Tate: "I still don’t feel like I’m established yet"

Dillon Tate can be pleased with his 2022 season. He probably should be ecstatic.

How he led the Orioles in appearances with 67 and also established a career high in innings. How he posted the lowest ERA and walk average in his four years in the majors. How he became a trusted late-inning reliever on a contending team with 16 holds and five saves as a substitute closer.

Pleased, ecstatic … but not satisfied.

I wasn’t expecting Tate to treat the summer in such a casual way when I sought his personal reflections before Wednesday’s doubleheader. But he isn’t ready to relax. He can’t do it and go against his competitive nature.

He must stay true to it.

“I’m proud of what I’ve done this year. I still don’t feel like I’m established yet,” he said.

“This is really my first go-round in this situation, where I’ve been in consistent high-leverage innings. I don’t think you can really go off one sample size. I think the story is still being written, so my thought is to continue to keep refining what I have and figuring out ways that I can improve and get to a position where I’m constantly in those positions of high leverage.”

It feels like he already got there, but Tate’s viewpoint is the only one that matters.

“I would like four, five, six years of high-leverage situations if I can,” he said. “So, I’m happy about how this year went. I just need to keep putting the work in.”

Tate’s ERA was down to 2.66 before twice being charged with two runs over his last three appearances, including Game 2 of the doubleheader, when he walked the bases loaded with two outs in the eighth and Beau Sulser let two inherited runners score. The final ERA of 3.05 was its highest since April 21, which illustrates just how good he was and how hard it is to pitch into October.

Tate surrendered an earned run only twice in span of 18 outings from April 23-June 10. He later strung together nine scoreless appearances in a row from July 10-Aug. 2.

J.D. Martinez’s two-run homer on Sept. 29 at Fenway Park was only the sixth allowed by Tate this season in 73 2/3 innings. Tate hadn’t walked multiple batters since July 16.

The right-hander’s 2.0 walks per nine innings decreased from 3.1 in 67 2/3 innings in 2021. His WHIP dropped from 1.241 to 0.991.

Heading into the final day, Tate had thrown 721 of 1,055 pitches for strikes to register the sixth-best percentage (68.3) among major league relievers with a minimum of 1,000. His sinker had a minus-21 run value to tie for eighth-best for any single pitch in the majors in a minimum of 50 plate appearances, according to Statcast.

Tate is the Orioles’ nominee for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award. He was chosen to represent Team USA next March in the World Baseball Classic.

Maybe this guy should have his own hype video and light show.

“Dillon’s docking.” Or maybe “Dillon’s drawing near.”

We’ll keep working on it.

The bullpen showed more cracks down the stretch but compiled a 3.49 ERA that ranked ninth in the majors. It was last in 2021 at 5.70.

“Just proud, really. Proud of the guys, the effort that they put in. Not just the bullpen, but the entire team in general,” Tate said.

“I’m thankful for all the guys who laid out, that put their body on the line, that weren’t feeling good when it was time to go out and play. All in all, it was a great team effort, and the progress that we’ve shown this year has been great, so I’m happy about that.”

I keep going back to April 4, the night that relievers Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott were traded to the Marlins. Shortly after manager Brandon Hyde talked about the uncertainty at the back end of the bullpen, with opening day less than a week away.

The Orioles weren’t surrendering, but the long-term goals remained a priority. And the trade created space on the 40-man roster while also providing opportunities for other relievers with minor league track records and nothing beyond.

“I think that’s just credit to the front office,” Tate said. “They know exactly what they’re doing and they know exactly what they want and how they’re going to get the job done. We lost those guys, but we ended up having so much more to come in and fill those roles. Thankful for that, and the effort that the bullpen has put in this year has been amazing. Definitely exceeded expectations, and definitely looking to keep it moving in the right direction.”

Tate is 28 years old and arbitration-eligible for the first time, a nice raise coming after earning $711,500 this season. He’s gone from big-time prospect as the fourth-overall selection in the 2015 draft to veteran mentor in the Orioles’ bullpen. He’s the guy with the experience and qualifications to lead.

Baseball life comes at you fast.

“That was really, really strange to me, because I was always looking at Paulie (Fry) and Tanner, ‘Hey, what time are we going out? What time are we going to get the guys together to get out there?’” he said. “That is interesting and I feel like that’s a lot of responsibility.

“As that guy, I just want to make sure that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do so people will say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m going to do, this is the example that I’ve been shown and this is how we do things.’ Just making sure that I’m a good role model, walking the walk, so guys will follow suit.”

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