Hanhold back in majors and working to stay there

BOSTON - Orioles manager Brandon Hyde expressed his opinion of reliever Eric Hanhold by getting the right-hander out of Friday night’s game after only two batters.

Sounds bad until Hyde explains why.

Hanhold retired both batters in the sixth after replacing Dusten Knight, snagging a comebacker to get Hunter Renfroe in a rundown between second and third base and striking out Rafael Devers on a 95 mph fastball, and made such an impression on Hyde that he was removed to keep him available the following day.

It speaks to the state of the Orioles bullpen, of course, but also the stuff that Hanhold brought to the mound in his third appearance with the club after having his contract selected from Triple-A Norfolk.

There wasn’t a high-leverage situation for Hanhold on Saturday, with the Red Sox pulling away for a 9-3 win. But Hanhold retired the side in order yesterday in the sixth inning with the Orioles down by two runs and they rallied to take the lead in the seventh, setting him up for his first major league win, before Conner Greene surrendered three in the bottom half.

“What I saw (Friday) night was what I saw in some stints in spring training, which was mid-90s, tough angle right-hander that has a ton of movement on his fastball,” Hyde said. “Threw a really good changeup to Devers also, kind of an end-of-the-bat foul ball.

“I’ve always liked Hanhold’s stuff. I think he’s gotten to the big leagues before because of it, so now it’s about throwing strikes and getting experience up here and hopefully he can throw the ball the way he did (Friday) night the rest of the way.”

Yesterday’s outing including a strikeout of J.D. Martinez on a 95 mph fastball. Hanhold also retired Bobby Dalbec on a routine ground ball to short and Kevin Plawecki on a fly ball to left. Twelve pitches thrown and eight strikes.

Hanhold resurfaced in the majors after a three-year absence in a 22-7 loss to the Blue Jays on Sept. 12, with two runs and three hits allowed in 1 2/3 innings. It also marked his Orioles debut, with 2020 spent at summer training camp and the alternate camp site.

A former sixth-round draft pick of the Brewers out of the University of Florida, Hanhold worked two scoreless innings against the Yankees on Tuesday and dispatched of Xander Bogaerts and Devers on seven pitches in his next outing.

Thumbnail image for Hanhold-Pitches-White-ST-sidebar.jpg“The hard work’s paid off, getting back up here, getting another shot,” he said Saturday while sitting in the visiting dugout at Fenway Park. “It’s been a weird couple years with COVID and whatnot, so baseball’s been in a weird spot. Just here to make the most of my opportunity and whenever I get the call, go in there and get as many outs as I can. I like to keep it simple, not over-complicate things.”

The reasons why he hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2018 with the Mets, who acquired him a year earlier as the player to be named later in the Neil Walker trade, are kept pretty simple as well. Nothing that’s too specific in Hanhold’s retelling.

“I’d like to say it was just because of unfortunate things, but growing mentally, getting my pitches better, obviously. Learning the game, how to get hitters out. I think it’s been a little longer process for me, but I definitely made improvements and it’s looking good now,” he said.

“I was battling through some minor injuries throughout that, but I wouldn’t want to put it all on that. It was just because I wasn’t pitching good, so that’s what it comes down to.”

The longest gap between a debut and an official rookie season, the latter with the Orioles, belongs to Óscar Salazar, per STATS research. Salazar played in eight games with the Tigers in 2002 and was used by manager Dave Trembley as a pinch-hitter on June 11, 2008 at Fenway Park. He singled with 2,243 days between appearances in the majors.

Jim Hutto appeared in four games with the Orioles in 1975 after making his debut with the Phillies in 1970, a span of 1,812 days.

There’s also Mickey McGuire from 1962-67 with the Orioles (1,751 days), Lou Jackson from 1958-64 with the Cubs and Orioles (1,679), Dylan Bundy from 2012-16 with the Orioles (1,289), Mark Worrell from 2008-11 with the Cardinals and Orioles (1,129), and Bert Hamric from 1955-58 with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Orioles (1,099).

Hanhold follows closely at 1,098 days after making his debut with the Mets on Sept. 4, 2018 at Dodger Stadium and tossing 1 1/3 scoreless innings. He appeared in two more games that month, both against the Phillies, and spent the next season in the minors before the Orioles claimed him off waivers on Sept. 16.

The Mets designated Hanhold for assignment to clear a spot for former Orioles reliever Donnie Hart.

Does Hanhold, who turns 28 in November, feel like a rookie?

“I know I am,” he said, smiling. “I feel like I gained a lot of experience from back then, learning how to be a big leaguer, and having that three-year gap, it’s kind of growing, maturing and following that path.”

There had to be some nerves percolating as Hanhold pitched in his first game with the Orioles after such a pronounced gap.

“Yeah, but I was just going out there, making the most of the opportunity given, have fun with it,” he said. “Not think too much about pressure or anything like that. Just go out there and throw the ball.

“Definitely a lot of opportunities here. Just got to make the most of it.”

Making the alternate camp roster was a positive development for Hanhold, even if he didn’t get the call from the Orioles. He was on their radar, if not in their clubhouse.

“It was just a weird time for everybody,” he said. “Just got to get your work in. It was as simple as that. No season, other guys are at home, so I still had an opportunity to throw in front of the front office, coaching staff. So, lucky for that because I know a lot of guys didn’t get the opportunity.”

The Orioles have introduced Hanhold to their analytics-driven world, with plenty of data at his disposal. But not to the point of overwhelming him.

“There is a lot of analytics on this side of it,” he said, “but they like to keep it simple and simplify that and just throw your stuff to your spots and kind of dumb it down in a way to not overthink it and just go out there and pitch.”

And keep impressing the manager.

“I’ve just got to make the most of every opportunity I get,” he said, “and whenever my name’s called, I’ll be ready to go.”

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