and get into their bullpen, which kind of sets us up for the series. We are going to face a lot of righties after this. At least two of three in Boston and at least two with St. Louis and probably four against Tampa."

Speaking of the Rays, they lost today 7-3 at home to the Red Sox. So the O's Amarican League East lead is three games at the moment and could be 3.5 games at the end of tonight.

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Orioles score eight runs in last two innings in 9-3 victory, match last year's win total (updated)

Santander White

Dean Kremer did his job. One sinker that hung in the middle of the plate was his only real sin. Easily forgivable under any circumstances, and especially if he had more than a modicum of offensive support.

Kremer worked into the seventh inning, registered his fourth quality start in a row, and waited to find out whether the Orioles would be stuck on one run.

Danny Coulombe replaced Kremer with two runners on base and no outs, and he stranded them. Little did he know that he’d become the pitcher of record. Or that the Orioles would torch the White Sox’s bullpen and turn a tie into a blowout.

Then again, comeback wins have become routine with this team. The 41st was approaching.

The first two Orioles were retired in the bottom of the seventh, a single and pair of walks loaded the bases, and Anthony Santander slapped a ground ball down the right field line to clear them in a 9-3 victory before an announced crowd of 14,903 at Camden Yards.

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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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Elias, Hyde and teammates talk about losing Bautista to elbow injury

felix bautista white

The Orioles held a team meeting this afternoon to discuss closer Félix Bautista. His loss to an elbow injury. How to proceed.

Also, the sensitive nature of it, with one of the team’s most popular players receiving painful news that resonated through a normally jovial clubhouse.

“It’s been a tough day up this point,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Félix has been such a massive part of our team, the best closer in the game. It’s been amazing to watch him do what he does. Last night sucked, that’s the bottom line, and we’re hoping for the best for him. I just feel for him. We’ve got to move forward, have guys step up, go from there.

“I was with him this afternoon a little bit. Obviously, very disappointed, upset, and rightfully so. It was hard to watch him get the news. I just feel for the guy. I love the guy so much that it’s hard to watch somebody in pain like that.”

Basically, the message delivered today before batting practice. Give them information rather than have them receive it from the outside.

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Orioles enjoying their youth and learning how to work with it

Santander and Henderson celebrate

Holding a division lead is one of the many challenges facing the Orioles as they get down to the final 35 games of the regular season.

Home field advantage is a major perk, but the Orioles entered camp just hoping to make the playoffs. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias never set the American League East title as a goal.

Clinch a wild card berth and see what happens.

The Orioles upped the ante by posting the best record in the league. But now there’s more to do.

Try staying in one piece.

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