Orioles reclaim Pat Valaika, designate Branden Kline for assignment; Dark horses for bullpen - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles reclaim Pat Valaika, designate Branden Kline for assignment; Dark horses for bullpen

A year ago, the Orioles claimed infielder Hanser Alberto on waivers from the New York Yankees on January 11. On February 22, he was lost on waivers to the San Francisco Giants only to be reacquired by the Orioles a week later.

Alberto ended up having an outstanding season, hitting .305.

This year, the Orioles did the same thing with another infielder, Pat Valaika. They claimed the 27-year-old infielder from the Colorado Rockies on October 30.

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On January 16, Valaika was claimed on waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks. On Thursday, he was reclaimed by the Orioles.

If the Orioles hang on to Valaika, he’ll rejoin the battle for a utility spot.

Richard Urena, who was claimed on waivers by the Orioles from Toronto on January 10, is probably the leader because he stayed while Valaika was let go. And, Urena is a left-handed hitter.

But Alberto proved he had staying power last year and, surprisingly, made the team.

Valaika has played 231 games in the last four seasons with Colorado but had a rough year in 2019, hitting .190 in 40 games.

Dilson Herrera, who was signed as a minor league free agent, is also in the mix, as is José Rondon.

Plus, there’s Stevie Wilkerson, who can play the infield and outfield.

Kline designated for assignment: To make room for Valaika on the 40-man roster, the Orioles designed right-handed pitcher Branden Kline for assignment.

Kline was a feel-good story when he debuted for the Orioles last April 20, nearly seven years after he was the team’s second-round draft pick.

A rare home-grown, Maryland-bred Oriole, Kline grew up in Frederick, although he has spent this offseason in Georgia. Kline, 28, was emotional when he was called up as the 26th man for a doubleheader, and he had lots of friends and family cheering for him in his first outing.

He was sent back to Norfolk after his debut, when he allowed two runs in two innings against Minnesota. Kline shuttled between Baltimore and Norfolk and had three appearances for Double-A Bowie.

Kline was 1-4 with a 5.93 ERA in 34 games. His biggest issue was walks, issuing 19 in 41 innings.

If he’s not claimed on waivers, or if the Orioles don’t make a deal for him, it’s possible he returns to the team on a minor league contract.

Some unknowns for the bullpen: While Kline was taken off the roster, an interesting name remains.

Cole Sulser was claimed on waivers by the Orioles from the Tampa Bay Rays after the regular season ended.

Sulser has something in common with general manager Mike Elias — both pitched at Ivy League colleges. Sulser graduated from Dartmouth and was drafted by the Cleveland Indians. Elias took a job in scouting with the St. Louis Cardinals from Yale.

Sulser, 29, was Cleveland’s 25th-round draft choice in 2013 and pitched for Tampa Bay’s Triple-A Durham last season before getting his first big league action in September for the Rays.

The right-hander pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings for Tampa Bay, allowing five hits, walking three and striking out nine. The pitching-rich Rays let him go, and the Orioles snapped him up.

In Sulser’s minor league career, he averaged a home run per 18 innings while striking out 11 batters per nine innings.

Another interesting name is Hunter Cevenka, who is no relation to the Orioles’ minor league catcher, Martin Cervenka. Both Cervenkas have received spring training invitations.

Martin Cervenka is from the Czech Republic. Hunter Cervenka was born in Baytown, Texas and lives not far from Baltimore in Charles Town, West Virginia.

Hunter Cervenka was 1-0 with 4.69 ERA in 68 games with Atlanta and Miami in 2016 and 2017.

In 2018, Cervenka spent two weeks in minor league camp with the Orioles but was released on March 28.

Since then, Cervenka, a 30-year-old left-hander, has been with the Detroit and St. Louis organizations and was signed by the Orioles last August 7.

Cervenka was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in nine games with Triple-A Norfolk and re-signed with the team early in the offseason.

Richard Bleier, Paul Fry and Tanner Scott are the left-handed relievers on the 40-man roster, and Cervenka is the only pure reliever among the spring training invitees, although Ty Blach and Rob Zastryzny also will be in camp.

Zac Lowther, Alex Wells and Bruce Zimmermann are also left-handers, but they’re expected to be minor league starters.

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