Wondering about the composition of the bullpen in 2016

It’s apparently safe for me to resurrect my visions of an epic Royals-Blue Jays matchup in the American League Championship Series.

Reports of their demise were greatly exaggerated.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em - and I know where most of you stand on the topic - these are two special teams. It’s hard to imagine the series ending in fewer than seven games.

Which opponent is more challenged to bounce back on the road in Game 5 - the one that blew a four-run lead in the eighth inning (Astros) or the one that got blown out early (Rangers)?

I have more confidence in the Astros, who will be facing Johnny Cueto, but they still may be doubled over from yesterday’s gut punch. And trying to put away the Royals is like being in a zombie movie.

Just don’t hide behind the chainsaws.

Still no news coming from the Orioles, which isn’t a huge surprise considering that October belongs to the playoff teams. However, they could get their coaches under contract for 2016 without waiting until the start of free agency. There’s no rule against it.

I keep hearing that the staff is expected to remain intact, that it’s just a matter of time before agreements are reached. And I’ll keep writing that the Orioles need to get pitching coach Dave Wallace under contract before they lose him.

Dylan Bundy threw his third bullpen session yesterday with the same impressive results. He expanded the session from 20 to 25 pitches, again throwing only fastballs.

“It went very well again today,” said director of player development Brian Graham, who’s down in Sarasota. “He threw really good. The ball came out of his hand really good. All fastballs, but he’s throwing strikes. The ball has good velocity and life.”

The Orioles won’t map out the next steps for Bundy - whether it’s pitching in the Arizona Fall League or winter ball or shutting down again and resting - until he’s able to mix in his slider, curveball and changeup in the bullpen sessions.

“We haven’t made any determination about what’s next,” Graham said. “All we know is it’s going really well. His arm feels great, he feels great. That’s all very positive.

“Let’s see how it continues to go. He still has a ways to go to get those pitches where they need to be.”

Bundy will be one of the more interesting storylines in spring training. He’s got to be on the 25-man roster or the Orioles risk losing him on waivers. The other alternative, of course, is placing him on the disabled list if he isn’t deemed ready to pitch.

I’ve been asked whether Bundy could compete for a spot in the rotation. It’s still early, but I’m assuming that he’s got a better shot at the bullpen, considering that he hasn’t pitched since May and the Orioles are hoping to acquire another starter.

Bundy always could be stretched out later, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

Brad-Brach.jpgThe bullpen could undergo quite a makeover when the Orioles break camp next spring. Zach Britton will remain the closer - there hasn’t been any talk at this point of trying him again as a starter - and Brad Brach will fill any role on any given day, but what about the rest of the crew?

When the Orioles announced their opening day roster in April, the pitching staff was comprised of, in alphabetical order, Brach, Britton, Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Garcia, Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Bud Norris, Darren O’Day, Chris Tillman, Ryan Webb and Wesley Wright. Webb was designated for assignment the following day to make room for catcher Ryan Lavarnway.

Manager Buck Showalter carried an extra reliever until Wright was placed on the disabled list on April 11 after only two appearances. Wright didn’t pitch again for the Orioles and is no longer in the organization.

Gausman was placed on the disabled list on May 8 and eventually got back into the rotation, where he’s going to remain in 2016. He’s already projected as one of the five starters.

Hunter was traded to the Cubs on July 31 for outfielder Junior Lake, a move met with distain inside the Orioles clubhouse. O’Day is a free agent who could command a three-year deal on the market, making his return uncertain, to say the least. Garcia no longer has Rule 5 status and figures to open 2016 at one of the upper-level affiliates.

Matusz is arbitration-eligible again and he remains a non-tender or trade candidate after earning $3.2 million this year. The Orioles’ winter shopping list includes a left-handed reliever.

T.J. McFarland is a favorite of Showalter’s and his success against the Yankees is enough to keep him in the bullpen picture. It also helps that he requires little rest between outings before being available to pitch again.

Mychal Givens is expected to break camp with the team after making the jump from Double-A to the majors and going 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 30 innings - whether he’s replacing O’Day or serving as a complement to him. Either role is quite a compliment for the former shortstop.

I have no idea what’s happening with Chaz Roe. He had a Jeckyll and Hyde season, posting a 2.67 ERA and 1.111 WHIP in 20 appearances in the first half and a 6.91 ERA and 2.163 WHIP in 16 appearances in the second half. I assume that the Orioles will include him on the camp roster, giving him a chance to join the other relievers who weren’t at Tropicana Field on opening day.

Steve Johnson is out of minor league options and could be with another organization next spring. The Phillies have been interested for so long, I’d expect them to have a locker ready, just in case. Otherwise, Johnson will compete for a spot with the Orioles after joining the expanded roster in September.

Jorge Rondon gave up 15 runs (11 earned) and walked six batters in 13 1/3 innings. He’ll be challenged to keep his spot on the 40-man roster, let alone break camp with the team.

Could Gonzalez shift to the bullpen? Let’s see what the Orioles do with their rotation after Chen departs as a free agent. Finding a starter has become the No. 1 priority this winter.

Mike Wright will compete for a starting job, but he may have a better chance to make the club as a reliever. Some folks in the organization think he could be more valuable as a power arm in the ‘pen.

Drake-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgOliver Drake didn’t seize his opportunity after the Orioles recalled him twice in September. He dominated at Triple-A Norfolk and was named co-winner of the organization’s minor league Pitcher of the Year award, but the club isn’t reserving a spot for him in 2016.

Going back to my original thought, and it tends to be a curvy path, you can count on Britton and Brach as repeats from last year’s opening day bullpen. You can write in Givens. And you can guess along with the rest of us.

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