SARASOTA, Florida—One of the biggest challenges for Orioles manager Brandon Hyde is getting better performances from his pitching staff, especially the bullpen. In 2019, Oriole starters had a 5.57 ERA. The relievers were even worse, compiling a 5.79 mark.
Earlier this week, Hyde groused about some of his relievers throwing more than 25 pitches per inning in a 15-2 loss to Tampa Bay. Hyde exhausted his bullpen in that game, using the extra pitchers the Orioles brought over from their minor league complex.
Hyde’s first year as a major league manager was difficult. He even resorted to using four different position players — Hanser Alberto, Chris Davis, Jesus Sucre and Stevie Wilkerson — to pitch. Wilkerson pitched four times, including the 16th inning against the Los Angeles Angels on July 25, when he recorded the first save by a position player.
Mychal Givens inherited the closer’s job when the Orioles began their rebuild in July 2018 and traded Zack Britton, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day.
Givens ended up blowing eight saves and converting 11. He had a 6.69 ERA in 35 innings while pitching the ninth, but a 1.93 ERA in 23 1/3 innings pitching the eighth.
The Orioles held on to Givens at the trade deadline last July and through the winter, not getting an acceptable offer.
“It was tough,” Givens said of last year. I had a lot of stretches where I was going very well, and unlucky outings that got away from me, and I think just hopefully we can continue to make better pitches.”
Givens’ running mate, Richard Bleier, recovered slowly from lat surgery in June 2018, and it wasn’t until late in the season that he felt better. Bleier had a 5.37 ERA in 53 games but a 2.93 ERA in September.
The most exciting part of the bullpen was the August arrival of Hunter Harvey, who allowed just a run on three hits in 6 1/3 innings. He was the Orioles’ top draft choice in 2013 but injuries have slowed his career.
“We saw signs, just when Hunter came, how it helped everyone else,” Bleier said. “Just that one guy we can lean one so Mike doesn’t haven’t to take such a big workload.”
Bleier is eager to see Hunter pitch more in 2020 and is expecting improvement from Shawn Armstrong, Miguel Castro, Paul Fry and Tanner Scott.
“If I’m doing better, and then we have everyone else with Castro and Army and Fry and Tanner Scott,” Bleier said. “Just watching these guys throw now in spring, it’s really encouraging. Everybody is looking really good, especially this early in the season.
“I think, for sure, there’s plenty of room for improvement. It wouldn’t take much to improve. I think it’s just about being consistent, attacking the zone, which so far it looks like guys are doing.”
Hyde simplifies the goals.
“I’d like to see more strikes,” he said. “I’d like to see our command get better, really, from everybody down there …. we’ve got to improve on that collectively in the bullpen.”
Harvey hasn’t pitched in Grapefruit League games after missing five days because of illness.
“I think he definitely has closer stuff,” Hyde said. “I don’t know where we’re going with all that stuff, yet.”
Harvey isn’t taking his role on the 2020 Orioles as a given, reminding everyone at the beginning of spring training that he still has an option left.
“I think you saw last year what he brings, how much better our entire bullpen was when he was here and healthy,” Hyde said. “You saw it last year, he was able to pitch a leveraged inning, a high-leveraged inning, and you can kind of slot guys around that.
“I feel really good about it with him on the mound when the score’s close or we have the lead. You take your chances with a guy who throws 100 with that kind of stuff. I just want to see him healthy. I thought the experience he had last year was really going to be beneficial.”
Harvey think the bullpen will be better.
“There were some good moments last year,” Harvey said. “I know it was a tough season. If you go back and look there were a couple of good moments out of that bullpen.
“There are good arms. There are good pitchers. If everybody gets rolling on the same page, it’s possible that it’s going to be a good bullpen. It’s just everybody clicking at the same time.”