The Orioles’ success in 2017 hinges, as always, on the performance of their rotation. It’s the reason why they qualified as the second wild card last year, their September surge pushing them into the playoffs for the third time in five years.
The rotation still doesn’t impress the prognosticators who pick the Orioles near or at the bottom of the American League East. But Chris Tillman remains the model of consistency and he’s excited about the progress made by former first-round picks Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy.
“These guys are fantastic,” Tillman said last week on the “Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan. “I say that being a teammate, and everybody probably thinks I’m biased, but getting to know these guys, I’ve been around both of them for quite some time now. They’re good kids and they’re very receptive. They want to learn.
“You come across some guys who don’t accept teaching as well as others, but they’ve been outstanding. They go out of their way to ask questions, they’ll sit and talk. They just can’t get enough of it and it’s really fun to be around. It makes me feel young being around them.
“I don’t know if they’ve told you this, but they call me ‘uncle,’ they called Yovani (Gallardo) ‘dad,’ they call Wade (Miley) ‘uncle.’ We kind of had a good thing going on. They’re fun to be around and I think the best is yet to come for those guys.”
The Orioles had six obvious starting candidates for five spots before trading Gallardo to the Mariners for outfielder Seth Smith. Bundy was taking the “over.”
“I think we’ve really got about 13 starters for five spots,” he said. “It’s not a big deal. You just go in there and do your work and pitch and everything else will fall into place. You can’t worry about that stuff too much. It’s kind of out of your control and you just do your job and let the other people make those decisions.”
The Orioles decided to trade from their surplus, but they remain in the market for another starter. They’re still looking to improve on their depth.
* The Orioles haven’t featured a 20-game winner since Mike Boddicker in 1984. Tillman was poised to break the streak after going 12-2 in the first half, but he won only four of his eight decisions after the break and a sore shoulder forced him on the disabled list in August.
“I think it’s important,” Tillman said. “That’s a big number to shoot for. You don’t see too many guys getting that these days. It’s a tough game now and I can definitely see why it would be important. And I didn’t really even realize it until you asked me 150 times, Roch.”
I explained to Tillman that the first 149 times didn’t quite land.
* Reliever Mychal Givens has gone from shortstop in the low minors to relief pitcher to valuable contributor in the Orioles bullpen to part of the Team USA roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
He must sit back at times and reflect on how far he’s come.
“Just taking everything in, taking one step at a time, just being competitive and whatever failures you go through doesn’t matter if it’s baseball or the real world,” he said at minicamp. “Just taking everything in, live with it, live in the moment.”
Givens had a chance to meet new pitching coach Roger McDowell in Sarasota. He’s already familiar and comfortable with bullpen coach Alan Mills, his pitching coach at Double-A Bowie.
“Roger McDowell working with Alan Mills, it’s going to be a really good season,” Givens said. “He’s really down to earth and a great guy to talk to. His baseball knowledge is really good. I feel like going into 2017, working with our pitching staff is going to be really awesome.
“I think the Orioles picked a good pitching coach to fill that role.”
* McDowell and Mills were teammates on the 1996 Orioles. McDowell appeared in 41 games, his last in the majors.
“I was one of the new guys on there, even though I had pitched 10 years in the big leagues by then,” McDowell said. “Camden Yards and Boog’s BBQ. The smell wafts right over the bullpen.
“What I remember about Millsy is the competitiveness. The fun, the enjoyment of the game, the enjoyment of life and the competitiveness between the lines.”
McDowell served as a mentor of sorts for Mills during the 1996 season.
“I was a younger player at the time when he came over,” Mills said, “so I learned a lot of things from him out in the bullpen.”
* Since new catcher Welington Castillo wasn’t at minicamp, the bonding process with the pitching staff will unfold in spring training.
“The thing I like about Welington is, he’s a good teammate, good person and really wants to be good at what he does,” said manager Buck Showalter. “Very coachable. And I have a lot of confidence in (bench coach) John Russell. Don’t think that anyone has a better catching instructor than we have.
“I feel confident Welington will be as good as he’s capable of being. He’s gotten better. He throws well. He wants to be a good catcher. He likes to ply his trade. Offensive threats at the catching position are hard to find. He’s capable of hitting 15-20 home runs. He understands where the priority is going to be on his contributions.”
* The Orioles signed right-hander Mario Alcantara to a minor league deal, but he won’t be able to pitch for an affiliate until serving his 50-game suspension for use of an amphetamine. The suspension was announced in December.
Alcantara, who turned 24 last month, went 9-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 32 games with Single-A Salem in the Red Sox organization. He allowed only two home runs in 79 2/3 innings.
Alcantara is 27-29 with a 4.60 ERA in seven minor league seasons. He’s never pitched above the Double-A level. He’s also the second player signed by the Orioles in the last two weeks who must serve a 50-game suspension, joining first baseman Jesus Montero.
In case you missed it, I wrote during minicamp that the Orioles re-signed Bobby Bundy, older brother of Dylan.
* Stadium Journey has chosen Camden Yards as the best stadium experience for the third consecutive year.
The Orioles’ home ballpark rated first among the 761 reviewed.
Here’s the excerpt on Camden Yards:
“The current Oriole Park at Camden Yards, opened in 1992, is a trendsetter in Major League Baseball. Prior to its opening, the landscape of professional baseball was littered with boring, multipurpose bowl stadiums. Now nearly every team in the league has a great baseball stadium. Out are lackluster parks and in are fan friendly stadiums designed for the optimum fan experience. If Baltimore had built a standard, boring facility, baseball may not look and feel the way it does now.”
* Registration is now open for the fourth annual Brigance Brigade 5.7K Championship Race & 1.57 Mile Family Run/Walk on April 30 at Canton Waterfront Park in Baltimore.
Visit www.BriganceBrigade.org to learn more about the event and to register. Early bird registration fees are currently in effect for the 5.7K run ($30) and the 1.57 mile run/walk ($25). The Kid’s Fun Run costs $10 per child. All 1.57 mile and 5.7k finishers will receive a race shirt and event swag, and 5.7k finishers will also receive a commemorative race medal.
Former Ravens linebacker O.J. Brigance was diagnosed with ALS on May 16, 2007. Ten years later, he’s beaten all odds of an illness that has an average life expectancy of two-to-five years upon diagnosis.
Shameless plug alert: I’m in studio today for “The Mid-Atlantic Sports Report” from 5-6 p.m. on MASN. Jacket and tie required (by me, not you).