The manipulation of a prolonged baseball shutdown and the changes created in roster projections has a glowing example residing inside the Orioles bullpen.
Evan Phillips is sitting in it.
Phillips was a slam-dunk resident of the injured list back in March, when elbow soreness led to an MRI, a second opinion from Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles and some bleak news.
Phillips made a big splash, breaking camp and accompanying the team to Boston for opening day.
“Right before I traveled north to Baltimore I was going through a pretty intense bullpen session,” he said yesterday on his Zoom conference call. “I had, like, three bullpens that was in five days. It was a pretty big stretch for me, and I completed that right before I drove up to Baltimore.
“I got through it clean and I think once I got through that phase I started to feel really strong, and I think there was a promising future for me to possibly be able to break with the team. I had a lot of work to do at summer camp, and I think I did really well and just looking to continue to build on that. Hopefully my arm holds up, and as of now I feel really good.”
An elbow injury was uncharted territory for Phillips, who appeared in 25 games with the Orioles last summer and posted a 6.43 ERA and 1.857 WHIP in 28 innings. He couldn’t offer any bold or even mild predictions. He didn’t know whether he’d need to undergo a medical procedure that could wipe out the 2020 season.
“I really had no idea,” he said. “What I was experiencing was new, it was a different kind of pain, a different kind of intolerance when I was throwing, and I was really struggling with how it felt. So I was worried that I would need surgery.
“I had no idea what I was experiencing, so I was very fortunate to go see a great doctor. Got really good info from the Orioles’ doctors as well, and we put together a great rehab plan and I feel 100 percent that I was ready to go.”
Phillips would like to reside in a friendlier neighborhood after last summer’s difficulties. He came to the Orioles in the 2018 deadline trade with the Braves that subtracted pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day from the organization. Thirty-four career relief appearances have yielded an 8.39 ERA and 1.891 WHIP.
“It’s continuing to just learn more about myself as a pitcher,” he said. “Breaking into the big leagues in 2018 and then having some troubles last year in ‘19, everything falls back on me and what I can do better as a pitcher and what got me to the big leagues. So focusing more on who Evan Phillips is as a pitcher has really done me well so far in summer camp and leading into the season, and I’m excited to just see where that takes me this year.”
Anyone who’s standing on the mound, and that includes Phillips, must be able to locate the plate. Manager Brandon Hyde pointed out yesterday how 190 pitches in eight innings in the opener wasn’t the right formula to produce a win.
They can be toxic. An implosion that will clear out a room - or certainly the home ballpark prior to the pandemic.
The Orioles didn’t issue a walk yesterday in a 7-2 win, with Paul Fry, Miguel Castro, Richard Bleier and Mychal Givens taking turns denying the Red Sox behind starter Alex Cobb. Hyde said Cole Sulser might also be used in high-leverage spots.
“These guys have to throw strikes,” Hyde said of his relievers. “I think we do the best we can as coaches to stay positive. I know our pitching guys are working with our guys every day. I thought we did a pretty good job in summer camp of throwing strikes. We’re hammering it. I’ve talked to all the bullpen guys about the trust that I need to know that when I hand you the ball that you’re going to come in and go strike one and work ahead of hitters, or the bullpen just gets taxed, guys are unavailable the next day.
“Like I said all year last year, the 25-, 30-pitch innings don’t help anybody. It actually kill your pitching staff. So to try to get an inning in 12 pitches or less or try to force early contact, we are stressing that. But it’s up to them. It’s their careers. It’s up to them to be able to do it. I think some guys are in little different parts of their careers. Some guys maybe try too hard.
“Hopefully that’s something we improve on over the course of this season. Your pitching is just not going to hold up if you can’t come in and force contact and attack hitters.”