It is one of the biggest challenges facing all 30 big league teams during the 2021 season: how to manage the innings for their pitchers.
In the full 162-game season in 2019, Orioles pitchers threw a combined 1,443 innings. During the 60-game season last year, that number was just 518 2/3 innings.
Getting back to that large number, while also keeping pitchers healthy, is going to be something that will be difficult to navigate. There is no handbook for how to go from 162 games to 60 and then back to 162.
Look at O’s ace John Means, who is 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA. He threw 155 innings in 2019, 43 2/3 last year and already has more than that with 52 innings this season.
When he appeared as an in-game guest on the MASN telecast Sunday, O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said this also impacts young pitchers such as Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther and Bruce Zimmermann.
All four have already spent time both at the major league and minor league levels this year. And that is by design.
“Ideally, we would be doing everything we can in terms of their development, first and foremost, and for all of those guys that would be a long, continuous stretch in the Triple-A rotation because none of them have had that,” Elias said on MASN. “That was because of the shutdown last year. But the reality is we can’t wait for that and we need help up here now to get through this season and manage the pitching staff, and they’re some of our best guys.
“So, it’s going to be a blend for that group all year. They’re going to be up here helping the major league team. When they are not needed or they’re going through a rough stretch, we’re going to send them to Triple-A to refine things. Like I have said all along, anyone that is on our 40-man roster, I really believe we are going to see that group up here this year.”
So yes, quite challenging with the innings totals.
“I don’t think there is any perfect way to approach it,” Elias said during the broadcast. “We are case-by-case with it. We have a loose plan and loose philosophy for how we are going to manage the innings this year, and that’s why we are doing things like backing up John Means’ starts when the schedule allows, Matt Harvey getting an extra day here or there.
“Sending some of our young arms to Triple-A to have some shorter outings here and there. So, we’re trying to manage the innings, but there is no playbook for this. Seems we are seeing some uptick in injuries across the league. For us, as a club that is putting together a young core and building for a, hopefully, prolonged run of success, keeping these guys healthy is first and foremost on our plate. We are going to prioritize that through the year, but on the other hand we have a season to play and these guys are going to have to be called upon to pitch.”
That group of young pitchers includes right-hander Mike Baumann, ranked as the club’s No. 7 prospect by MLBPipeline.com and No. 8 via Baseball America.
Baumann was shut down last summer at the alternate camp site due to a right flexor strain, but he was able to throw on the back fields for a time in spring training. Then when the minor league season began May 4, he was not on a roster. The Orioles were managing some lingering arm discomfort.
But he recently threw a three-inning sim game in Florida, and on Saturday night Baumann made a rehab start at low Single-A Delmarva. He walked three but threw two scoreless innings on 37 pitches.
“Because we are managing our innings this year, it’s going to be a long season coming off a shutdown (on the farm),” said Elias. “Michael Baumann is someone that can help this club, whether that is out of the ‘pen or maybe make some spot starts for us.
“Most of the other pitchers we have in Triple-A that are on the 40-man roster are left-handed. He’s the one guy that is kind of close to big league-ready who is right-handed with real hard and fast, plus weapons. We want to get him back up and healthy. He’s probably going to pitch again at Delmarva and then we’ll see how that goes. And start climbing him up the ladder and get him up to Triple-A in the next couple of weeks.”
Among other topics Elias addressed on the Sunday telecast were his outlook for the First-Year Player Draft in July. The O’s hold the fifth pick in round one. Have they narrowed their potential choices for that selection?
“It’s probably closer to 12 right now,” he said. “It’s a pretty broad, flat group in that middle-to-high part of the first round. Lot of teams are sorting through a lot of the same names. It’s a quality group. But it’s a little more open than usual this time of year. I think a lot of that is because, you know, the shortened season last year and the lack of summer (ball). So, guys are charging up boards based on what they are doing this spring a little bit more than normal, but we’re spending a lot of time on it right now. I was just out (scouting) this weekend and I’ll be out again next weekend. It’s a later draft than usual, too. It’s going to be in July, so we still have some time to sort things out.”
He said character is an important part of learning about the amateur players.
“It’s essential for us,” said Elias. “I can’t understate the importance of what we call makeup. Especially when it comes to these high picks. They are all very baseball-talented, but navigating the minor leagues and the challenges of a baseball career is very hard. And it’s a lot of what is between your ears that dictates whether you reach your potential or not.”
O’s beat the Yankees: The Orioles picked up a 10-6 win over the Yankees on Sunday, plating the most runs they’ve scored in a game since they got 11 in the third game of the year. There were a lot of good signs, from the opposite-field hitting to the runners-in-scoring-position numbers to Zimmermann’s strong outing. I discussed some of the good signs in this article.
Bashers win again: They are the Bowie Baysox, but they may as well change their name to the Bowie Bashers. On Sunday, as they completed an impressive six-game series sweep of Reading, Bowie scored three runs in the ninth and then four in the 10th. Bowie won that game, 13-12.
With the Baysox down 9-6 in the ninth, Adley Rutschman’s two-run homer went 434-feet and made it 9-8. Later, a run scored on a passed ball for the tie. It was on to extra innings. In the last of the 10th, Bowie was down 12-9 and got one run to pull within two. Then JC Escarra smoked a bases-loaded double that scored three to produce an amazing comeback, walk-off win.
Even though lefty DL Hall gave up five runs over 2 2/3 innings, the Baysox bashed their way to another win and are now 9-2. They scored 55 runs during the six-game sweep.