The row of lockers against one wall in the home clubhouse at Camden Yards is the setting for a Triple-A reunion.
The expanded roster has allowed pitchers Ty Blach, Chandler Shepherd, Branden Kline, Tanner Scott, Evan Phillips and David Hess to get back to Baltimore. Dillon Tate is assigned a corner locker that leads to the hallway outside manager Brandon Hyde’s office, but he already had been recalled.
Hyde is starting the next wave of auditions with the relievers, who are handed a clean slate for the final month.
Kline worked two-thirds of an inning last night and let an inherited runner score, his ERA going from 7.44 to 7.29 in 26 games with the Orioles.
Shepherd made his only appearance with the Orioles on Aug. 13 at Yankee Stadium and hasn’t pitched since tossing eight scoreless innings for Norfolk on Aug. 30. He was chosen as the International League’s Player of the Month.
Scott is trying to lower a 5.09 ERA and 2.094 WHIP in 16 games with the Orioles. He struck out two batters and hit Tommy Pham in Monday’s game against the Rays.
Phillips appeared in 18 games with the Orioles, the most recent Aug. 12 in New York, and is carrying an 8.84 ERA and 2.224 WHIP. He hasn’t pitched since Aug. 31.
Hess made his last appearance with the Orioles on Aug. 7 while coming out of the bullpen against the Yankees at Camden Yards. He surrendered his 28th home run and is 1-10 with a 7.44 ERA and 1.560 WHIP in 20 games (14 starts).
Rejoining the Orioles has been in the cards.
“I was definitely hoping that would be the case,” he said. “I was just trying to take the time down there at Norfolk and work on being ready if that time came. Thankfully it did. I’m ready to get out and show what I can do.
“It’s going to be a little different because we do have quite a few guys here, but I think it works on two fronts. I think it allows you to be fresh whenever you do get the opportunity to go out there and it helps you to see what’s around you and learn from other guys and be able to work on things and then hopefully be able to show that in the game and just put your best foot forward.”
Hess keeps trying to do it with the Orioles, but he’s taken some hard falls since tossing 6 1/3 hitless innings April 1 in Toronto.
“It’s been really challenging,” he said. “I don’t like to complain, I don’t like to put blame where it’s not or anything like that, but there are a lot of things that have been difficult for me personally. Just have to evaluate what’s going on and why everything has been happening the way it has. But I think just in talking with people around me and other players, staff, there’s a lot of optimism and I feel the same way about being able to bounce back and work on some things that will really improve in the long run.
“I think more than anything, the challenges that have been there, just trying to learn from them and grow as much as possible. It does drain you to a certain extent, so I’m definitely ready to get out there and right the ship and get ready for next year to show the improvements and work that go into this offseason and throughout the year.”
Fastball location has hurt Hess this summer. He isn’t putting the ball where he wants consistently and it gets crushed.
“That one mistake I make, it just seems like it’s going over the fence this year,” he said. “Just trying to avoid being in the middle of the plate and that can be a little bit of a mentality thing, a little bit mechanical, physical. It’s a variety of things. So just trying to identify and correct moving forward how to locate a little bit better.”
The 28 home runs lead the club in only 75 innings and they’ve come in bunches. Five appearances with three or more. Seven with at least two.
“It’s not fun standing on the mound and seeing the ball carry over the fence. It’s a pretty demoralizing feeling in a lot of ways,” he said.
“Really my biggest focus is just trying, regardless of what happens with the outcome, just focus on the next pitch and make it as good as I can. There is difficulty with that and I think you have to have a lot of mental resilience to be able to bounce through that. That’s something I’ve been trying to grow in and I think it’s going to pay off in the future.
“It’s just sometimes you’ve got to go through the storms a little bit to come out better on the other end.”
The idle time also is growing for Hess, who hasn’t been on the mound since Aug. 31.
“It’s an audition and they’re going to continue to get opportunities,” Hyde said. “Fortunately we’ve been playing a lot of close games where I’m not going to be able to use the same three or four guys every night. (Hunter) Harvey’s not available every game in a high-leverage spot. I’m going to pick my spots with him, usually with a lead or if we’re tied.
“So when we’re down a run like last night or down a couple runs or potentially tied late in the game, those guys are going to be called on to pitch in a big spot. I’m looking to see who’s improved over the course of the year and ready to step up and be a backend guy in the big leagues. Or at least a relief pitcher that we can count on.”
Tate has impressed over the course of the summer, coming across as a different pitcher than the one Hyde saw in spring training. And Hyde again mentioned the strides Miguel Castro has made.
“I think there are some good things that have happened to guys who are here,” Hyde said. “But these guys that have come up in September, the Klines, Scotts, Phillips’, Hess’, I’d like to see them be able to step up and they’re going to get a nice look here in September and hopefully we continue to play close games where they’re pitching in meaningful spots.”
They’ll need to stay sharp while placed on irregular schedules.
“They’ve thrown a lot this year, so there’s things that you can do in between outings for those guys with flat grounds or simulated stuff quite a bit on days that they didn’t pitch the day before,” Hyde said.
“Just get a nice little 10-pitch flat ground or anything to stay sharp and they do that. So I’m not really worried about that.”
Clean September slates are needed for many of the relievers in the group, with their overall numbers failing to impress and putting at least a few in jeopardy of losing 40-man roster spots.
“I think they know that,” Hyde said. “I think we’ve been really fair to those guys honestly this year and we’ve given them ample opportunity to stay here and they’ve had their struggles. But now they’re back and they’re back with a fresh start, and you’re not going to find a more positive coaching staff to pitch in front of. Doug Brocail and (John Wasdin) are incredibly supportive and positive and work with these guys every single day.
“All those guys are in such a great spot to show everybody that they’re major league pitchers and they’re going to get the opportunity.”
Hyde is trying to mix up his lineup and evaluate certain players, but the opponent keeps sending left-handers to the mound.
The Rangers are starting at least three in this series, with Saturday listed as TBD. The Dodgers visit Camden Yards next week and the Orioles “are probably facing at least two if not three,” Hyde said.
“Going to continue to try to match up and win as many games as we possibly game, with giving guys opportunity, but there’s not a set number of at-bats I want somebody to have or innings on the mound or positions to play,” Hyde said.
“I just want to see guys play and I’m hoping that September’s a nice audition for a lot of these guys going into the next spring training.”
For the Rangers
Shin-Soo Choo RF
Elvis Andrus SS
Willie Calhoun LF
Nick Solak 2B
Danny Santana 3B
Rougned Odor DH
Scott Heineman CF
Ronald Guzmán 1B
Jose Trevino C
Brock Burke LHP
Update: Willie Calhoun and Trey Mancini hit solo home runs in the first inning for a 1-1 tie.
Update II: Richie Martin’s three-run homer in the second inning gave the Orioles a 4-1 lead.
Update III: Calhoun’s three-run shot in the third tied the game 4-4.
Update IV: Anthony Santander’s two-run homer in the fifth gave the Orioles a 6-4 lead.