The two scoreless innings Sunday afternoon from Orioles reliever Cole Sulser didn’t spare him an option yesterday to the alternate training site. It didn’t erase the struggles last summer that cost him the closer’s job, with the loss of control and skyrocketing walk totals forcing manager Brandon Hyde to scrounge for lower-leverage situations.
Those innings, however, were important to a team knowing that it’s going to need him in a 162-game season. Knowing that he must be trustworthy no matter the margin and with no defined closer on the roster.
Sulser retired six of the seven Red Sox batters before Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells made his major league debut in the ninth. Christian Vázquez singled off Sulser, but Bobby Dalbec struck out on a 94 mph fastball. Franchy Cordero lost an eight-pitch battle in the eighth, swinging through a changeup, and J.D. Martinez whiffed on a 93 mph four-seamer.
No walks from a reliever who averaged 6.8 per nine innings last summer.
Hyde knows that Sulser is a reverse-splits guy, which is a handy piece of information to carry into games. Batters from the left side slash .140/.232/.220 and batters from the right .263/.408/.421.
Dalbec and Martinez are right-handed hitters. Sulser is capable of going off-script.
“I put him in kind of a tough spot for him just because there are some guys I didn’t want to use today,” Hyde said after the game. “Suls gave us two enormous innings out of the bullpen. The elevated fastball, he landed some sliders today, which was one thing last year where he’d have some yank misses and have to come in with his fastball. Just because his changeup is so good and it plays so well against lefties.
“You saw the at-bat against Cordero where Cordero was way out in front and on top of his changeup. And that might be the only left-hander that he faced. But he did a nice job against the right-handers, laying a couple sliders and sticking that fastball at the top part of the zone, which has got a huge spin rate and it’s very, very tough to hit.”
The ball won’t be touched if it’s way out of the strike zone. Sulser led the club with five saves, but the walks were his undoing.
None of those saves came after Aug. 15.
Better command and health could make him valuable in the middle and later innings, and could get him more save opportunities down the road.
Sulser explained to me back in January that he fractured and sprained some toes on his right foot during a freakish accident at his apartment. He tried to pitch through the discomfort and didn’t notice the impact in the consistency of his mechanics.
“I was, honestly, in my apartment and unfortunately, was walking by my bed and I ended up kicking my bed frame by accident, and basically the bed frame post went in between a couple toes and fractured one of my toe joints and sprained some others and stuff. Just some unfortunate bad luck,” he said.
“It was a heck of a time to have it happen where it was more severe impact than usual. We’ve all stubbed our toe before and it never feels too good and I was hoping it was going to be just a little bit bruised up, but it turned out to be a little more impactful than I originally thought.”
Sulser had five saves, a 3.46 ERA and a .116 average against in his first 10 outings and an 8.38 ERA with a .316 average against in his last nine. He walked three batters on Aug. 22 and 30.
The Orioles didn’t give up on him.
They still haven’t, but someone had to step aside for Shawn Armstrong. Sulser threw 37 pitches Sunday, 26 for strikes, and wasn’t going to be available for a few days.
* Anthony Santander wasn’t in last night’s lineup, which had some fans chirping on Twitter.
Hyde said earlier that he wanted to rest Santander on Sunday. Austin Hays’ hamstring injury and a short bench kept him on the field in a lopsided win.
Santander missed the last six games of spring training with soreness in his oblique area. He played three games in the Boston cold. Last night was a chance to rest him with Ryan McKenna coming off the taxi squad to replace Hays.
Nothing else going on with Santander, who had three hits Sunday and four RBIs in the series.
“I really wanted to give him a day off (Sunday). He kind of talked me into it,” Hyde said.
“I thought three day games in a row was a lot, not playing in a real game for five or six days prior. Played really, really well, played good defensively, he took really good at-bats, drove in a ton of runs. He’s just a good player. I’m going to have to keep him fresh, keep him healthy this year.”
* Hyde was hoping to find the ideal situations to introduce Wells and Mac Sceroler to the majors, but baseball has its own plan.
Wells tossed a scoreless ninth inning Sunday with the Orioles leading by eight runs. A hit and a walk couldn’t hurt him.
Sceroler had to face Aaron Judge last night with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning. The Yankees already led 7-0, but this wasn’t exactly what Hyde had in mind.
A kid whose professional experience hadn’t lifted him above the Single-A level was needed because Paul Fry couldn’t get out of the inning and Hyde wanted to keep him available tonight.
Sceroler struck out Judge and retired Aaron Hicks on a popup. He tossed 2 2/3 scoreless innings, his feet getting wet and his ERA staying clean.
“When guys are making their debuts and going to a stadium for the first time, both of those guys, Fenway this last series where Wells makes his debut and then Sceroler tonight in Yankee Stadium, it’s a really special feeling,” Hyde said. “I’m sure their hearts are beating super fast. Neither of these guys have pitched above Double-A, so to go into Fenway and Yankee Stadium, spring training is one thing, but the season in major league baseball is a completely different animal.
“I’ve been impressed with both those guys, the way they’ve come in and thrown strikes.”
* The Orioles have lost 11 straight games in the Bronx since May 15, 2019, matching their longest streak against the Yankees - also on the road - from April 21, 1955-May 11, 1956.
The streak at the new Yankee Stadium is tied for the second-longest by a visiting team, trailing only the Blue Jays, who lost 17 in a row from Sept. 19, 2012-July 25, 2014.
The Red Sox also have an active 11-game stretch since Aug. 2, 2019.