The Orioles’ new manager will have lots of question marks and players to evaluate. One area that might be a pleasant surprise is the bullpen.
Although the bullpen’s earned run average wasn’t very good (4.76) in 2018, it was better than the Orioles’ starters’ (5.49). And, because of so many short starts, the bullpen averaged nearly four innings per game, putting an inordinate amount of pressure on it.
Twenty-four relievers were used, and for the first time in club history, two of them were position players: infielders Danny Valencia and Jace Peterson.
It got so bad that Peterson was needed for an inning on Sept. 26, well after the rosters were expanded.
Despite the 115-loss season, there are a handful of relievers who might catch the eye of the next manager.
Mychal Givens became the team’s closer after Zach Britton and Brad Brach were traded. The Orioles also dealt Darren O’Day, who sustained a season-ending hamstring injury in June. Givens was 18-3 in his first three seasons, but last year was 0-7 with a 3.99 ERA. He recorded his first nine major league saves, but blew four save opportunities.
However, Givens performed much better in the season’s final two months and ended the season by pitching eight perfect innings from Sept. 18-30.
Because the Orioles played so poorly, Givens’ work went relatively unnoticed, and it didn’t help that save chances were few and far between.
Another late standout was Paul Fry, who threw six perfect innings in his final two games. The left-hander had a 3.35 ERA in 35 games.
Fry, who was acquired for international signing bonus money from Seattle in April 2017, replaced another left-hander, Richard Bleier, who had surgery to repair a torn lat muscle in June.
Bleier is 5-1 with a 1.97 ERA in his two seasons with the Orioles. Had he been healthy, he could have been another valuable trade chip because he has four more seasons under club control.
The Orioles hope Bleier will be ready for spring training.
Bleier and Fry could be joined by a third left-hander, Tanner Scott, whose potential is exciting. Scott had a 5.40 ERA but struck out 76 batters in 53 1/3 innings. Control is an issue for Scott, who averaged nearly five walks per nine innings.
Another intriguing pitcher is swingman Jimmy Yacabonis, who started for the first time as a professional last season. Yacabonis could be a depth piece as a starter or a long man in the bullpen. His 5.40 ERA and 1.450 WHIP will have to fall dramatically for him to make an impact in the majors.
Miguel Castro pitched 62 times in relief, second most to Givens. Considering how bad the Orioles were, Castro’s 3.96 ERA was solid, but he walked 50 batters in 86 1/3 innings. That must improve.
Mike Wright Jr. stayed with the team because he was out of options, and he’ll have to improve on his 5.55 ERA and nearly 11 hits per nine innings.
Another reliever who’ll have to do far better to stay with the team is left-hander Donnie Hart, who had a spectacular 2016 season when he allowed just one run in 18 1/3 innings (0.49 ERA). Last season, in eight different stints with the Orioles, Hart had a 5.59 ERA, allowing more than 14 hits per nine innings.
Sean Gilmartin, yet another left-hander, had a 3.00 ERA in 12 games and was valuable in September games when the team needed length.
Other incumbents include Ryan Meisinger (6.43 ERA in 18 games) and two pitchers acquired in July trades, Evan Phillips (18.56 in five games) and Cody Carroll (9.00 ERA in 15 games).
One pitcher who’s essentially guaranteed an Opening Day roster spot is Pedro Araujo, who is the only one of three Rule 5 picks remaining with the club. Because of an elbow injury suffered in June, Araujo fell 17 days short of the required 90 days on the roster, so he’ll have to at least begin 2019 with the Orioles if he’s healthy.
Araujo, who had no real experience above Class-A before last season, was overmatched with a 7.71 ERA in 20 games.
Other candidates who didn’t get to pitch with the Orioles are left-hander Luis Gonzalez and right-hander Branden Kline, who could be added to the 40-man roster. Neither was added to the 25-man roster in September.
The Orioles’ new manager will have different opinions on many of these relievers, but some of the choices appear better than in other areas.