The evolution of the Orioles bullpen over the years has stripped away the veterans and increased option flexibility.
More importance is placed on the freedom to shuttle relievers back and forth and to get multiple innings out of them. Less baton-passing. Less stress trying to cover for starters running short on innings.
This is amplified in pandemic seasons and with pitchers coming off a 60-game schedule.
“Guys being able to throw multiple innings are going to be really valuable,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Whether we get creative with our rotation or have a lot of long guys in there, we’ve got six weeks to figure that out. We’re going to do what’s best for the club, what’s best for the player. But I’d like to have as many guys that can throw multiple innings as possible to ease the burden on the other guys.”
Among the candidates for bullpen roles in 2021, only Shawn Armstrong, César Valdez, Jorge López, Fernando Abad and Evan Phillips are out of options. Abad and Phillips are non-roster pitchers whose contracts would need to be selected.
López is vying for a starting job, but he could be used in long relief. Valdez also could sneak into the rotation.
Tanner Scott is a former starter in the minors who made only five appearances last summer and in 2019 that lasted more than one inning. He worked three scoreless against the Red Sox on June 20, 2019.
Hunter Harvey’s days as a starter also are in the past and his injury history suggests that he won’t be pushed often beyond an inning unless the Orioles grow more comfortable loosening the shackles. He twice worked 1 1/3 innings last summer. He went back-to-back only once, connecting his final two appearances.
The return on Sept. 27 was a surprise after Harvey threw 17 pitches the previous day and surrendered a three-run homer to Randal Grichuk. He was credited with a hold after retiring both batters he faced.
Cole Sulser led the club with five saves, but he pitched more than an inning in eight of his 19 appearances.
Six of Dillon Tate’s 12 appearances last season spanned between 1 1/3 and 2 1/3 innings. He logged three innings twice in 2019.
Armstrong, Paul Fry and Travis Lakins Sr. can be pushed beyond an inning, but it happened only once with Abad in 2019, his last season in the majors. Of course, that was during a period when he could be utilized as a one-batter specialist in nine games.
Thomas Eshelman was re-signed to a minor league deal because he’s capable of filling in as a starter or long reliever. Left-handers Bruce Zimmermann and Josh Rogers and Rule 5 selections Sceroler and Wells were starters in the minors. Hyde said Zimmermann could get bulk innings if he makes the club and is shut out of the rotation.
Valdez was starting in winter ball after working three innings in two games with the Orioles and two innings in two others. He’s ideal for what the Orioles are seeking in 2021.
Mickey Jannis is a knuckleballer with other pitches in his arsenal and 103 minor league starts on his resume.
“It is nice to have a couple of guys who have to pitch and do some things that I’ve always found to be the fun part of the game, when guys can pitch and mess with hitters’ timing and do all the things that maybe we traditionally saw more of in the past, especially when I was growing up watching the game,” said pitching coach/director of pitching Chris Holt.
“César Valdez, very solid mix with his changeup and can mess with a hitter’s timing with command. Frankie Abad, too, another guy who’s going to pitch and change speeds. And then Jannis with his knuckleball, but has other pitches in his mix. We’re very excited to see them in camp.”