The Orioles have 18 pitchers on their 40-man roster. Only four are left-handers. All four pitchers received from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for Dylan Bundy Wednesday are right-handed.
Ordinarily, it might be a given that the Orioles need to add to their left-handed relievers — Richard Bleier, Paul Fry and Tanner Scott.
But 2020 will be different. A rule change requiring pitchers to face a minimum of three batters has made the left-handed specialist passe. No longer can a Brian Matusz enter a game to face David Ortiz, dominate him and then depart. Ortiz, who went just 4-for-29 (.138) against Matusz with 13 strikeouts.
Pitchers must either face three batters or pitch to the end of an inning. Exceptions are made for illness and injury.
Bleier, who agreed to a one-year, $915,000 contract on Monday, is more effective against left-handers. They’ve batted .228 against him and right-handers are hitting .306. In 2019, the difference was more pronounced — left-handers hit .222 and right-handers hit .355.
Bleier isn’t a one-batter lefty specialist. In only four of his 53 appearances did he face a lone batter, and he was effective in all four, needing no more than four pitches in any of them.
Bleier’s strength is that he can be used against multiple hitters. He faced as many as nine hitters three times, although those were among his least effective outings. Twice, he faced just the minimum six batters in two innings.
Bleier, who recovered from lat surgery in June 2018, got stronger as the season progressed. In 12 September appearances, he had a 2.92 ERA and a 0.717 WHIP.
The Orioles had high hopes for Scott, who made his debut late in the 2017 season, but he’s been bounced between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk the past two seasons.
Scott has been far more effective against left-handers, .204 average, than right-handers, .317.
Scott impresses with his fastball and slider but lacks the control that is a strength for Bleier, who walks 1.5 batters per nine innings. Scott averages more than five walks per nine innings. Bleier strikes out just under five batters per nine innings. Scott averages 12.7 per nine. That’s why the Orioles have held on to him.
Scott shouldn’t be affected by the new rule, either. In only five of his 28 appearances, did he face one or two batters. Three of those outings were successful; he allowed runners in the other two.
On July 20, Scott faced 11 batters against the Boston Red Sox, and allowed just a walk and a hit in three innings. His performance work went unnoticed because Tom Eshelman and Jimmy Yacabonis combined for 16 runs, 12 earned, in the first four innings of a 17-6 loss.
Scott and Stevie Wilkerson, who allowed a run in two innings, kept a long evening from becoming even longer.
Fry is the one lefty who seems to fit the description. In 16 of his team-high 66 appearances, Fry faced just one or two hitters.
In his two-season career, Fry has been slightly more effective against right-handers, who hit .233, than left-handers, .255.
Fry was brought to the majors for the first time in June 2018, and held right-handers to a .218 average. Left-handers hit .264.
In 2019, Fry compiled a sparkling 1.08 ERA in July, but fell to an 8.38 ERA in August and 10.29 in September. Fry allowed five home runs in 16 2/3 innings in those last two months.
The brief outings were generally Fry’s best. In nine of the 16 he didn’t allow a baserunner and was scored upon just three times. Fry walked only one batter in those 16 one- or two-hitter outings.
It’s possible general manager Mike Elias will use the December 12 Rule 5 draft to select another left-hander, although late last month the Orioles signed two left-handers with major league experience to minor league contracts.
One was already in the organization, Hunter Cervenka, who was 1-0 with a 4.69 ERA in 73 games with Atlanta and Miami in 2016 and 2017, was re-signed. Cervenka had a 2.25 ERA in nine late-season games with Norfolk.
Another, Rob Zastryzny was 2-0 with a 4.41 ERA in 18 games with the Chicago Cubs from 2016-2018 when Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was a coach.
Zastryzny had a 5.58 ERA last season in Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
The Orioles might need both if Bleier continues to be as productive as he was late in the season and creates a market for himself. He won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2022 season.
Orioles hire Fredi Gonzalez as coach: The Orioles 2020 coaching staff is nearly complete with the hiring of former Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez as major league coach.
Gonzalez, who most recently been a coach for the Marlins, will replace Jose Hernandez, who becomes assistant hitting coach.
News of the hiring was reported by The Baltimore Sun and confirmed by an industry source.
The Orioles, who have hired Anthony Sanders as their first base coach, still need a bullpen coach to replace the departed John Wasdin.