The rise and fall of Valdez and Plutko

The Orioles already made a few decisions on their minor league free agents, bringing back outfielder Cristopher Céspedes and pitchers Ofelky Peralta and Nick Vespi. Other moves will be sprinkled into their offseason, with some bigger names in the industry likely to compete for jobs on minor league deals with invitations to spring training. Like the past winter when the Orioles signed starters Félix Hernández, Matt Harvey and Wade LeBlanc.

Relievers Adam Plutko and César Valdez elected free agency after coming off the 40-man roster and aren’t likely to re-sign. The Orioles seem to be done with them as they try to upgrade the bullpen in 2022.

Opinions can change dramatically over the course of a season.

Valdez began the year as the Orioles closer and tied Cole Sulser for the team lead with eight saves, but he also had the most failed opportunities with five.

The dead fish changeup no longer baffled hitters, who made adjustments that Valdez couldn’t counter. He strung together five scoreless appearances in a row, but allowed runs in six of his last seven outings and 12 of 19 dating to June 1.

The Orioles designated Valdez for assignment on Aug 20, selected his contract again in September and used him once, when he allowed two runs (one earned) in two-thirds of an inning in Philadelphia. He was designated for assignment again and accepted another outright before hitting the market.

This was a hard and swift fall for Valdez, who carried a 1.23 ERA on May 10 and allowed 28 earned runs and 51 hits with 11 walks in 31 1/3 innings. Manager Brandon Hyde removed him from high-leverage situations, but the struggles came back.

Another team should bring Valdez to camp after his usual gig in winter ball. He’s been a starter, closer and multi-inning reliever. He doesn’t require much rest between appearances. But it seems like his chances with the Oriole have run out.

Plutko-Throws-Orange-Sidebar.jpgPlutko looked like a tremendous find for the Orioles late in camp. Acquired from the Indians for cash considerations and also out of minor league options, he allowed only two runs in April over 15 innings but registered ERAs of 8.76, 6.28 and 5.23 over the next three months - with WHIPs of 1.865, 1.465 and 1.935. He made three appearances in August and allowed 12 runs in 4 1/3 innings.

The Orioles designated Plutko for assignment and he accepted an outright assignment after clearing waivers, but didn’t make it back to the majors. He appeared in 10 games with Triple-A Norfolk and allowed 13 runs and 16 hits in 12 innings.

Plutko surrendered 17 home runs in 56 1/3 innings with the Orioles to tie Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer for fourth-most on the team. Akin logged 95 innings and Kremer 53 2/3.

Plutko surrendered home runs in his last six games to break Mark Williamson’s club relief record of five in 1990. He was charged with seven runs and five hits in two-thirds of an inning in his final appearance Aug. 14 in Boston to raise his ERA to 6.71.

The shaky state of the Orioles bullpen kept forcing Hyde to roll the dice with Plutko. He’ll likely pitch in another organization in 2022.

There are only so many home runs that a reliever can dispense before the door locks behind him. The trust was gone like another hanging curveball.

Valdez will be remembered as a fun story, the mid-30s journeyman who became a major league closer and bullpen leader. So popular and respected that teammates called him “El Jefe.” The media ate it up.

Closed clubhouses didn’t allow the beat crew to get to know Plutko, and he wasn’t exactly a regular on Zoom calls.

There was his group video session shortly after joining the Orioles and a postgame appearance on May 22 in D.C., after he allowed four runs in two innings and suggested that reporters stop being so negative about the team.

“Obviously, I know what my line was and I know what my first inning was, but what’s the point of beating up myself on that?” Plutko said. “That seems pretty pointless, and what’s the point of dwelling on a lot of us maybe struggling for a hot minute or being in a quick slump? Let’s build on some positives.

“This game’s hard enough, so let’s look for some positives and really, really focus in on those,”

Plutko led the way by recounting how he retired the side in order in his second inning after losing the lead, and made Trey Turner “look foolish on a popout on a good cutter on the outside corner.”

“I’m encouraged with the second inning,” he said. “You can dwell on negatives all day long, but in baseball, this game’s hard enough.”

So hard that Plutko was out of the majors by August and is now out of a job.

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