Less than a week into workouts, which officially include position players this morning, the veteran and younger arms in camp seem to be making a nice impression.
Of course, you have to take the word of the people who are able to watch. Or to catch.
“Everybody looks great over here, everybody looks in shape,” said Pedro Severino. “The first couple bullpens everybody threw, they looked really great, like they’re ready to go, and I’m excited to see what they’ve got.”
You can use the logic that the bullpen should regress following the August trades of Richard Bleier, Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro. Or you can consider how Orioles relievers ranked ninth in the majors with a 3.90 ERA, tied for eighth with a 1.27 WHIP and seventh with a .225 average-against and believe that credit can be spread beyond the trio that left.
Can the bullpen be a strength in 2021?
“Yeah, for sure, especially seeing what we did last year,” said left-hander Paul Fry, who averaged a career-high 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings and posted a 2.45 ERA in 22 appearances.
“I believe we were top 10 in the league and it was a complete shift of what we were in 2019. So building off that and having confidence going in, I think this group can do something special and we can all fight for the late-inning roles.”
There could be nights when Fry is asked to close, as he did while accumulating five saves in 2018-19. Availability and matchups tend to dictate the moves on a club that doesn’t have a proven closer.
The Orioles would settle for the same strikeout rate under any circumstances.
“Consistency within the zone, strike one, it all starts there,” Fry said. “I was attacking guys and using my slider as my weapon and not trying to place it in the zone or anything like that. When I’m consistent throwing strikes with my fastball, my slider plays off that and I can get guys to chase. So the more they’re on their toe or on their heels, the better for me, especially with my slider.”
Entering a fourth season in the majors, all with the Orioles, and celebrating his 29th birthday in July have made Fry a veteran leader almost by default.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “I think it just happens naturally at this point. Being in this organization (for) three years, it’s just different now. You take on that leadership role. Guys start coming to you asking questions and it’s just one of those things where you know your way around things and you know how things operate, so you’re trying to help guys.
“And having guys like (Wade) LeBlanc and (Matt) Harvey and Félix (Hernández) around now, it’s something to learn from in how to be a leader and how to go about your day.”
LeBlanc or Harvey could begin the season in the bullpen as the Orioles emphasize the importance of multi-inning relievers. That focus also improves the chances of Thomas Eshelman or Jorge López, the latter out of minor league options, settling into a long relief role rather than disappearing if unable to make the rotation.
Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, always able to provide a local angle as an Ellicott City native and graduate of Loyola Blakefield, might avoid a return to Triple-A Norfolk with the Orioles willing to consider him as a reliever.
Left-hander Tanner Scott has gone from minor league starter to major league setup man, with an arm that suggests he could dominate at the back end of the bullpen with more consistent command, to a possible multi-inning guy used at any stage of the game.
Scott isn’t exclusively a three-out reliever. He just might find more opportunities to stay on the mound this summer.
“I’m definitely open for everything,” he said yesterday in his Zoom conference call. “I want to put our team in the best spot we can. Whatever (manager Brandon Hyde) calls me upon, that’s what I’m going to do.”
The bullpen could, indeed, be a strength in 2021. We already know that it’s going to be different out of necessity. And not just because of last summer’s trades.
Meanwhile, the Orioles must decide how to replace Renato Núñez at designated hitter.
“I think we’re going to wait and see,” Hyde said. “We have some outfielders that we want to get at-bats to and it might be a rotating DH. I just don’t know yet. Wait to see how we break. Hopefully we’re healthy and everybody’s ready to go and we’ll figure it out matchup-wise and who needs a breather on a nightly basis.”