For the second time in two days, an Orioles reliever has been placed on the injured list.
On Wednesday, it was Evan Phillips, who came out of Tuesday night’s game shaking his right arm and has been diagnosed with right elbow inflammation. The day before it was Dillon Tate, who injured his right pinky finger in a fall at home.
Tate was replaced on the roster by Shawn Armstrong, who hadn’t pitched since August 22nd because of lower back soreness. Branden Kline, who is with the Orioles on this trip, has been activated from the taxi squad.
The Orioles’ bullpen, which has reduced its ERA from 5.79 in 2019 to 4.02 this season, continues to evolve. While Armstrong was on the injured list, the Orioles traded two of their mainstays, Miguel Castro and Mychal Givens.
“Givens did a phenomenal job in a leadership role,” Armstrong said. “Castro kind of led by example, did a really good job with the team. I think that says a lot about the Orioles. Each guy we bring up fits into the format we’re trying to accomplish.”
Since Armstrong has been gone, Hunter Harvey rejoined the team, and the Orioles added 35-year-old César Valdez. They are a study in contrast, Harvey throwing in the upper 90s and Valdez baffling hitters with slow stuff.
“Everybody’s laughing, everybody’s having a good time,” Armstrong said. “We’re serious when it comes to game time. The relationship that we have together, just the atmosphere that [bullpen coach Darren] Holmes created down there, it’s like nothing ever happened. We rely on one another.”
Valdez’s changeup has been called a “dead fish.” In 13 1/3 innings, Valdez has allowed just two earned runs on seven hits, striking out 12 and walking four.
“The dead fish is a really good name,” Valdez said through a translator.
Pitching coach Doug Brocail has been impressed.
“Time-tested, this is a guy that’s a king at home,” he said of the Dominican. “He’s a strike-thrower with everything. I don’t know how many changeups he has, but five of them do five different things. Breaking balls slide. He has an upshoot slider. The one thing we don’t see a lot of is his fastball. We just don’t see enough of it to see if it plays 95 because of all the soft stuff, or if he can locate it. I’m sure he can locate it well. We just see so much offspeed.
“This guy, he knows what he’s doing, he’s been in baseball a long time, and even when he’s not in baseball in the United States, he’s down there dominating in the Winter Leagues, so I think he gives us a different look out of the ‘pen.”
The Orioles have two exceptionally hard throwers in Harvey and Tanner Scott, and Valdez presents a change of pace.
“He’s got a lot of confidence,” Harvey said. “I was watching it last [week] inside the clubhouse, and it was like, ‘This is electric, man.’ That changeup he throws is ridiculous. It falls off the table like crazy. I don’t know how you can hit it, and I don’t think hitters do, either.”
Harvey has a 2.35 ERA in eight appearances, and the Orioles hope that he can be their closer in 2021.
“In the back of my mind, I kind of thought about it,” Harvey said. “Really just being up here and being able to pitch in the big leagues and get experience, that’s kind of like the main goal … Now, we’ve got the jefe [a nickname for Valdez] in the back end and until somebody can figure out how to hit him, we’ll roll with that.”
Harvey has been disappointed that his strikeouts are done, but he struck out two of the four batters he faced on Sunday.
“Harv’s frustration with the split, he has the answer,” Brocail said. “He just doesn’t do it. I ask him, ‘What’s the problem?’ ‘Well, I’m not throwing it like the fastball.’
“Well, there you have it. Think fastball, let it rip, and good things will happen. He wants to see the swing and miss. He wants to see the break. If he just forgets about all of that and throws the fastball with it, that’s when it’s really, really good, and that’s what he has to get down to.
“The problem is, Harv has been kind of stretched out. We’re kind of careful with Harv, and it’s one of those things, I’m ready for him to pitch every other day, five, six times in a 10-, 12-day period. Hopefully, next year, that’s where we’re at, and he’s either setting up or closing. It’s a huge, huge, huge arm.”
Then there’s Scott, who made his major league debut in September 2017 but hasn’t pitched an entire big league season until 2020. In 20 1/3 innings, Scott has a 1.33 ERA. He’s still walking more batters than he should (10), but he’s only allowed 10 hits.
“I think it’s just him being comfortable,” Armstrong said. “The whole going up and down thing is tough.
“Sometimes guys’ deliveries changes when they come to the big leagues from the minor leagues. The game speeds up. You don’t know what they’re thinking. You don’t know how they’re processing the game.
“The guy’s 98-101 with a wipeout slider. The stuff is not a question … 75 to 80 percent of the time, he’s coming in with men on base, and he’s getting the job done.”
Notes: Manager Brandon Hyde didn’t elaborate on Phillips’ injury but hopes it’s not serious. Hyde also hopes that José Iglesias, whose left wrist was bruised when he was hit by a pitch in Saturday night’s game, will play before the season ends on Sunday.