During a season when Major League Baseball teams have gone from playing 60 to 162 games, all clubs have scrambled at times to cover innings from their pitchers. In the Orioles’ case, a rotation that had a very poor first half, coupled with injuries to some key pitchers, may have, in a way, conspired to get some pitchers here before the team was truly comfortable with them getting a big league chance.
But they were, in some cases, on the 40-man roster and they got the call.
Look at some of the young pitchers and they have so few innings this year or in past seasons at the Triple-A level. Alexander Wells, just optioned back to Norfolk, has thrown 43 innings at that level in his career, all this year. Bruce Zimmermann has 41 2/3 Triple-A innings, Dean Kremer has 52 and Keegan Akin has the most, a full year in 2019 and 114 1/3 innings at the minors’ highest level.
I asked Orioles manager Brandon Hyde yesterday before the game if he has any concerns that some pitchers are getting called up too soon.
“You know, I hope that these guys are taking this as an experience and not a negative experience,” he said during a pregame Zoom session with the media. “But using it as something that they ... you know, a nice gauge to where they are at. The majority of the guys we brought up have very, very little Triple-A experience and all of a sudden they are thrown out against AL East lineups. That is extremely hard to do.
“So, hopefully they got their feet wet a little bit, understand what they have to work on, understand kind of the speed of the game up here and what they will be facing. And go down and improve, and when they come back up they’re ready to stick.”
“You know, you just have to have great command,” Hyde said. “Alex isn’t going to have overpowering stuff, so he’s got to be able to really pitch on edges. He’s got to be able to speed guys up and slow them down and have plus-plus command. That’s what I would like to see him work on down in Triple-A. A nice taste up here, understanding what this is about. Control is not the same as command up here.”
Of the young starting pitchers, Zimmermann, who is 26, is the only one right now with an ERA under five. He is 4-4 with a 4.83 ERA, and should be rejoining the Baltimore rotation soon. They need him.
But it has not been a year when any of the young pitchers have broken through to any large degree. That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t down the road. And there is a host of pitchers at Double-A or above yet to be seen in Baltimore.
Trying to join rare company: O’s center fielder Cedric Mullins has a chance to join just two Orioles in club history, which of course dates to 1954, in producing a season of both 25 or more homers and 25 or more steals. Don Baylor and Reggie Jackson are the only players in Orioles history to pull that off in a single season.
In 1975, Baylor hit 25 homers and added 32 stolen bases. A year later, in 1976, Reggie Jackson, in his only season as an Oriole, hit 27 homers and stole 28 bases in 134 games. If Mullins can join this duo he will be joining players who have been named the Most Valuable Player in the league, although not as Orioles, and of course Jackson is a Hall of Famer.
Through 107 team games, Mullins has 18 homers and 20 stolen bases. He projects to finish with 27.5 home runs and 30.5 stolen bases. He is close to becoming a 30-30 player, something no Oriole has ever done. He is on pace to become their third 25-25 player.
Mullins began play last night at New York as one of five players in the majors with at least 20 stolen bases, one of three with at least 18 home runs and 20 steals (Trea Turner and Fernando Tatis Jr. the others), and one of two (along with Tatis) with at least 20 steals and 50 extra-base hits. He is two home runs shy of becoming the seventh Oriole (ninth time) with a 20-20 season. Brady Anderson did it three times (1992, ‘96, ‘99) and Jonathan Villar was the last, in 2019.