On a team that didn’t have a true closer going into the 2020 season, right-hander Cole Sulser, a veteran before this year of only 7 1/3 major league innings, was thrust into the role. He’s had some big blow-ups recently and now has been moved out of the closer’s role.
But in my humble opinion, he certainly should not be moved off the team. The Orioles need to give him lower-leverage situations to pitch in and get him back on track, and that is the new plan.
One wrinkle in the mix is that the Orioles seem to play in nothing but close games lately. But maybe they use him earlier in games - whatever the score - and see if they can get him straightened out.
Sulser has shown an excellent changeup and the ability to get left-handed hitters out at a great rate. He has shown the ability to keep the ball in the park, both on the farm with a career 0.5 homer rate per nine and with the Orioles at 0.8. On the farm he had better control and command, much better, than what he has shown this year.
So pitch him in the middle innings. Let him find some more weapons and ways to get out right-handed hitters and see if this late bloomer at age 30 can be part of the future. Some quality arms are emerging in the O’s improved bullpen, and after he has pitched in 12 games with the team, it’s too soon to say whether Sulser can or can’t be one of them.
This is a guy that has overcome Tommy John surgeries in 2012 and 2015 to come back and pitch and then make his big league debut late last year with Tampa Bay. If the Rays thought he was good enough to pitch for them, it might be OK for the rebuilding Orioles to look at him longer.
At Triple-A Durham in 2019, Sulser went 6-3 with a 3.27 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. His walk rate was 3.3 and strikeout rate 12.1. For his minor league career, Sulser has a 3.91 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, a 2.7 walk rate and a 10.4 strikeout rate.
But he has walked 13 in 15 1/3 innings with the Orioles. He has given up just seven hits and opponents are batting .137 against him. Yep, big league hitters bat .137 versus Sulser this year. Right-handers are batting .286 against him but lefty batters are 1-for-30 with nine strikeouts and a batting average of .033.
“He has always been known as a command guy,” manager Brandon Hyde said before Monday’s day game. “He doesn’t have a ton of major league experience but really low walk totals in the minors. That is what he is disappointed about the most, the leadoff walk (Sunday), after getting ahead 0-2. He’s somebody that got a lot of big outs for us earlier in the year. The other night (on Friday) he got five quick outs and makes a bad pitch. I still believe in his stuff. Still believe in the maturity and the makeup of the guy. The guy has been able to get left-handers out. But it’s good to give him a little bit of a reset.”
Sulser had a huge finish to his 2019 season in Triple-A. From June 30 to the end of the season he went 3-0 with a 1.07 ERA. Over 33 2/3 innings he walked five and fanned 49.
You look at those stats, his numbers this year against lefties and a .137 opponent average against all hitters in 2020 and you don’t cut that guy. He also, by the way, has three options remaining. He could be a part of a bullpen for future seasons as an optionable piece. Another reason to try and get him right.
“He thinks he’s trying too hard,” Hyde said. “We didn’t have a closer, so to speak, coming into the season. So someone that can throw strikes and be able to get right- and left-handers out, and Sulse had the reverse splits and still with a slider to get righties out, and the elevated fastball. He did that earlier in the year. He’s had very, very little major league time and we put him in a really tough situation. We’re taking our lumps a little, but hopefully gained experience, all of these guys.”
There are times when one aspect of a team affects another. The recent run of lack of runs from the Orioles has put added pressure on the bullpen, said the skipper.
“That is, for me, where we need to take the next step, honestly, is offensively be able to tack on runs. Able to extend leads, especially in the middle part of the game. We make it so hard on our bullpen guys, because we are playing so many tight games, night after night. And you are not going to be perfect when you play like that. You have to be able to win 7-2 once in a while.”
To read more on Sulser, see this feature on him from just before opening day.
After the trade of Miguel Castro on Monday, the Orioles will likely need to add a pitcher for tonight’s game with the Mets. They are really short on lefties in the ‘pen with Keegan Akin now starting, Paul Fry having thrown 2 1/3 innings Sunday and Tanner Scott having pitched on back-to-back days and in four of the last six games.
Does that lead the Orioles to call lefty Brian Gonzalez over from the Bowie camp? How do they fill their open roster spot today?