The message that Orioles manager Brandon Hyde keeps preaching to his relievers about throwing strikes right away and getting ahead in counts is heard by everyone on the staff. The words bounce off the walls.
It’s the execution of that message that varies. And failures that make him want to bang his head on those same walls.
Hyde was thrilled with Shawn Armstrong’s outing in Wednesday night’s series opener against the Yankees. Six up and six down. Only 20 pitches thrown in two innings. Only six pitches that didn’t produce strikes.
“Best I’ve seen him in a long time and I’m so happy to see that because that’s just something that we are stressing to the upmost, especially with our bullpen guys about coming in and going strike one. When I hand you the ball to get ahead in the count immediately,” Hyde said.
“That was just a major, major issue with us last year was working behind in the count out of the bullpen or walking the leadoff guy or walking the first guy you face, not locating the baseball.”
He entered last night’s game in the sixth with the Orioles protecting a one-run lead, got ahead 0-2 to Manuel Margot and struck him out.
Travis Lakins Sr. tied his career high on Thursday with 2 2/3 innings and he blanked the Yankees on three hits. The most important stat behind the lack of runs is the zero walks.
Lakins gave up a hit to the first batter faced after he replaced John Means, and the Orioles turned a double play. A hit-by-pitch and infield single in the fourth didn’t bruise him. Giancarlo Stanton was stranded in the fifth after a two-out double, with Lakins striking out Aaron Hicks.
Sulser tried to notch his second save, but he kept falling behind in the count and served up Aaron Judge’s three-run homer. A reminder of the bullpen implosions of 2019.
Given another chance last night, his designation as closer apparent, Sulser retired the side in order with two strikeouts and a weak ground ball.
The Orioles optioned Cody Carroll to their alternate camp site in Bowie to create a roster spot for Means. Carroll faced nine batters and retired only one.
Carroll followed Armstrong to the mound Wednesday night and promptly struck out Brett Gardner, who whiffed in all four of his at-bats. DJ LeMahieu singled, Judge was hit by a pitch and Carroll bounced a ball past catcher Pedro Severino.
Gleyber Torres walked, Stanton delivered an RBI single and Hyde brought in left-hander Paul Fry. A wild pitch scored another run and left Carroll’s ERA at 162.00 and WHIP at 21.000 in one-third of an inning.
The velocity has been good, with Carroll’s fastball clocked in the upper 90s, including his appearance in an intrasquad game. But in his first major league outing since 2018, he issued two walks, allowed a single and walked the Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi with the bases loaded.
“He relies on a 98 mph elevated fastball,” Hyde said afterward, “and unfortunately it was just above the zone a lot and missing.”
The Orioles are intrigued by Carroll’s arm and haven’t given up on him. His inclusion on the opening day roster provided a feel-good story after he underwent back surgery last summer and had no assurances that he’d accompany the team to Boston.
Baseball shut down in March with Carroll on an impressive roll, allowing only one run with no walks and eight strikeouts in six innings. He led the team in saves the previous spring before they optioned him and the back injury ruined his season.
He looked good again at summer training camp. Now it’s about doing it consistently when the lights are on and the games count.
“There’s just a little bit of lack of command,” Hyde said. “I thought he was over-amped in Boston, with a lot of sail misses. I thought (Wednesday) night he was better. I thought the stuff was better, I thought he was in the zone more, but still pitching behind in the count a little bit. You’ve got to have secondary stuff that you can rely on to be able to throw in the strike zone, also.
“To Cody’s credit, he hasn’t pitched in a while. He missed all of last year, he got a little bit of time in the (Arizona) fall league. He pitched in a handful of games in spring training, a couple summer camp games. So that’s tough to pitch in the big leagues, especially in the AL East, when you haven’t had a ton of experience.
Carroll walked out of Camden Yards Thursday while a clubhouse attendant followed and pushed the reliever’s bag on a cart. He’ll throw at Bowie, probably pitch in some intrasquad games and hope to get another shot.
There’s going to be plenty of roster turnover in 2020. Yesterday was just one example.
Perhaps Carroll will be going in the other direction.
“We just felt like it was the right thing to go down there, continue to work, continue to face batters,” Hyde said. “And hopefully he’ll be back up here shortly.”