SAN DIEGO – Orioles reliever Jacob Webb achieved two milestones yesterday.
Webb turned 30-years-old, and he reached three years of major league service time. Both round and crooked numbers that made him smile.
“It’s a little bit more special today,” he said. “Kind of a cool little birthday present.”
Webb has been an unexpected gift for the Orioles, getting crucial outs since his arrival a week ago.
Claimed on waivers from the Angels, Webb has appeared in four games and tossed four scoreless innings with only an infield single, one walk and six strikeouts. He set a club record by striking out his first five batters.
“It’s been a little bit of an adjustment coming to a new team, but the clubhouse and all the guys here, all the coaches and staff, everyone’s made me feel very comfortable, very welcomed,” Webb said. “I feel like it shows on the field, being comfortable and the trust here. I love it here. It’s awesome. And not bad being on a first-place team.
“I’m not trying to jinx it, but we’ve got a good team here, man. It’s cool to be a part of, cool to come in here and help out.”
The Angels designated Webb for assignment after he posted a 3.98 ERA in 29 games. He struck out 34 batters in 31 2/3 innings but also walked 20.
“Webby’s been durable, he wants to pitch, unbelievably competitive,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “He was going to have a chance to be the first guy to pitch three days in a row (Sunday) in Seattle if it got to that. Even though I was trying not to do that, I had him up twice to try to finish an inning, but we got through the inning.
“He wants the ball. He wants the ball again tonight. I’ve put the leash on him because he’s been so good. Love his slider. He’s had a little bit of command issues in the past, and with us he’s really pounded the strike zone and gone after guys. He’s been outstanding for us.”
How he’s doing it leaves some teammates shaking their head.
One player who was asked what he sees with Webb’s stuff paused, smiled, and said, “They’re not hitting it.”
He isn't wrong.
The fastball is 93-95 mph, and Webb also incorporates a slider. But his renewed confidence in a third pitch is making a big difference.
“I feel like my changeup has come back a little bit,” he said. “I was kind of struggling with it a little bit down the stretch with Anaheim. It’s nice to have all my pitches working again the way they should be. A little more confident going out there, too, when you have all your stuff.
“Just trying to be the same guy every day, you know? Come in and do my job and have fun while I’m doing it.”
Webb had done daily work on the changeup, playing catch with it and tweaking it.
“Just getting a feel for it again,” he said. “Off-speed’s kind of a feel pitch anyway. Any kind of off-speed, when you’re not feeling it, you’re kind of searching a little bit. I’ve been working on it and staying consistent with it, and it’s paying off.”
Hyde can’t hold back new relievers for lower leverage situations. Feet don’t get wet here. Everyone takes the plunge with the team playing so many close games – last night’s 10-3 loss an ugly exception.
Webb was the eighth-inning setup man Monday night, counted upon to protect a 4-1 lead. Félix Bautista walked two batters in the ninth but registered his 32nd save.
“Just trying to go out there and do my job when I’m given the opportunity,” Webb said. “Try to simplify and not do too much extra stuff. Just focus on getting outs and do my job.”
Pressure comes in many forms, and Webb might be auditioning for spot in the playoff bullpen – if the Orioles compete their mission, of course.
Danny Coulombe is on the 15-day injured list and expects to be ready when he’s eligible to return. John Means and DL Hall could arrive next month. Austin Voth appears to be nearing a return from his rehab assignment. Tyler Wells is working his way back from a reset with Double-A Bowie and might revert to a relief role.
Webb must keep impressing and try to complicate the situation.
“I guess going out there and trusting myself, not trying to do too much and simplify everything. That’s the biggest thing,” he said.
“Sometimes, we as baseball players, we’re playing a game of failure and it can be hard mentally, challenging. But just having confidence in your ability, knowing what you do best, and going out and executing the best you can.”