Three more reflections as Orioles play out their last 12 games

The Orioles are down to a dozen games. Two more against the Astros at home, four in Boston, three in New York, and three against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards.

Distance to the Jays might need to be reduced if they’re going to matter beyond the final record and pride.

The math says that the Orioles remain in contention for the last wild card, moving within three games of Seattle. They need two more wins to guarantee the first non-losing season since 2016.

Reflections of 2022 will come later, except for those of us who can’t wait.

I’ve already noted how Matt Harvey never had his contract selected (he’s on the Triple-A injured list now with a sore knee), Gunnar Henderson earned a promotion despite his age, Yusniel Diaz stayed only for a cup of coffee, Rougned Odor lasted into September, we never saw Robert Neustrom, and DJ Stewart didn’t make it back to the Orioles after three games to begin the season.

Here are three more:

The Orioles view Jorge Mateo as a shortstop.
The proof is in his starts. Last night was his 131st at the position. He hasn’t played anywhere else.

Mateo moved more in 2021 after the Orioles claimed him off waivers from the Padres on Aug. 5. He made 15 starts at shortstop, 12 at second base, one in left field and one in right. He played seven innings at third base in his only appearance.

What should we read into the switch this summer?

The Orioles had options at third and second base and needed him at short? His defense is much better at short?

I’m short on answers, but the latter seems to be true. And he’s playing at a Gold Glove level. Ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Kelvin Gutiérrez was the starting third baseman on opening day. He lasted 12 games and was released on Sept. 15.

Ramón Urías leads the club with 82 starts at third base. Tyler Nevin is next with 38. Henderson, Jonathan Araúz, Rylan Bannon, Odor and Chris Owings also have touched the hot corner.

Only Urías, Henderson and Odor remain on the roster.

Mateo could remain the starting shortstop on opening day, but Henderson would need to play third base. Unless it’s Jordan Westburg, in which case Henderson must be the shortstop. Or maybe Westburg plays second.

Shortstop Joey Ortiz is in Triple-A and poised to debut in 2023.

Urías could be a valuable utility player next season if he stays. Mateo has experience at many positions, but the Orioles clearly view him in a different light based on his usage this year.

How the infield shakes out next spring is going to be a fascinating watch.

Bryan Baker will go the distance.
Baker is a reliever, but it applies here.

Baker was selected off waivers from the Blue Jays in November after making one major league appearance, tossing a scoreless inning against the Athletics. The Orioles took a “no-cost flier,” as described by

The most appealing quality seemed to be the two minor league options that allowed the Orioles to dump Baker on the Triple-A shuttle. Except that he never left.

Baker has been an important contributor to a bullpen that ranked eighth in the majors in ERA last night at 3.30. He’s made 60 appearances, including two starts as an opener, and registered a 3.92 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 62 innings. And his fastball has reached triple digits for the first time.

The Orioles couldn’t have known that he’d be a keeper. They obviously liked him, seeing as how they put in the claim, but beyond that, he had to earn a job and hold onto it.

Bullpens never stay still. Tired or ineffective arms are swapped out and fresh ones arrive from the minors. The requirement that a pitcher stay down 15 days makes the decision a little harder, but it happens all the time.

Not to Baker.

Nick Vespi will never give up another minor league run.
Maybe that’s a broad jump to a conclusion, but look what Vespi’s done this summer. It’s pretty crazy.

The left-hander has made 25 appearances with Norfolk and the only smudges are three unearned runs in 27 2/3 innings. The ERA remains at 0.00.

Twelve hits allowed, five walks, 35 strikeouts, his eighth save last night and a scoreless streak that deserves more attention and admiration.

The Orioles have called up Vespi multiple times this season and he’s allowed 12 runs in 25 2/3 innings, but half came in a June 29 game in Seattle.

Vespi surrendered a home run in back-to-back appearances on Sept. 4-5 and was optioned again with his ERA at 4.21. He was sent down five times, the maximum allowed before he’d need to pass through waivers.

I think he deserves longer looks in 2023.

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