It was a decision that had to be made. It probably took a little too long, frankly.
But the Orioles cut the cord on having two Rule 5 picks in their bullpen Tuesday by designating lefty Nestor Cortes Jr. for assignment, a day after he served up a game-shattering grand slam to Toronto slugger Josh Donaldson.
You can give the Orioles credit for trying, I suppose. But short starts and extra-inning games combined to seriously shackle manager Buck Showalter’s ability to properly mix and match with his bullpen.
Something had to happen – and it did Tuesday, with Cortes being designated and right-hander Yefry Ramirez getting the call from Triple-A Norfolk.
Cortes, 23, is a left-handed, soft-tossing control artist and one that has had success at every level of the minor leagues while in the New York Yankees organization. He’d be a great guy to have at Triple-A to see if he can continue his arsenal and one day develop into a crafty left-hander at the back end of a rotation or the front end of a bullpen.
But he’s not there yet. Not close. And it was tough to expect him to be. He’s barely pitched above Double-A (12 games) and it’s not like he can overpower hitters with his high-80s fastball. He has to have near perfect command to survive in the majors. And he didn’t.
In 4 2/3 innings spanning four appearances with the Orioles, Cortes allowed 10 hits and four walks while allowing two home runs – both grand slams. He was charged with only four runs (7.71 ERA), but allowed all six inherited runners to score.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge. If we could have gotten a little deeper in our games with the starting pitching I think we could have protected him more,” Showalter said. “But we were forced into some things and (I) still think he’s got a chance to be a good pitcher and we’ll see where it takes us.”
It’s possible that Cortes stays with the Orioles’ organization, but it’s probably more likely the Yankees take him back for half the original drafting price (they’d have to pay the Orioles $50,000).
“One of three things is gonna happen with Nestor. He’s either going to be claimed by one of 28 other clubs, you don’t include the Yankees. If he clears there, I know we’d like to figure out a way to keep him if we can and see if there is a trade to be worked out (with the Yankees),” Showalter said. “That would be up to Dan (Duquette) and the Yankees. Or he’ll go back there and be in their minor leagues.”
We’ll know in seven days – or sooner.
I’d imagine he’ll go unclaimed, because a claiming team would have to keep Cortes in the majors all season – and, again, he doesn’t look ready.
The Orioles were a particularly bad fit for Cortes because they also were trying to keep Rule 5 pick Pedro Araujo — who has pitched well – in the bullpen — and have few possibilities that they could option to the minors when they need fresh arms – something that has become the club’s normal modus operandi under Showalter and Duquette.
Plus, the Orioles play in the unforgiving American League East – every day you seemingly face good, deep offenses.
“Regards to what division you’re playing in, it’s the big leagues and, like I said, they’re gonna have to pitch. Like Pedro (Araujo) has and he’s done pretty well,” Showalter said. “And Nestor’s capable of better. I’d still like to have him. I mean, it’s pretty tough situations to thrust guys into. We knew that coming in and we were willing to take the risk.”
In Ramirez, the Orioles aren’t exactly getting a seasoned veteran; the 23-year-old Ramirez never pitched in the majors. But he is on the 40-man roster and has minor league options. Meaning he can help absorb bullpen innings in the next day or two and then go back to the minors.
“He’s right-handed and available and got a chance to help us. Change-up’s his big pitch,” Showalter said of Ramirez. “David Hess just pitched. Left-handers don’t play against (the right-handed-heavy Blue Jays). They’ve got, what, one left-handed hitter? If you look at the roster, it was kind of (Ramirez only). He’s had three days off, and we took him out of his workday, and he’s available tonight.”
The Orioles likely will have to add a left-handed reliever to assist Richard Bleier as the club heads to Boston this weekend.
For now, though, the Orioles are down a left-hander.
More important, they are down to one Rule 5 pitcher (and two Rule 5 players, including outfielder Anthony Santander) on the 25-man roster.
Carrying one Rule 5 guy is a challenge. Carrying two – or three – is a serious handcuff.
We all knew that coming in. And it simply didn’t work out with Cortes.