If the Orioles are going to make pitching data so readily available, creating a big splash with their plunges into analytics, reliever Shawn Armstrong would have been foolish to stay in the shallow end.
To figure out why he was getting hit and losing command after leaving the injured list, Armstrong studied his mechanics and hunted for a solution beyond the standard side work and conversations with director of pitching/pitching coach Chris Holt and assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes.
They discovered an issue that, as Armstrong phrased it yesterday, “we didn’t really see from the naked eye during games and everything.”
“We kind of dove into some analytic stuff,” he said, “and found that my delivery arm slot was down about three inches comparative to spring training and last year and kind of doing some overlay stuff and everything with some timing issues. Little things like that that, kind of disappointed in myself that I didn’t really dive into that and realize that, being my parts of six seasons in the big leagues.
“We dove into that, me and Homie kind of realized it and I feel like I’m in a much better spot right now.”
Armstrong was placed on the paternity list as the Orioles broke camp, transferred to the injured list and didn’t look right after they activated him. In his first four appearances lasting just two innings, he surrendered six earned runs (seven total) and seven hits with three walks.
The two home runs doubled last summer’s total in 15 innings. Four of five inherited runners scored after he stranded 11 of 13 in 2020.
The newer version of Armstrong hasn’t been scored upon in five of six outings. Facing the Athletics in back-to-back games over the weekend, he retired all seven batters with four strikeouts and followed up last night with 1 2/3 scoreless innings to lower his ERA from 14.40 to 9.00.
Armstrong inherited two runners from Dean Kremer and one scored on a sacrifice fly.
The only real slippage during this stretch came in an April 20 game in Miami, when he loaded the bases without retiring a batter and Adam Plutko let two runners score. Armstrong sat in the dugout and fumed at plate umpire Mike Muchlinski for his miniscule strike zone.
Leadership jobs in the bullpen became plentiful with last summer’s trades. Armstrong’s age (30) and experience in the majors that exceeds everyone else’s made him a natural candidate.
“I think the most important thing about the younger guys is making sure that they’re comfortable, as far as being a big leaguer day in and day out, what it takes to come to the ballpark and be the same guy,” he said.
“Obviously, this is a game of failure as far as pitching and hitting. A guy hits .300, you’re a Hall of Famer. Obviously, pitchers don’t have the ability to fail 70 percent of the time and stay in the big leagues. But we do a really good job down in the bullpen communicating scouting reports, helping each other. (Tyler) Wells, for instance, asking what it takes to be a big league reliever - routines, getting off the mound, all that stuff.
“It’s just, the communication aspects that we have together amongst each other on and off the field says a lot. We’re a very close group, and not just baseball.”
Armstrong already earned a big win before the season began with the birth of his son on March 31 and the choice of name - Declan Cutter. His best pitch passed on to the next generation.
“Without the cutter, I probably wouldn’t be in the big leagues,” he said.
“Declan Cutter had always been kind of set in stone for our little boy. He’s awesome, it’s amazing being a dad. It’s a totally different experience. Definitely takes some adjusting, getting used to, at the beginning of the season, his sleep schedule. But we love the name and a lot of people love it, as well.”
* The unexpected promotion of Jay Flaa this week enabled the media to learn a little more about him beyond his occasional appearances on spring training travel rosters and lists of camp extras at home games.
I’ve read his name many times, unsure how to pronounce it and assuming that it wouldn’t really matter in my Orioles coverage.
Then he showed up. For only a couple of days, but long enough to make an impression.
And for me to finally learn his name.
The Orioles are Flaa-less now, but that could change.
Flaa threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings against the Yankees, getting a double play grounder from Giancarlo Stanton and striking out Aaron Judge. Back-to-back walks to open the ninth inning hinted at disaster, a 28-year-old rookie unraveling before our eyes, but he held it together.
Others have tried and failed against that lineup.
I received a text from one of Flaa’s Triple-A teammates on the day that the right-hander arrived in Baltimore.
“We need Jay Flaa in there today,” he wrote. “He’s good. Different guy than he was two years ago, for sure.”
A coach who’s worked with Flaa agreed that “everyone likes Jay.” He also mentioned an uptick in velocity over the last couple years, a split that can be really good and a solid work ethic. Flaa just needs to avoid falling into the trap of working behind in the count and walking batters.
Flaa may be sitting on the 40-man bubble now that he’s occupying the last spot, but he’s also gaining admirers in the organization. Becoming more than just someone who fills out a Triple-A pitching staff.
With the constant movement in the Orioles’ bullpen and Flaa having options, there’s a pretty good chance that he’ll return to Camden Yards over the summer.