SARASOTA, Fla. - Branden Kline joined the first group of Orioles pitchers yesterday morning for an 11:25 a.m. bullpen session, his initial appearance on a mound since arriving in camp. And since he came off the 40-man roster and was lumped in with the other invitees.
Kline was designated for assignment on Jan. 30 after the Orioles claimed infielder Pat Valaika on waivers for a second time. The Orioles outrighted Kline on Feb. 5 when he cleared waivers.
“I knew it was something that could potentially happen, but for the timing, I was a little surprised,” he said. “But at the same time I understand that it’s a business, I understand that (executive vice president/general manager Mike) Elias and the crew are doing things that are best for the organization, for the team.
“At the same time, it doesn’t mean that I can’t show up to camp, showcase what I can do and potentially be put back on.”
Passing through waivers brought mixed emotions for Kline, a Frederick native and second-round pick out of the University of Virginia in 2012 who’d prefer to stay close to home. He’d also like to be on a major league roster.
If placed on a scale, it would tip toward a sense of relief that he’s still with the Orioles.
“I’m home and this is the only organization that I’ve been with, the only organization I know, so there’s a level of comfort that I have,” he said. “At the same time, the Orioles are giving me the best opportunity to get back to the big leagues, to showcase what I can do. And obviously, I know everybody here. I know everything that’s going on, and so I think that helps me, too.
“Likewise, you don’t get claimed by anybody else, but at the same time if I get claimed by somebody else and I get put on the roster, that’s nice. But if I’m in Triple-A the entire year, that’s not the end goal. The end goal is to be in the big leagues.
“The situation being taken off isn’t something I want, but I’m here and I’m taking it day by day as if I’m still on the roster and going forward from there.”
Elias called Kline with news of the DFA, which included an explanation and some words of encouragement.
Kline never felt unwanted, even as he awaited his fate.
“Mike told me, ‘Hey, we picked somebody up, we had to make a waiver claim, and we need the roster spot, so we decided to take you off. We’re hoping, obviously, that you come back to us. We’ll see what happens in the next week or so,’” Kline said.
“He was very up-front and very honest, which I really appreciated. I was very thankful. And then I got the phone call saying, ‘Hey, you’re still with us, you haven’t been claimed by anybody.’ I was happy about that. Obviously, I want to stay with this organization and I want to be able to kind of help this team push forward and go from there.”
The Orioles will carry eight relievers on a 13-man pitching staff, a ninth available to them if breaks in the schedule allow for a four-man rotation. The camp is loaded with candidates, including Cole Sulser, claimed off waivers from the Rays on Oct. 1.
The Rays designated Sulser after he tossed 7 1/3 scoreless innings with nine strikeouts in September.
“It was tough,” he said. “It’s one of those things, I understand baseball’s a business and the Rays probably had a surplus of pitchers. I was kind of one of the newer guys up there, so those things happen in baseball. I had hoped that I had done enough to either stay on their roster or be of interest to someone else who could use me, so that’s the hope and the goal here is I’d love to contribute here and become a guy to be used more often.”
Sulser spent parts of four seasons at the Triple-A level, the first three in the Indians organization, before the Rays promoted him.
“It was awesome. It was a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve stuck with it for a long time, so to finally be able to break that barrier between Triple-A and the big leagues after spending two to three years in Triple-A, feeling like you were close but not yet being able to get over that hurdle, it was awesome to finally get that opportunity to pitch in the big leagues.
“It was a great experience. I couldn’t ask for anything more. It was awesome.”
The Orioles camp roster is growing to 68 players with left-hander Tommy Milone’s arrival. Thirty-six are pitchers.
“I think the competition’s great,” Sulser said. “We’re all obviously going for the same jobs, but I think it’s good. I think we’ll push each other, but it’s also great to know that there’s some opportunity, that it’s not that every position’s locked up and you’re here to, hopefully, maybe earn an opportunity way down the road.
“It’s nice to know that there’s an opportunity and it could be a month or two from now when opening day comes, or it could be a couple months down the road. But either way it’s definitely refreshing and exciting I guess would be the best way to put it. You feel excited to come to the ballpark every day and show what you can do and try to earn that opportunity.”
Sulser pitched at Dartmouth, Elias at Yale. A couple of Ivy Leaguers with the ability to elevate the level of discourse in camp.
“I haven’t given him too much of a hard time for going to Yale yet,” Sulser said with a chuckle.
“It’s been good so far. I think there’s definitely that understanding anytime you come across someone who I either played against or went to the same league and got to pitch there, there’s obviously that familiar side of things. But no, it’s been good. Mostly baseball and the business to be taken care of here.”