The three-day minicamp in Sarasota provided a few more chances to talk about closer Zach Britton’s Achilles surgery and how it impacts the bullpen and its occupants.
Get used to it. It’s going to continue through spring training and for as long as Britton is rehabbing
“I think that we did a good job,” said left-hander Richard Bleier. “Brad (Brach) filled in really nicely for Zach and it didn’t seem like we missed a beat there. When Darren (O’Day) went down, (Mychal) Givens slid in and did a really good job with that. It just seemed like as people came and went, guys stepped up and kind of filled in and did their job. I think we did overall a good job.
“When me and (Miguel) Castro came in, we held it down a little bit and as other guys came through they did their jobs. It definitely is challenging when you lose a guy like Britton for an extended period of time, but I think we made it work as good as we could have.”
Manager Buck Showalter has pretty much dismissed the idea of Bleier becoming a starter, though it didn’t stop the media from suggesting it multiple times last season. I was guilty, too. Nothing wrong with a healthy debate.
Bleier’s repertoire is deemed a better fit for the bullpen and his sub-2.00 ERA the past two seasons suggests that the Orioles shouldn’t mess with a good thing.
“I think I always get ready for multiple innings just because I’ve been a starter my whole life,” he said. “Last year, I threw four innings, so I’m more than halfway there, you know? And I threw three innings a few times, so I feel like once you’re kind of there, whatever.
“I’m going to get ready for multiple innings and be ready for the same role as last year, which is be ready from the first inning to the ninth inning depending on the score and the game situation. You can call that role whatever you want.”
* Brach is expected to be the closer on opening day, but Showalter pointed out last week that he has multiple options and could be swayed on occasion by the matchups.
Brach was 18-for-24 in save chances last season. He registered 119 saves in the minors while pitching in the Padres’ system, including 41 at Single- A Lake Elsinore in 2010.
Is the ninth inning really different than the others?
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “I was always in the mindset that if you pitch the eighth inning you can pitch the ninth, but it’s just a different approach, especially in the AL East. Guys are trying to hit home runs and they’re trying to hit for power.
“I didn’t have that many problems pitching the eighth and seventh innings. Those guys are swinging for the fences and there’s a lot of swings and misses. Then, all of a sudden, I’m pitching the ninth and these guys are getting two strikes and all of a sudden they’re hitting the ball the other way or they’re fouling pitches off that they normally don’t foul off and you’re like, ‘What is going on right now?’
“I talked to the guys in our clubhouse and I’m like, ‘What’s up the ninth inning?’ They know that it’s their last one. I think they’re just doing everything they can. They don’t waste pitches, they don’t waste strikes, they don’t waste swings. They kind of just wait for their pitch and just give whatever you give them. It’s a big cat and mouse game, even more so than the earlier innings.”
* Orioles director of player development Brian Graham said left-hander Tanner Scott probably will continue his pitching education at Triple-A Norfolk, still used as a starter while building up innings and sharpening his secondary pitches to complement the triple-digit fastball.
“Whatever they want to do with me, I’m going to do,” Scott said. “Would I like to be a reliever? Yeah, but if they want me to be a starter, I’ll give it a shot. I’ll accept the challenge.”
Interesting to me that Scott prefers to work out of the bullpen.
All 43 of his appearances in 2016 came in relief. All 24 last summer at Bowie came as a starter, only twice exceeding three innings.
“I’m a hard-throwing lefty,” he said. “As a reliever, you can throw basically every day or every other day. As a starter, you’ve got to wait. You’ve got to be patient. That’s probably a big reason why. You get to pitch a little more often.”
The improvement in Scott’s slider is a sign that the plan for him is bringing the desired results.
“My slider, I’m very comfortable with,” he said. “It’s what I worked on all last year, so I’m very comfortable with that. I still have my changeup. I don’t know if they want me to throw more or not yet, but we’ll go from there.”
Getting Scott to throw more strikes is going to be a process. He walked 57 batters in 64 1/3 innings in 2016 and 46 in 69 innings last summer. He walked two batters in 1 2/3 innings with the Orioles and 11 in 9 1/3 innings with the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League.
How can he cut down on the walks?
“How? Throwing strikes,” he said, grinning.
Scott located his target in the minicamp interview.
“Being confident in yourself,” he continued, “and going out there and attacking the hitter instead of worrying about walking people and go after them.”
* David Hess has made one relief appearance in each of the last three years, including twice at Double-A Bowie. He’s started in 84 of his 90 minor league games and is expected to stay in a rotation this summer, whether he returns to Bowie or moves up to Triple-A Norfolk.
I asked Hess at minicamp whether he was prepared for any role, with some chatter in the organization that he eventually could transition to the bullpen.
“I remember last year a similar question was asked of Trey (Mancini) and he said, I don’t remember exactly how he said, but it was along the lines of, ‘I’d dance butt-naked on the top of the Orioles clubhouse with the Oriole Bird to ‘Thank God I’m a Country Boy’ if I got to be up there with them. And I don’t know, for some reason that’s the first thing that comes to my mind is just whatever they want me to do, whatever role I can fill or help out with the team, that’s what I want to do,” Hess said.
“I’m open to whatever they need me for and whatever they want me for.”
Sounds like the right attitude. And I’m guessing that Mancini said “dugout” instead of “clubhouse.” It would be a shorter fall. But the point stands.
* The Orioles signed infielder/outfielder Anderson Feliz to a minor league contract last week. I’m told the deal doesn’t include an invitation to spring training.
Felix, 25, is a switch-hitter who spent the past two seasons in the Pirates system at Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis. He played for the independent Lancaster Barnstormers in 2015 after six years in the Yankees system.
Capable of playing every infield and outfield position, Felix is a career .245/.323/.367 hitter in the minors. He’s never hit more than six home runs.