SARASOTA, Fla. - As the Orioles get back in action tonight at 6:35 p.m. versus the Yankees in Tampa, after the only spring off day Monday, let’s take time to look at the competition for bullpen spots.
If the Orioles do proclaim anyone as their closer for 2019 - at least for the start of it - that remains very likely to be right-hander Mychal Givens. Don’t let Givens’ spring stats - he’s allowed six runs over 2 1/3 innings - dissuade you at this point.
He’s the best candidate to close and was doing well in that job after the mid-year trades last year. Givens had a 2.25 ERA and an average against of .111 last season after Aug. 1, and he went 8-for-10 in save chances. Maybe a rebuilding Orioles team looks at others to close in addition to this right-hander during the season, but Givens seems to be the guy at this point.
For me, three lefties seem pretty firm in Richard Bleier, Paul Fry and Tanner Scott. Miguel Castro is having a strong spring (five scoreless with eight strikeouts) and he’s close to a lock to make the opening day roster. Will the Orioles carry Pedro Araujo for 17 days to satisfy his Rule 5 requirements and keep him in the organization? I will guess they do. If all the above holds true, that is six spots in the opening day bullpen.
Does the club carry seven or eight in the ‘pen? We don’t know that answer just yet. They could carry eight at the start before they need a fifth starter. It looks like the O’s need someone in that fifth spot April 3, the seventh day and sixth game of the year. They won’t need a fifth again until April 10, which is the 12th game.
With one spot to go, that would likely be right-hander Nate Karns, a pitcher who may not be built up enough to pitch in the rotation come opening day. Karns has thrown back-to-back scoreless outings of an inning each. But Karns also has one option left, and we need to keep that in mind. I still would expect he breaks north in the season-opening bullpen.
It seems likely that right-hander Branden Kline, who looks close to ready, will begin the year on the farm, probably at Triple-A Norfolk. He’d be a phone call away. His day is coming.
Complicating this a bit is what happens to pitchers who lose out on making the final two spots in the rotation. Do they go to the minors to start there, or to the big league bullpen? Both Mike Wright and Gabriel Ynoa are out of options and they’ve combined to allow one run in 18 innings this spring, with Wright throwing 10 scoreless. Ynoa is not on the 40-man and could be sent to the minors to begin the season but if called up, could not then be optioned out without first clearing waivers. Jimmy Yacabonis has thrown well in camp (with a 1.35 ERA) and could be used as a starter, multi-inning reliever or even an opener. He’s a utility guy for the bullpen, and that versatility only helps his cause to be an Oriole in 2019, even if it’s not on opening day.
If a lefty such as Josh Rogers or John Means misses out on the rotation, the Orioles have to decide if he would be better served as a possible Orioles long reliever or starting every fifth day on the farm. If they decide the rotation must have a lefty, here are two strong candidates.
There are going to be some hard choices to make before opening day on March 28 at Yankee Stadium. The club will begin with either 12 or 13 pitchers, but last season, over 162 games, they used 28.
The good news is that most of the pitchers mentioned here can be optioned. So, some that we don’t see in New York in just over two weeks we can expect to see during the season. If the Orioles look to hold on to as much talent as possible, as they should, pitchers out of options could earn those final spots so the club holds on to them for now, at least. But with several of the young pitchers throwing well, the Orioles front office is probably excited that hard decisions are coming rather than having to just have to fill out a roster.
Classy goodbye: He was a great Oriole and was great for the kids of Baltimore. But Adam Jones will be playing in 2019 for Arizona. Here is how the Orioles said a Twitter goodbye to a future O’s Hall of Famer.