SARASOTA, Fla. - As Zach Britton sits at home with a boot covering his foot following Achilles surgery, the backend of the Orioles bullpen now fractured, manager Buck Showalter won’t anoint one reliever as his closer moving forward.
Britton could miss the first half of the season depending on his recovery, with no firm timeline in place. He’s hoping to be back in May or June.
“We have some people that are capable of doing it,” Showalter said. “Obviously, nobody of the track record of the level that Zach has done it.”
While the media and logic have conspired to tab Brad Brach as the favorite - he notched 18 saves in 24 chances last summer and was a closer in the Padres system - Showalter also mentioned Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens and left-hander Richard Bleier, depending on particular matchups.
“In a perfect world you’d be able to spread it around, but I’m not there yet,” Showalter said. “A lot of it has got to do with the fifth, sixth and seventh pitchers on our staff, bullpen, what we’ve got there. But we are going to keep everybody healthy. We’re going to try to keep everybody healthy. But I’m confident that we have more than one person capable of doing a good job with it.
“To think you’re going to have somebody to do it at the level that Zach did it, that’s historic. There’s not a guy out there like that.”
Givens doesn’t own a major league save, but his professional resume includes 21 over three minor league seasons, including 15 at Double-A Bowie in 2015. He could get a shot as long as he continues to hold left-handers to a .184 average, as he did last summer. They hit .366 in 2016.
“Mychal, the thing he’s going to have to do, and he did a better job with it last year, is what Darren did,” Showalter said. “Darren figured out how to defend himself against left-handed hitters and Mike’s going to have to gain that confidence, too.”
Givens will take any role handed to him. Any opportunity to pitch after making the conversion from shortstop.
“Definitely,” he said. “Got to close a lot in Double-A and be in a great bullpen and be with Alan Mills, who helped me get over that hill with the throttle being a bullpen guy and learning how to just be consistent and stuff like that. Yeah, it’s always in the back of my mind hoping that I can be a closer, but whatever gives me an opportunity to help us win a game.
“In the minors I had to do both. I had the eighth and ninth. It is a little different mindset. You have to finish the game and everybody knows who’s the last pitcher who gives it up or gets a save, but at the same time you just have the mindset of getting three outs and competing. It doesn’t matter how you do it, whether or not it’s ugly. Just try to get the job done in whatever fashion it takes. Get three outs, get us the save or win or whatever. Go out there and compete.”
One of Givens’ better attributes is his ability and willingness to absorb information, to take instruction from coaches and teammates. No wonder the switch to reliever has been relatively smooth. He isn’t trying to get by on talent alone. The arm can only carry you so far.
“I got the opportunity to be around Andrew Miller in the WBC and got to pick his brain, and being around Brad and Darren, I can’t be more blessed and happy to be around a great group of guys to get me through the transition of being an infielder to a pitcher,” Givens said. “So right now with Zach, just have our prayers. We’re a family and we’re praying for him to come back and recover and be healthy and get back on the mound.”
Miller talked to Givens last spring about the importance of roles, no matter which inning he’s called upon.
“He was put in any different situation and I was doing that for a while and got to be around a guy who did that and to learn and the mindset of being ready for any situation,” Givens said. “It doesn’t matter if they don’t look at you as a late-inning guy. If you go up there in the fifth or sixth or seventh inning, it’s an important situation locking down an inning, helping a starter get out of an inning and trying to keep that game where it is and pass the baton to the next guy.”
Rival executives kept checking on Givens’ availability last month at the Winter Meetings and the Orioles wouldn’t part with him. He’s on a short list of untouchables, according to sources.
“It’s nice to hear that a lot of teams are interested in me, but I’ve been an Oriole since Day One and am happy to hear they still want me and still love to have me and keep me here to help bridge the team to hopefully another playoff,” Givens said.
“Just go out there and compete and be happy to be with the Orioles now.”
The bullpen is only one facet of the team under construction. The rotation, of course, still needs three starters and the lineup needs another left-handed bat.
Miguel Castro will get the chance to start and the process will get underway in spring training.
“He’s got some background it in and he’s had some extended outings, obviously, with us,” Showalter said. “It’s nothing that we can’t do in the spring. Unless things drastically change with the makeup of our roster, I think he would probably start out trying to stretch him out.
“I think he’s got the ability to do either. I think he can relief. I’m just going to be curious if he can do the other.”
Castro has a pliable arm and a fearless attitude on the mound that attracted Showalter. He averaged only 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings, but opponents batted .224 against him. He’s also displaying more of his playful side, with blonde braids in his hair at minicamp that have been a source of amusement among the coaches and pitchers.
Showalter would need to find someone to handle the multi-inning relief duties that fell upon Castro, who holds a fourth and final minor league option this season.
“We’ve got some people who have got a chance to fit in that role,” Showalter said. “If we have a predominately right-handed rotation, then carrying a guy like (Nestor) Cortes or somebody like that would be a fit for him, too.”
Showalter praised Cortes again today. The Rule 5 pick has made quite an impression.
Meanwhile, left-hander Chris Lee will try to vie again for a starting job after being a late cut in camp last spring and registering a 5.11 ERA and 1.70 WHIP in 27 games with Triple-A Norfolk. He never made it to the majors.
“It’s time for him to graduate a little bit,” Showalter said. “He needs to ... you’ve got to graduate from that prospect status to a contributor. He’s got the arm to do it.
“It’s time for a lot of these guys, entering the last year carrying options. Not necessarily him, but you reach a point where, we talk about players that when they’re out of options they don’t have as much value. That kind of happened some with Tyler Wilson, for instance. The ability to move them up and down and they’re in 4A. Some of these guys need to graduate from that 4A status. We need them to. I know that.”
There’s been some talk of Lee becoming a reliever after he made seven appearances out of the bullpen last year, but he remains a starter at this juncture.
“I think we go down that road now,” Showalter said. “Some people will tell you secondary pitches haven’t got where they need to get yet, but that’s part of the process. It’s pretty easy to look at our roster and see guys who are out of options and where some of the focus is going to have to be this spring and make sure we make a good decision on them.”
Eight pitchers have thrown at the minicamp: Cortes, Bleier, Jimmy Yacabonis, Hunter Harvey, Joely Rodríguez, Luis Gonzalez, Lucas Long and Yefry Ramírez. Showalter noted that he was getting a first live look at Ramírez today.
“He’s got a good hand and the changeup you can see,” Showalter said. “You’ve always got to give a guy with a changeup a chance. You can tell he knows that he’s got a good changeup. There’s a reason why you win that many games.”
Meanwhile, the Orioles sent out notices to season plan members this afternoon, including a handwritten note from Showalter, for the 2018 season.
Prices will remain the same and season plan membership will include a new slate of benefits to the Orange Carpet Program, which already includes:
* Significant ticket savings
* Flexible exchange policy
* Return of early admission to Oriole Park for all season plan members
* Access to postseason and opening day tickets
New benefits for full season plan members include:
* Return of early admission to Oriole Park (all season plan members)
* Pregame on-field access opportunity (also 29-game plan members). It’s a chance to stand around and watch batting practice. Media takes it for granted. You won’t.
* Exclusive access to Roof Deck Pregame Lounge. Join me for Happy Hour. Just don’t tell my bosses.
* A “Swing for Your Seats” event at Oriole Park. I’m told this is essentially an opportunity to win complimentary season tickets by hitting a home run at OPACY during this event. No pinch-hitters allowed. You’re on your own.
* Ability to purchase a giveaway item package
* Preferred pregame seating at Dempsey’s Brew Pub & Restaurant
* Gift certificate purchase bonus opportunity (also 29-game plan members)
In case there are any questions, more details are forthcoming and I’ll pass them along or the Orioles can offer their assistance.
All season plan members receive:
* Dedicated entry gate and express windows
* Priority access to Kids Run the Bases
* Minor league affiliate ticket offers
* Complimentary FanFest admission
* Complimentary tour admission
* Admission to State of the Orioles events, etc.