When last we saw baseball, the O’s were building a better bullpen

We don’t have games to talk about right now, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t speculate on what the Orioles roster might have looked like had opening day been March 26.

How would it have looked at the start of the 2020 season?

In earlier postings here I’ve done my own speculation on what a 26-man roster might have looked like to begin a new season. I’ve gone over the rotation, the infielders and the outfielders.

When baseball shut down in mid-March, the Orioles were putting together the potential for an improved bullpen. They certainly need one. The ‘pen posted a 5.63 ERA to rank 15th in the American League last year. The year before that, their ERA ranked 14th, but it was much better at 4.78. The bullpen WHIP was almost equal going from 1.50 in 2018 to 1.51 in 2019. The OPS against went from .776 to .832. Those numbers need to get better, said Captain Obvious.

As mid-March arrived, there were many more candidates for the bullpen than bullpen spots. An opening day eight-man ‘pen for me on that date might have looked like this: Mychal Givens to start as closer with Richard Bleier and Paul Fry from the left side. Right-handers could have been Hunter Harvey, Miguel Castro, Shawn Armstrong, Hector Velázquez and Eric Hanhold.

That group of eight leaves out a large group of pitchers that either have already been on the major league roster or who had strong spring trainings in 2020. That list includes Dillon Tate, Cody Carroll, Tanner Scott, Branden Kline, Travis Lakins Sr. and Cole Sulser among pitchers that were still on the spring training roster at the time of the baseball shutdown.

Here is the good news - and it’s really good news: Of all the pitchers mentioned here so far - all 14 of them - only two are out of options. Only Castro and Armstrong would not have been able to go to the minors without clearing waivers.

Spring training feels like years ago now and it is easy to forget that yes the O’s added Velázquez on waivers from Boston on March 8. As we left Florida, he looked like a strong candidate for a long relief role. The 31-year-old Velázquez has posted a 3.90 ERA and respectable 1.0 homer rate in 166 career big league innings.

It is easy to forget how good Hanhold looked during spring training. He had given up just one run with nine strikeouts over six innings. The Orioles acquired him last Sept. 16 on waivers from the New York Mets, but he didn’t pitch for the club in 2019. He was designated for assignment Jan. 7 when the O’s added shortstop José Iglesias. About a week later, Hanhold was sent outright to Triple-A and he was in camp as a non-roster player.

But he was throwing well and showing a mid-90s fastball in the spring. And in this story, he told me about the solid relationship he quickly built with the Baltimore coaches. He spent the winter discussing ways to improve his game with director of pitching Chris Holt. Then, in Florida, he connected well with pitching coach Doug Brocail and bullpen coach Darren Holmes.

Hanhold-Pitches-White-ST-sidebar.jpg“I mean, the communication is the best I’ve ever been a part of,” Hanhold said in March. “And that is one thing that is huge: being on the same page, getting information back and forth correct. To know what you are doing and what they want you to work on, and what they want from you, so you can give them that. They are open. Nothing is hidden. Any questions, they are there to answer them.”

Even if Hanhold had not made the opening day roster, he would be a phone call away at Triple-A Norfolk.

The Orioles’ goal to build a better ‘pen was built on getting improvement from holdovers, having Harvey there for a full year and injecting some new talent into the mix. And having a large base of optionable pitchers to start the year. It seems like a good plan. Maybe later we’ll get to actually see how some of it plays out.

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