It never fails. A reliever has success and is capable of gobbling up innings and a manager is asked whether a spot in the rotation could open up.
Brandon Hyde is experiencing it with Gabriel Ynoa, who has allowed only one run and walked one batter with 11 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings. He’s tossed three scoreless innings in back-to-back appearances.
“I think he would be in the mix if we went in that direction, but he’s also pitching his way into higher-leverage situations and being somebody that you can trust on the mound when the game’s close,” Hyde said.
“I think he can probably do a variety of things for you. He kind of came here as our long guy. He’s pitching his way into a different situation, so good for him.”
Let’s back up for a moment. We’re talking about Ynoa, who didn’t pitch last season due to shin and shoulder injuries and was removed from the 40-man roster as expected, his Orioles career appearing to be dead on the vine.
He agreed to a minor league deal in November and here he is, a valuable cog in the bullpen machine and someone who’s warranting consideration for a more prominent role.
Ynoa was reassigned to minor league camp on March 17 after allowing only one run and four hits in eight innings. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out eight
The right-hander kept dropping hints that he was ready to become a contributor and the Orioles purchased his contract from Triple-A Norfolk on April 21 while also designating reliever Mike Wright for assignment.
“I see a little bit of life on the fastball consistently,” Hyde said. “With us so far, it’s been 95-96 (mph) a lot. Couple that with a good slider, and I didn’t see the changeup that I see now, either. So to be able to have a three-pitch mix, to have a mid-90s heater that he can command, doesn’t walk people.
“He’s always been a command guy, but now I feel like there’s a little bit more life to his stuff. Pitching really well.”
Ynoa has changed his approach and gained confidence along the way.
“I’m trusting more in myself and in my pitches and I’m mixing more of my pitches also,” he said via interpreter Ramón Alarcón, “which is helping me locate better the baseball.”
Ynoa is more sinker/slider this year, the use of his four-seam fastball making it appear as more of a third pitch. He ditched the curveball a few years ago.
“It’s a combination of me trying to figure out how can I improve, how can I be better,” he said, “and at the same time hearing feedback from other people that I trust, that the more you mix, you can have better results throughout the year.”
The data made available via a truer commitment to analytics hasn’t influenced Ynoa.
“Not at the moment,” he said, “but I’m hearing positive feedback from everybody.”
Words that didn’t reach his ears while he was stuck on the disabled list and after the Orioles created room on their 40-man roster by yanking him from it.
Ynoa could have bailed on the organization rather than accept a minor league offer.
“I thought in the offseason that the Orioles were in a position that they could provide opportunities,” he said. “I think they’re in a rebuilding mode and I saw opportunity. That’s the reason why I signed with them hopefully to get back on the roster, which is what happened.”
Which leads us back to the starter versus reliever argument.
The rotation is full with Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, John Means, Dan Straily and David Hess. Hyde would need to add a sixth starter or remove Hess, who has a 5.50 ERA and 1.311 WHIP in eight games (seven starts).
Straily’s ERA rose to 8.23 last night, but the veteran probably has a longer leash.
Hyde seems to prefer Ynoa in the bullpen for now, happy to have a reliever who is stretched out and capable of stopping the bleeding. He couldn’t get the same results from Wright, which led to the roster move.
“Being in the rotation is something interesting for sure,” Ynoa said. “At the same time I’m doing a really good job coming out of the bullpen, so I’m going to leave that decision to them to see which role I can better help the team.”