Bullpen could be an Orioles strength in 2021 - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Spring Training

Bullpen could be an Orioles strength in 2021

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

The first workout for Orioles pitchers and catchers at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Florida on Wednesday promises to bring together a large and interesting collection.

Thirty-six pitchers and eight catchers are scheduled to be there, although executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said that pitchers coming from out of the country could encounter travel delays.

Of those 36 pitchers, 20 are on the 40-man roster, six are non-roster invitees, and 10 are on the camp reserve list.

Of those 36, nearly two dozen have a shot to make the team. When the Orioles announce the signing of right-hander Matt Harvey to a minor league contract, the number will be 37.

Much of the attention will be on the competition for starting spots, with concern that the rotation won’t be strong enough. It might not be, but perhaps it can be balanced by the Orioles’ bullpen.

Some of those who aren’t selected for starting spots — Jorge López, Bruce Zimmermann, Rule 5 draft picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells, and non-roster right-hander Thomas Eshelman — could wind up in the bullpen.

Maybe Harvey, who threw out of the bullpen three times for Kansas City last year, could get a spot with a good spring.

The Orioles have a number of promising relievers who were part of last year’s staff that saw its ERA drop from 5.79 in 2019 to 3.90 in the 60-game 2020 season.

With a 26-man roster, the Orioles can carry 13 or 14 pitchers, although that would leave a three-man bench.


The Orioles could fill an eight-man bullpen with returning pitchers.

There are right-handers Hunter Harvey, Shawn Armstrong, Travis Lakins, Cole Sulser, Dillon Tate and César Valdez, and left-handers Tanner Scott and Paul Fry.

Armstrong missed a month because of a back injury but had a 1.80 ERA in 14 appearances, striking out 14 while walking three, and allowing just nine hits in 15 innings.

The Orioles are hoping Harvey remains healthy and regains the dominance he showed in 2019, when he allowed just three hits and struck out 11 in 6 1/3 innings. In 2020, Harvey took a step back, allowing eight hits and striking out six in 8 2/3 innings. Harvey was the team’s No. 1 draft pick in 2013 and finally seemed free of injury in 2019. He’s still only 26.

Lakins had a 2.81 ERA but walked 13 in 25 2/3 innings. Sulser, who began the season as a closer, seems to have the shakiest case of the incumbents. He saved five games, blew three and lost five. His 5.56 ERA is the highest among the eight.

Tate also impressed with a few appearances late in 2019, and although he was slowed by an elbow injury, had a 3.24 ERA in 12 games, yielding only nine hits in 16 2/3 innings.

Valdez, 35, was the feel-good story of the season’s final month. His changeup and change of speed baffled opponents. He compiled  a 1.26 ERA in nine games, allowing only seven hits and no home runs in 14 1/3 innings.

The question is his staying power. Will hitters remain fooled over several months?

Fry, who joined the Orioles in June 2018, has been effective. His 2.45 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 22 innings are a strong selling point.

Scott delivered on his considerable promise in 2020 with a 1.31 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. He struck out 25 and reduced his walks to 10.

Besides those eight, non-roster left-hander Fernando Abad is a contender. Another 35-year-old, Abad has an unusual stat line —  8-29 with a 3.67 ERA for six major league teams in a career that began in 2010.

The Orioles will try to staff the bullpen with as many pitchers with options as possible. Abad, Armstrong and Valdez don’t have options, and the Rule 5 pitchers can’t be optioned in 2021.

Long shots might include Isaac Mattson. He was one of four right-handers obtained from the Los Angeles Angels for starter Dylan Bundy in December 2019. Even if he doesn’t come north with the team, Mattson has a shot to get promoted later in the season.

Another interesting name is Ashton Goodeau, who was claimed from Pittsburgh in December. At 28, he pitched in his first four big league games for Colorado in 2020 and could serve as a swingman.

Four on the camp reserve list have major league experience. Right-handers Cody Carroll and Evan Phillips and left-hander Josh Rogers have experience with the Orioles. Another right-hander, Eric Hanhold, pitched well during spring training last year.

There’s a lot to sort out between now and April 1st, when the Orioles open the season in Boston, but the choices for the bullpen seem much stronger this year and could be a strength.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB



  1. Orial

    February 17, 2021 at 8:15 am

    Solid,in depth writeup Rich. Even with a solid rotation modern day teams will need better than average bullpens to succeed. Managers start getting antsy in the 4th inning these days(right Kevin Cash?). That being said-yes I like some of the arms out there. One concern is catcher Severino being overwhelmed by a constant influx of changing arms(Scott’s sweeping slider seems to tip off his glove at times).

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 17, 2021 at 10:50 am

      Thank you, Orial.

  2. Bhoffman1

    February 17, 2021 at 8:44 am

    Evan Phillips has good stuff if he can get it over the plate and Carroll looked good in spring training last year and then couldn’t get a batter out. I think it’s to soon to give up on these guys.

  3. Bman

    February 17, 2021 at 10:07 am

    I would not be surprised to see Eshelman, Matt Harvey (if he’s got anything left), and a rule 5 guy make the bullpen. It would make sense to carry a six man rotation too as pitchers try to build up for a regular long season after last year. That would give them flexibility in carrying another starter and innings eater like Zimmermann or López.

  4. Tony Paparella

    February 17, 2021 at 10:20 am

    My question is what exactly are the particulars for Matt Harvey and Hernandez if they start slow in spring training and are not deemed ready, but look to have something left? Will they be maintained at a minor league facility or let go altogether? Also outside of the rule 5 guys who else may have to be let go because of options or whatever their situation?

    • ClayDal

      February 17, 2021 at 10:31 am

      Usually when a veteran like King Felix or Harvey sign a minor league contract, an opt out date is included. Could be Opening Day, May 1st or whenever. The date can be pushed back. In your example, that they aren’t quite ready, the two sides can mutually push the date back. As for pitchers without options, Jorge Lopez is out of options. Not sure about Goudreau.

      • Tony Paparella

        February 17, 2021 at 10:54 am

        Thanks ClayDal

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 17, 2021 at 10:51 am

      Goudreau has two options remaining, John. I also corrected a mistake I had in the story. I meant to write that Cesar Valdez is also out of options. Dillon Tate has options remaining.

  5. Boog Robinson Robinson

    February 17, 2021 at 11:31 am

    Are any knuckleballer’s available? What’s Bartolo up to these days?

    • Rich Dubroff

      February 17, 2021 at 11:37 am

      The Orioles have Mickey Jannis, who I
      wrote about last month in camp.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        February 17, 2021 at 3:55 pm

        And with a name like Mickey, ya just gotta root for him! Thanks for reminding me Rich.

  6. BirdsCaps

    February 17, 2021 at 2:15 pm

    Why are we worrying about the bullpen? The Orioles just signed two all star starters. Did we forget about king Felix and the dark knight!!! 🙂

  7. CalsPals

    February 17, 2021 at 2:51 pm

    Kind of sounds like Harvey just needs to learn to pitch, an article said his fastball last yr dropped from 97 to 94, still sounds like he has some velocity, just learn to pitch…go O’s…

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