The smile probably said the most about Dillon Tate’s right arm.
Tate is encouraged by his health as he waits for other pitchers to report to spring training on Feb. 14. He’s gotten a head start down in Sarasota, taking a break this weekend to attend the Birdland Caravan.
The last pitch thrown by Tate with the Orioles was 15 months ago. He was sidelined by a forearm/flexor strain sustained in November, went on an injury rehab assignment and suffered a stress reaction in his right elbow/forearm area that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said was unrelated to the previous injury.
Meeting with reporters this morning at Bowlero in Timonium, Tate said he’s “ready to go for camp.” He was working out at the Driveline Baseball facility in Washington, and Brandon Mann, the senior pitching coordinator, posted an Instagram video last month of Tate registering 99.8 mph with a Plyo ball.
“Just excited to be back out there,” Tate said. “In camp a little bit earlier right now, just trying to get acclimated with everything, and I’ll be ready to go by the first workout.”
Tate has two minor league options but he could be a huge contributor in the bullpen, where he posted a 3.05 ERA and 0.991 WHIP in 67 appearances in 2022 and allowed only six home runs in 73 2/3 innings. The ground balls induced by his sinker, his primary pitch that averaged 94 mph and held opponents to a .214 average in 2022 per Statcast, make him a valuable high-leverage reliever.
He just needs to get back on a mound and stay there.
“Just saw Tate a couple days ago in Sarasota,” manager Brandon Hyde said earlier this week. “Looks unbelievable, feels great. You never know with a guy coming off injury, but we’re hoping for the best there because he was a go-to guy for us a couple years ago and really established himself as a right-on-right, especially late-inning bullpen guy, and we missed him last year. So, we’re hoping for the best and hoping he can help us this year. Hopefully, he stays healthy.”
“I’m excited to see Tate,” backup catcher James McCann said today. “I didn’t really get to see it last year. I got to see it from afar the year before, so I think that’s going to be a huge piece coming back to our bullpen.”
Elias initially had projected that Tate would return in May from the first injury, which prevented him from playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. The setback and ensuing shutdown kept Tate on the IL, with any hope of rejoining the Orioles proving false.
“It was a whirlwind, to say the least,” Tate said, “but I’m through it now at this point and I’m just trying to look forward.”
The media forces him to go back and recall how he posted a 15.19 ERA and 3.000 WHIP in 13 minor league games, including eight with Triple-A Norfolk, and was done after June 21.
“That’s always the hope, to get back up whenever you’re in any rehab situation, and sometimes it shakes out and sometimes it doesn’t,” Tate said. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me and now it’s my time to go back out there and play, so I’m ready.”
Tate said he was cleared by doctors in September to resume normal baseball activities.
“Fortunately, this offseason wasn’t really that different,” he said.
Surgery wasn’t discussed last year, which improved Tate’s chances of being full-go in camp.
“Structurally, everything was intact,” he said. “It was really more of a muscular, body issue more than anything.”
The Orioles signed Craig Kimbrel to replace closer Félix Bautista, and they’re bringing back Tate, Yennier Cano, Cionel Pérez and Danny Coulombe. Jacob Webb, Mike Baumann, Keegan Akin, Bryan Baker, Nick Vespi and Jonathan Heasley will compete for spots, and Tyler Wells, DL Hall, Cole Irvin and Bruce Zimmermann are possibilities if unable to crack the rotation. Wells and Irvin said today that they didn’t know their respective roles.
Elias also could bring in another reliever to bolster the unit, especially if he can’t land a starting pitcher through trade or free agency.
“I like our bullpen,” McCann said. “I think that was one of our strengths last year. Even after losing Félix, you saw guys step up into roles that they hadn’t been accustomed to from early in the season, so I’m definitely excited.
“Kimbrel, phenomenal person. I’ve actually caught some bullpens for him in the offseason. I threw with him the other day. Actually, Wells was talking about this yesterday evening. We had veterans last year on the position player side, a veteran in (Kyle) Gibson on the starting pitching side, but there wasn’t really that established veteran down in the bullpen. So, I think Craig is going to be a nice little piece down there obviously for what he does on the field, but also kind of being a mentor for some of those young guys in the bullpen.”
“We can compete with anybody and I think we’ve shown that over the past few years,” Tate said. “The track record has continued to go up, so I wouldn’t see any reason for it to not continue trending the way that it is. We’re a competitive club and we’re ready to win.”
Tate endured the losing and wasn’t around to savor the success. Now, he gets another chance.
“For me, it’s anything I can do to help,” he said. “We’re obviously doing what we need to do as a club and we’re showing people that we mean business, and I’m ready to go out there and do what I need to do to help us win more than 101 games and into the next piece of the season.”
Note: Second baseman Adam Frazier signed a one-year deal with the Royals today for a reported $4.5 million guaranteed. There’s also a $8.5 million mutual option.
Frazier made $8 million with the Orioles last season and batted .240/.300/.396 with 21 doubles, two triples and a career-high 13 home runs and 60 RBIs in 455 plate appearances.