The bullpen has become a major concern for the Orioles. After posting a 2.81 ERA in April, Oriole relievers have a 6.43 ERA in May.
Entering Tuesday night’s game with the Minnesota Twins at Target Field, manager Brandon Hyde said he isn’t sure who he will call on to close the game, should the Orioles need it.
On Monday night, with the Orioles leading 3-2, Tanner Scott, César Valdez and Tyler Wells combined to allow six runs in the eighth inning as the Orioles lost their seventh straight and the 14th in 16 games. Valdez has eight saves but has blown four chances and has an ERA of 3.93. That’s the same ERA as Scott. Both are struggling — Valdez is no longer fooling hitters with his offspeed pitches, and Scott can’t control his stuff.
For the moment, Paul Fry might be the choice. Fry recorded a save on April 7th at New York and blew one in the next day’s home opener.
“That’s a difficult one because we have so many guys who are having a tough few weeks,” Hyde said. “Paul Fry, right now, is pitching the best out of anybody. He’s been our most consistent reliever the past month.
“We had a ton of guys in April throwing the ball well, and I was comfortable throwing a lot of guys in high-leverage spots. The ninth inning is a different inning for me than the eighth or any other inning. With guys that have never done it before in our bullpen, and we’re not really pitching extremely well right now, it’s going to be a mixed bag.
“If I don’t use Paul Fry in a big spot in the seventh or the eighth, you could see him in the ninth, but we’ve got to get there. I’ll do the best I can. That’s the answer.”
Valdez, 36, has allowed six runs in 5 2/3 innings this month for a 9.53 ERA.
“He’s just had a tough couple of weeks,” Hyde said. “He was so good in April, so good in the last couple of weeks of the season last year. I just think you’re seeing the changeup hang in the strike zone longer than normal.
“He’s aware of it … he’s frustrated. He talks about it. He’s trying to get back to what he was in April like a lot of our guys. Hopefully, he gets back there soon.”
Scott has been wild all season after appearing to finally gain command of his pitches last year. He has 17 walks in 18 1/3 innings. This month, he has a 5.87 ERA.
“He was so good in spring training, and so good to start the year,” Hyde said. “He was just letting it go and not worrying about mechanics, not worrying about anything except trying to throw the ball past the guy.”\
Early in the season, Scott was throwing around 100 mph. Now, he’s throwing around 95 mph.
“He’s thinking too much,” Hyde said. “He’s trying to place the ball. He’s trying to throw strikes instead of being an athlete and go after it and compete.
‘He’s been really successful the last couple of years when there’s traffic, and I bring him in in a big spot to get a hitter out. I can’t tell you how many times he’s punched that hitter out, and it’s really because it’s a sprint. He’s got one job. He’s there to just punch that guy out, When he has a longer outing, or when I send him back out, that’s the next step for him, to have that same mentality throughout an inning.”
Hyde would like to have Dillon Tate as a late-inning option, but he’s on the 10-day injured list because of a strained left hamstring. Tate begins a rehab assignment for Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday.
“He is pitching tonight and see how that goes, and we’ll make a decision on if he needs another outing or two there or possibly bring him here,” Hyde said.
Hays update: Austin Hays is out of the starting lineup for the second straight game because of a tight left hamstring, but Hyde says he’s improving.
“He says his hamstring feels a little bit better,” Hyde said. “He’s out there testing it right now. Hopefully, he’ll be available off the bench right now, but we’ll see. He’s doing some conditioning things.”
Oriole Park: Camden Yards returns to full capacity on June 1st, and individual game tickets go on sale at noon on Wednesday.
For the first two months of the season, capacity had been restricted to 25 percent, and the team has drawn 175,231, an average of 7,965. That’s 21st in Major League Baseball.
Capacity limits vary in baseball. Two teams that have allowed full attendance, Texas and Atlanta, lead baseball. Boston, which sells out regularly, has an average attendance of just 5,753 because of reduced capacity.
Although the Orioles would like to get a bump from bigger crowds, it’s not likely. The team’s poor record and likelihood of a fifth consecutive losing season are factors, but there are external factors beyond the team’s control.
Many people, vaccinated or not, are not comfortable attending events with thousands of people. Others who couldn’t attend games last season because of the pandemic got out of the habit and found it just as satisfying to watch on television.
Ordinarily, single-game tickets go on sale before spring training. Some fans have already made plans for vacations and other activities, and budgeted their leisure-time money elsewhere.
There’s also the perception that it’s not safe, but that doesn’t stop the Ravens from drawing capacity crowds.
The Orioles’ home schedule doesn’t help. They’ve already had 10 home games with the Red Sox and Yankees, two traditionally large draws. The April 8 home opener with Boston and the May 14-16 series against New York were reduced capacity sellouts, and the Red Sox and Yankees don’t return until September.
Interleague opponents are often a good draw, but this season the Orioles play the National League East, and the Braves, Marlins, Mets and Nationals aren’t likely to generate an increase, though the July 23-25 series against Washington could draw a few thousand extra.
Many fans are getting their baseball fix by going to Aberdeen, Bowie and Delmarva to see Oriole prospects that they hope to see at Camden Yards in 2022 and beyond.
If the team becomes more competitive, it will be reflected in the attendance.