When projecting which players could join the Orioles on their slightly expanded September roster, reliever Paul Fry wasn’t supposed to enter the discussion because he wasn’t supposed to leave the team.
Fry was the top left-handed reliever on the club. The top reliever, period, for a time. Earning a chance to close. And then the bottom fell out.
The Orioles optioned Fry to Triple-A Norfolk after he allowed four runs Sunday in one-third of an inning - Joey Wendle’s grand slam after a single and two walks loaded the bases.
Fry has allowed 17 earned runs (19 total) in August with 16 walks and four strikeouts in seven innings. All three home runs against him have come this month, with the only extra-base hit prior being a double in May.
Most of the problem has been his inability to solve the Rays. There’s a lot of that going around, of course, but Fry has registered a 34.76 ERA against them in 4 2/3 innings and a 2.98 ERA against the rest.
Fry just lost his command, plain and simple. Except for the explanation why. He had a 1.78 ERA in his first 26 games and emerged as perhaps the top trade chip at the deadline. Opposing general managers kept inquiring about Fry and Tanner Scott. Scouts filed reports on them. Multiple ones stated that the Orioles were asking for a lot in return, feeling no pressure to move the duo while it remained under team control through the 2024 season.
The timing of a first trek through the arbitration process this winter has been unfortunate. Fry headed to Norfolk with a 6.08 ERA and 1.521 WHIP in 47 1/3 innings. He’s averaging 6.7 walks per nine. Scott entered last night’s game in Toronto with a 4.22 ERA and 1.449 WHIP in 49 innings. He’s averaging 6.4 walks per nine, but at least he’s avoided a demotion.
The sport’s crackdown on sticky substances, with punishments enforced, has led to the predictable speculation that it’s impacting Fry. The No. 1 theory behind his erratic control.
Doesn’t explain opponents batting .091/.211/.091 in July and the 2.79 ERA and 0.724 WHIP.
Fry allowed one run with 15 strikeouts in 10 innings in April and four runs with 16 strikeouts in 10 innings in May. Teams batted .176/.282/.176 and .147/.216/.176 in those months. But June was a hassle with seven runs, 12 hits and seven walks in 10 2/3 innings, and his improvement in July didn’t carry into August.
When I asked Fry on July 25 whether his slump was tied to the intensified scrutiny from umpires, he replied, “No. People can say what they want to say. I watch the broadcast all the time and it’s kind of annoying, honestly.”
Then what is it? And can it be fixed?
Fry suggested that the mental side of the game began to challenge him.
“Success breeds confidence,” he said, “so the first two months of the season, I was really riding that wave, and then I had a couple shaky outings and I think they just kind of piled onto each other and kind of let loose there in the ninth inning.”
Manager Brandon Hyde mentioned confidence again yesterday while talking about Fry, saying, “You see that in his misses, the walks, a lot of arm-side misses with the slider.”
“So we just felt like the right thing for Paul, which we believe in very much, is to have him to go down there and get some appearances in Triple-A and hopefully come back up here with the confidence he had in the first half.”
Whatever the reason - and Hyde and Fry seem to agree on confidence is an issue - Fry is the latest Orioles pitcher to be granted a reset in the minors. And now he’s on the list of potential - I’ll even say probable - call-ups in September.
One of the first reactions on Twitter to Sunday’s news was surprise that Fry still had an option remaining. He actually has three, according to RosterResource.com
The Orioles felt compelled to use one. Fry really left them no choice.