SARASOTA, Fla. - The second round of roster cuts for the Orioles this afternoon includes Rule 5 pitchers Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, who are being returned to their respective organizations after clearing waivers.
Bailey is headed back to the Astros and Rucker to the Cubs.
Top prospect Adley Rutschman was reassigned to minor league camp within a series of moves that left the camp roster at 54 players.
The Orioles optioned pitcher Dean Kremer and outfielder Ryan McKenna to Triple-A Norfolk, and reassigned Rutschman, pitchers Cristian Alvarado, Marcos Diplán, Brady Rodgers and Hunter Cervenka, and catcher Martin Cervenka to minor league camp.
Rodgers never appeared in a game due to arm soreness.
Bailey was viewed as a serious rotation candidate and allowed one run in four innings with two walks and two strikeouts. Manager Brandon Hyde scratched Bailey from yesterday’s start, saying it was a scheduling change.
Rucker didn’t allow a run in five innings over three appearances and seemed to be in contention for a bullpen spot.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias explained why the club couldn’t keep Bailey and Rucker on the 40-man roster.
“These were tough decisions, especially with the Rule 5 guys because both are impressive,” Elias said. “That’s why we drafted them and they have big league stuff and they’re big league pitchers and will be pitching in the big leagues in the future. But with our roster construction, with our starting rotation and the way that we feel it’s shaping up, we expect to be adding some pitchers to the 40-man roster here before the end of camp.
“And we feel it’s going to be difficult with the new rules in 2020 with respect to having only 13 pitchers on your roster at any given time, the lengthened option period from 10 to 15 days and then the three-batter minimum (for relievers), that carrying Rule 5 pitchers from Double-A is going to hamper us.
“So it was really tough because both guys came in and impressed really well. The stuff really showed. But just in terms of getting down to decision time here in camp, we wanted to boil it down to the pitchers that we think we’re going to be able to carry all year.”
Also difficult was surrendering two pitchers with so much upside while attempting to infuse more talent into the organization.
“Both of those guys would upgrade our stable and that’s why we took them,” Elias said, “but it’s just tougher than ever to carry Rule 5 pitchers. We’ve just got to be realistic about it. Our pitching staff, it’s going to be a slog to get through the season and some of these stretches in the schedule with the new roster rules and the new option rules. So I’d love to have both guys, but doing it via the avenue of carrying them at the major league level all year long, I just think it was going to be a stretch.”
Clearing space on the 40-man can allow the Orioles to select the contracts of left-handers Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone - the latter hoping to throw a bullpen session today while dealing with tightness in his left trapezius. But there are other possibilities beyond them.
“I would bet right now that some of those non-roster guys will make the team, whether it’s the pitchers or the utility infield guys who are in the competition or one of the outfielders,” Elias said. “It just looks to me that we’re going to be adding a handful of guys from this group, and if not from this group, from other organizations at the end of camp if they hit waivers or whatever.”
Elias seems comfortable with the pitching depth in spite of Milone’s health issue and the right biceps soreness that’s delayed Kohl Stewart’s debut.
“I think those guys are a little behind, but all indications are that they’re going to be able to jump back into the rotation battle,” Elias said. “Milone, in particular, already has a game under his belt. It was a little hiccup, but I think he’ll be able to get up to speed pretty quickly.
“We will still access other internal options and external options toward the end of camp as other teams make roster moves and perhaps players exercise out clauses and things of that nature.”
The door isn’t closed on signing a free-agent pitcher who hasn’t been in another team’s camp, but Elias said it’s just cracked a bit.
“There barely some light poking in,” he said.
“It’s getting late. We’re going to have to look at it case by case.”
Rutschman collected his first hit yesterday in nine at-bats with a single in the ninth inning. He walked once and struck out five times.
The Orioles are expected to assign Rutschman to Single-A Frederick to start the season.
Asked if Rutschman gained something out of the camp experience, Elias replied, “He certainly said so.”
“It was just really impressive the way he handled himself,” Elias said. “That’s not easy to do, No. 1 pick and all the hype, and you have to handle that but also act like the minor leaguer that you are around the other players, and I think he managed to do that. He’s just got a good head on his shoulders.”
Kremer tossed two scoreless innings yesterday and allowed just one unearned run this spring in 5 1/3 innings.
“I thought he looked great,” Elias said. “His velo was up, he’s put on some good strength. I think he is a long-term rotation piece here for the Orioles, but he needs to go pitch in Triple-A. He’s barely pitched there and he’s yet to really lay down success at that level and he understands that. But I think we’ll see him soon.”
McKenna had two hits in 14 at-bats. Martin Cervenka was 1-for-7 with a home run, which he hit while his parents and sister were visiting from the Czech Republic.
None of the players optioned or reassigned today were expected to head north with the team.
“We’ve got to get to 26 players here within the next two weeks and a couple days,” Elias said, “so we’re kind of accelerating that process a little bit.”
Meanwhile, reliever Evan Phillips has good and bad news today. His sore right elbow apparently won’t require surgery following the second opinion he sought yesterday in Los Angeles, but being shut down for two weeks and beginning a throwing progression ensures that he won’t be ready for opening day.
“Second opinion went well,” he said. “It was pretty in line with what our team doctors over here said, so now begins the recovery process where I take a few weeks off and go from there.”
Phillips couldn’t offer many specifics on the source of his discomfort.
“I’m not 100 percent sure,” he said. “It’s my elbow. I know that. I know it’s not significant, so that’s good. And like I said now it’s a few weeks off and then we’ll try to rebuild my throwing program and be ready to go hopefully in a month or two.
“We haven’t laid out anything specific yet. I just flew in last night, so it’s all pretty new. But I know it’s just going to be a little bit of time. Nothing significant, but just the nature of needing rest, it’s going to take just about that much time to rebuild and get throwing again, so I’m not quite sure of the timeframe right now. I just know it’s going to be a few weeks off of throwing and rebuild from there.”
Phillips made his first spring appearance on Feb. 23 against the Rays and allowed three runs with two walks in two-thirds of an inning. He registered a scoreless inning against the Braves three days later with a walk and strikeout.
Pitching in 25 games for the Orioles last season, Phillips registered a 6.43 ERA and 1.857 WHIP in 28 innings but allowed only one run in September with 11 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings.
The bullpen has room for him, but he’s no longer a candidate for opening day.
“It’s a very big disappointment,” he said. “It’s something that didn’t really hit me until our team docs notified me that it would be a few weeks off from throwing and I kind of put the puzzle pieces together and realized I don’t have a shot to break camp with the team. That’s something that I really took a lot of pride in this season, especially with how last spring training went and how my season finished up. I really wanted to have an opportunity to break with the team and be there on opening day, so it’s a really big disappointment for me.
“This is the first time I’ve dealt with something in my elbow, so I’m glad in a sense that we got it worked out and I’m glad it’s nothing severe. It’s definitely disappointing to miss time at all. I think this will be my first time missing an extended amount of games, and so that hurts, but I’m very thankful it’s nothing serious.”
Chandler Shepherd, Miguel Castro, Paul Fry, Dillon Tate and Travis Lakins Sr. are available to pitch tonight behind starter Thomas Eshelman. Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann starts Saturday against the Rays in Port Charlotte.