The Orioles have gone back to a nine-man bullpen, removing a bench option for manager Brandon Hyde but also giving him an extra reliever. Some nights it’s the ideal alignment, others it’s a handicap. Anyone knowing in advance how it’s going to play out should contact the team. There could be a job opportunity.
Longer outings from the rotation could reduce the need for a ninth reliever. The last four starters completed five innings prior to last night, a first in 2021. And fewer weak links in the bullpen also can influence its composition.
Another reliever is headed to Baltimore to replace Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells, who’s on the injured list with right wrist tendinitis. Meanwhile, the relievers registered 4 1/3 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts in a 6-1 win over the Nationals.
Hyde has spent too many nights trying to steer away from certain pitchers in high-leverage situations or having no other choice, braced for the failure and the questions that follow.
The ability to again trust César Valdez and get clean innings out of him would make life easier.
Valdez no longer is the closer and may not return to the role. However, he’s offered back-to-back appearances with no runs allowed over a total of five innings. All six batters were retired Tuesday before Shaun Anderson replaced him.
Chiseling away at an ERA is a time-consuming pursuit for a reliever. Valdez has taken a 6.91 ERA down to 5.88.
The range of innings in those two appearances was the fourth through the seventh. If middle relief is his niche, even temporarily, Hyde will take it as long as Valdez can keep the Orioles in games and spare the bullpen.
It’s only been two successes after allowing runs in four straight appearances - two on both sides of his stint on the injured list - and in six of seven, but it’s encouraging.
Wells would be getting save chances if healthy, but he’s pitched twice this month and the extended absence wasn’t to freshen him up. Of course, some fans on Twitter ripped Hyde Wednesday for saying Wells wasn’t available, as if the manager was covering up a mistake.
No, Hyde was giving Wells more time to recover. But hey, don’t let the facts interfere with a good rant.
Hyde is choosing the ninth-inning arm based on availability and which one gives him the best chance to win. That’s how Tanner Scott tried to close out Wednesday’s game against the Rays, who had a walk-off win. Dillon Tate worked the ninth last night, but with a five-run lead.
Scott made an impressive recovery last night. Tate was dominant in the ninth, Paul Fry retired all four batters he faced with three strikeouts. The bullpen could be trusted again.
* Kelvin Gutiérrez lasted only eight games with the Orioles before they optioned him to Triple-A Norfolk. He didn’t hit much, going 4-for-23, but he looked pretty good at third base. The arm is legit.
The face keeps reminding me of Jimmy Paredes, but the Orioles don’t care much about it.
“It’s a really, really good arm,” Hyde said.
Gutiérrez just needs to hit more at that position or his stays in the majors might remain brief.
I’m still adjusting to the reconstructed minor leagues, including the new Florida Complex League.
I learned this week that players can move back and forth between the two Orioles’ entries - the orange and black teams. Coby Mayo homered for the orange Thursday and twice for the black yesterday.
The teams played each other in Sarasota.
* Triple-A catcher Nick Ciuffo, who was on the Orioles’ taxi squad, has been placed on the 60-day injured list, according to the minor league transactions page.
Ciuffo, signed as a minor league free agent on Dec. 21, began the season on the injured list after breaking a bone in his right hand on a hit-by-pitch. He didn’t debut with the Tides until June 16 and appeared in 12 games, going 7-for-38 (.184) with a double and two home runs.
So, what happens if the Orioles suddenly need a catcher?
The two on the 40-man obviously are with the team in Pedro Severino, who had a sacrifice fly last night and his ninth passed ball, and Austin Wynns. They designated Chance Sisco for assignment and he’s playing for Triple-A Syracuse.
Norfolk’s roster includes Brett Cumberland, part of the Kevin Gausman/Darren O’Day trade with the Braves, but he’s still working on his defense and began last night batting .209/.383/.390 with five doubles, nine home runs, 19 RBIs, 26 walks and 68 strikeouts in 227 plate appearances. He’s been hit by 24 pitches, raising his career total to 101.
The other catcher is Cody Roberts, an 11th round pick in 2018 out of the University of North Carolina, who appeared in 23 games with Single-A Aberdeen and one with Double-A Bowie earlier this summer. Roberts hadn’t played beyond the low Single-A level until this year, and last night hit a grand slam but also was charged with four passed balls.
You try catching a knuckleballer.
Anyway, there aren’t obvious alternatives at Triple-A.
Don’t even think about it.
* I wrote earlier this week that the Orioles were likely to go overslot with four or five of their draft selections, and that eighth-rounder Creed Willems might be the only one to go way beyond.
The prep catcher had a commitment to Texas Christian University. Now he has a $1 million signing bonus.
The slot value of the 227th pick was $187,700. So yes, that’s way beyond.