Tanner Scott must wonder sometimes whether he’s going to be the last lefty standing.
Scott had Zack Britton as a mentor in the Orioles bullpen. Then he relied on Richard Bleier. Leaders of the relief unit who are now gone in separate trades.
Britton went to the Yankees at the 2018 deadline and later re-signed as a free agent. Bleier was sent to the depleted Marlins two weeks ago for a player to be named later.
An expanded pitching staff this summer now holds Scott and Paul Fry as the only southpaw relievers, with Keegan Akin likely a temporary inclusion as a long man while Thomas Eshelman is needed in the rotation and Jorge López is stuck in the intake process.
“Definitely Zack when I came up, he was the guy I looked up to the most,” Scott said yesterday in his Zoom conference call with the media. “Then we had Richard. And then me and Paul, that’s my guy. We’re probably best friends.
“We go out there and we just talk about how our stuff plays against this hitter, how we’re going to be used. Go out there and try to be our best every single time we’re out there.”
Scott replaced starter Alex Cobb Tuesday night in the sixth inning, walked a batter and left the bases loaded. He struck out Didi Gregorius and retired Jay Bruce, who belted a 447-foot home run off Cobb, on a ground ball to second baseman Hanser Alberto.
“I’m just trying to go out there and just use my best stuff, and go out there and attack hitters pitch one, pitch two and just try to get after it,” Scott said.
“Whenever they use me I’m ready from the first to the ninth, as long as they need. If we go into extra innings, I’m ready to go. Call my name, I’m ready.”
Scott can tickle triple digits with his fastball and his slider has developed into a plus pitch, giving him the potential to become a dominant late-inning reliever. Whether closing or in a set-up role. Whether to flummox left-handed hitters or record three outs. But streaks of wildness have held him back in the past.
The 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 89 career games make the eyes bulge, but so do the 5.4 walks.
Manager Brandon Hyde is placing his trust in Scott again, and the former sixth-round draft pick is earning more chances with the game on the line.
“The way I’ve used him right now is, when I feel like the game is in balance and could be one way or the other, whether it’s the fifth, sixth or seventh inning, and there’s a middle-of-the-order, usually a left-right-left situation, a dangerous left-handed hitter waiting, I have Tanner there ready to go,” Hyde said.
“I’m going to continue to press the issue with Tanner a little bit and challenge him in spots, just because I really believe in his stuff. I know guys on the other team don’t want to see him come in a game, and so let’s see what we have.”
Asked to explain his improvement, Scott indicated that he’s also trusting himself.
“I’d probably say ‘confidence,’ just going out there and not thinking about anything other than one pitch at a time,” he said. “Going out there and getting outs and just attacking.”
The Orioles mapped out individualized instruction for their pitchers that was expected to continue through the lengthy shutdown and summer training camp. For Shawn Armstrong, it was working on the shape of his breaking ball. Miguel Castro began to pitch exclusively from the stretch, with more emphasis on footwork. Fry lowered his hands when set prior to his delivery.
The “one pitch at a time” mantra for Scott began back in spring training with pitching coach Doug Brocail and bullpen coach Darren Holmes.
“Taking one pitch, then to the next,” Scott said. “Not, ‘Oh I did this, oh I did that.’ Go after them with one pitch and let it go out there with everything you’ve got.”