The search for pitching won’t keep executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias glued to the waiver wire and free agent market. He resorted to a third option late this afternoon.
Elias acquired right-hander Adam Plutko from the Indians for cash considerations and gave manager Brandon Hyde more innings coverage to begin the regular season. He also raised a few interesting questions that he addressed after an 8-5 loss to the Braves in North Port.
Plutko can work as a starter and reliever, but he hasn’t exceeded two innings in any of his six appearances this spring. He profiles as a swingman and bulk guy in the bullpen, but who gets bumped to make room for him?
Elias wasn’t ready to go there.
“There’s a lot of rapid-fire action around the league as other teams make their roster decisions as players on minor league contracts exercise out clauses, and there still may be activity yet through this period,” Elias said in a Zoom call. “Ultimately, we decided to act on an opportunity to acquire Adam Plutko from the Cleveland Indians. He is an experienced length reliever/starting pitcher who logged over 100 innings two years ago as a four-, 4 1/2-, five-pitch mix if you count his cut fastball and has starter traits and the ability to log innings in a season where we’re going to need a lot of innings from a lot of different pitchers coming off last year’s shortened season, going into what we anticipate is going to be a full season at the major league level.
“Always been an admirer of his. He has a smooth delivery, mixes pitches, good competitor and he’s somebody that we’re going to put into our mix. Whether that starts off as long relief or in the rotation will be TBD. I expect it will be the former. I expect he’ll probably start in the bullpen for us, but we think he can help provide support for this pitching staff and is somebody who has an opportunity to blossom with this opportunity.”
John Means and Matt Harvey will start the first two games and Dean Kremer could close out the series. LeBlanc, Jorge López and left-hander Bruce Zimmermann remain in play, whether as starters or relievers.
López might have secured a spot in the rotation with five scoreless innings last night.
Plutko is under team control through 2024. He averages only 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings, but walks 2.4. He exceeded 20 home runs allowed in back-to-back seasons over 76 2/3 and 109 1/3 innings.
The Orioles will need to stretch him out due to the shortened appearances.
“Maybe a little bit,” said Elias, who suggested that the Orioles could break camp with 14 pitchers. “Cleveland’s got a hell of a rotation and I think where they were going with their roster, they were in the process of looking at him in a little bit more of a middle-relief, short-relief role. He hasn’t had a ton of lengthy outings in official game action this spring, but we think he’s in a place physically now, and also historically, where lengthening him out is not going to be an overly long process, but we’ll see. You’ve got to wait until you kind of get your hands on a guy. But I think having him throw two, three, four innings should be an option in very short order.”
Yolmer Sánchez was designated for assignment to make room for Plutko on the 40-man roster, a corresponding move that came as a shock. Sánchez was claimed off waivers to play second base. He didn’t hit this spring, going 8-for-39 (.205) with a .484 OPS, but filled the role of defensive upgrade.
“Ultimately, we’ve had a lot of competition here in camp in that area,” Elias said. “We’ve got a lot of people on this team and in this organization who can play that position, and of course we’ll keep our eye out for others. But at this juncture we decided to make that move and turn the opportunity over to other players. We certainly wish him well and enjoyed having him in camp, and it’s not an easy decision, nor was it one that was foreseen for very long, but ultimately this is where we’re at, and we’re still working on this roster and seeing where this team is going to head as we get toward opening day, but adding the arm was the priority today.”
Hyde praised Sánchez this week, saying, “A pro at second base. Making the routine play, turns a great double play. Energetic on the infield, great communicator on the field, and has done a really good job of fitting in here. I’m very, very pleased with how he’s played.”
Sánchez signed for $1 million to avoid arbitration. The salary was guaranteed on opening day, but the Orioles now only pay about a quarter of it.
“Ramón’s showed a lot of good things this spring,” Hyde said earlier today. “He’s done a nice job at both middle spots, I’ve played him at third base a little bit. He’s gotten some starts, he’s come into games, he’s done a really nice job defensively. Especially early in camp he was driving the baseball and making a lot of hard contact.
“He’s kind of cooled off a little bit from there, but it’s been a little bit sporadic at-bats. But Ramón really does stay on the ball nicely, hits the ball the other way and he’s a really solid defender.”
Pat Valaika also could play second base. Elias could acquire another infielder. Nothing should come as a surprise. Today’s moves prove that hanging in the comfort zone might get you trampled.
“I think that Pat Valaika and Ramón Urías at this point are very strong candidates to start opening day or early in the series,” Elias said. “I think Brandon’s going to look at matchups. They’re both very capable second baseman. We’ve liked what we’ve seen from them offensively and defensively in this camp and in the past, but that does not preclude us from looking outside, as well. There’s a lot of activity around this time of the year, but I think we’re more than comfortable with either of those guys or some combination of those two. That’s why we made the move that we made.
“We brought in a bunch of guys who can play the position. We took a look at them, we used the tools that we use to evaluate and made a call as we barrel toward a couple of deadlines and toward opening day roster declarations. We’ll see where this goes, but both of those guys could each be in a strong mix to start the season as the opening day second baseman.”
Said Hyde: “I’ve been impressed with both of those guys defensively at second base this spring. Pat did a nice job for us offensively last year, really his first time to get some reps and steady at-bats that he hadn’t had in Colorado. Got an opportunity last year and kind of took advantage of it. I’m comfortable with both of those guys.”
Braves leadoff hitter Ronald Acuña Jr. homered off Means in the bottom of the first inning. They loaded the bases with one out in the third and Austin Riley cleared them with a double. Means walked two batters before Riley batted and lasted only 3 2/3 innings.
Travis Lakins Sr. let an inherited runner score on Alex Jackson’s double.
Means was charged with five runs and four hits and struck out three batters to close spring training with a 7.11 ERA. He received the COVID vaccine earlier today and felt that it impacted his performance.
“I just got a little tired there in the last inning. It was a long inning and I’ve just got to get through the symptoms and I’ll be good to go,” he said.
“But other than that I felt good, I felt like my stuff was pretty crisp. I like the curveball more every day than I had all spring.”
Means said a few teammates also were vaccinated. “Just to get it out of the way.”
“Tomorrow I’m sure that I’ll feel pretty good and keep going,” he said.
Asked about how the aftermath of the vaccine affected Means’ start, Hyde said, “That was something I was unaware of and something I’ll talk to him about.”
Elias said the club has received excess unused vaccines that are offered to members of the organization. Some players were vaccinated on their own.
“We think it’s important that as many shots get into as many arms as possible,” he said. “We want to see our whole organization stay healthy, we eventually want our entire organization to be vaccinated. It’s a big priority for us.”
Marcell Ozuna had a two-run single off Lakins in the fifth after a walk and Freddie Freeman’s gift double.
Pache made a diving catch in the third to rob Pedro Severino.
Acuña threw out Jordan Westburg at the plate to end the fifth.