Nearly a year after he was the centerpiece of the Zack Britton trade, Dillon Tate has finally found his groove in the Orioles’ minor league system.
While his 3.74 ERA entering Wednesday’s game doesn’t look too impressive on the surface, it has continued to drop since the 25-year-old right-hander transitioned away from a starting role and into the bullpen.
When Tate came back from what he called “shoulder fatigue” on June 7, he switched from being a starter and middle reliever to a late-inning role. Before the injury, Tate had a 6.00 ERA in six appearances at Double-A Bowie and High-A Frederick, including a 9.72 ERA in three starts. Since coming back to the Baysox, he has a 1.77 ERA in 12 appearances.
“He’s been a different animal,” Baysox manager Buck Britton said. “He’s really been sharp for us out of the bullpen.”
For Tate, being a reliever simplifies his role. He said his pitches play better compared to when he was a starter, and pitching fewer innings allows him to go out and just pitch rather than worry about pacing himself.
“There’s just less time to think so it’s more of a go, go, go type of mentality,” Tate said. “I think that’s more suited for me as a player and a pitcher.”
Tate still relies on his fastball, his best pitch, but also works in a slider and a changeup. That mix, along with the increase in velocity that comes with pitching out of the bullpen, has made him more effective as a reliever.
In his 12 appearances since returning from injury, Tate has pitched in the seventh inning or later in 11 of those games. He’s allowed just 10 hits and three walks in 18 2/3 innings while striking out 19. All three walks came in a July 20 appearance against the Altoona Curve, his first walk in 10 appearances and 17 2/3 innings. The pressure of a late-inning role doesn’t appear to bother Tate, either, as all but two of his appearances since the change have been scoreless.
“I think for a lot of guys, when you’re not worried about covering a ton of innings, you go out there and have your best stuff right away,” Britton said. “That’s important for him. I think he’s starting to understand that when he comes into a game, it’s go time. There’s no ‘let me try to feel my way through this, it’s let me get my best stuff going and let me get it going quick.’”
The move has not only helped turn Tate’s season around, but also gotten his path as a prospect back on track. Tate was drafted No. 4 overall by the Texas Rangers in the 2015 draft, only to be one of three prospects traded to the New York Yankees for Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline the next season. When he wasn’t struggling with injuries, he started to have success in the Yankees’ organization, posting a 2.99 ERA in 35 appearances across Single-A and Double-A.
Before being traded last year, Tate was named to the Eastern League All-Star team. Shortly after that, he suffered another setback, straining his hamstring. He couldn’t find the same form in Bowie, posting a 5.98 ERA in seven starts.
Despite having success so far in his bullpen role, Tate isn’t looking too far into the future. He’s learned through his minor league journey that no player’s path is the same and will seize the opportunity when it arrives.
“Everybody’s going to have a different path in which they get to the big leagues,” Tate said. “I think that’s something that’s a little bit more real for me this year … I’ve been able to grasp that a little bit more, and I’ve been able to take it one day it a time. When it’s my time, it’s my time.”
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