The Orioles are on a nine-game losing streak and have the worst record in baseball. Three weeks ago, they had a delightful flight home from Seattle after John Means pitched perhaps the best game in franchise history.
Since that no-hitter, the team has lost 16 of 18. Before the latest loss, Orioles’ executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias spoke about the team’s poor play.
The Orioles’ bullpen woes aren’t likely to be solved by pitchers on the 40-man roster. There are seven pitchers on the 40-man roster who are not on the team’s active roster, though one of them, Dillon Tate, will be activated for Thursday night’s game in Chicago. Tate has been on the injured list because of a strained left hamstring.
Another, Travis Lakins, was sent down to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday after a number of poor performances. Only Isaac Mattson, and Mac Sceroler, who’s on the 10-day injured list because of tendinitis in his right shoulder, are pure relievers on the 40-man roster.
“A lot of our 40-man players in Triple-A are a little beaten up right now,” Elias said. “It’s a shorter number of optionable options than you would like to have, but that happens to every team. We may be above average in that regard.”
Sceroler should be ready soon, and Hunter Harvey, who has been on the 60-day injured list because of a left oblique injury, could rejoin the team as soon as next week.
“This is all about depth and navigating the season,” Elias said. “We would like to get the entire group healthy all at once. It would make things easier. I knew this was going to be a very difficult season to navigate, especially with us having to worry about the health of these young pitchers.”
There are several pitchers at Norfolk who aren’t on the 40-man roster who could be candidates for the Orioles. One might be Spenser Watkins, who pitched six hitless innings for the Tides on Sunday.
“As we told all those guys in spring training, they’re going to be needed, to a man. I think it’s going to happen at some point in time for a lot of them. They’ve just got to keep putting their work in and pitching well at Triple-A and waiting for the confluence of opportunity and timing, and I think we’ll see some of that group.”
Another area that’s drawn criticism is the catching duo of Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco, who have floundered offensively and, especially, defensively. Strong catching should be a priority, especially with a young pitching staff, and top prospect Adley Rutschman isn’t likely to be rushed. Currently, there isn’t another catcher on the 40-man roster.
“We’re keeping an eye on what everyone is doing in Triple-A,” Elias said. “I have been frustrated at times with a lot of defensive performances on the team, but understanding that this is a tough game and players are working hard and we’re going to try to get the most out of them … but, ultimately, if we get to the point where a different mix would be to the benefit of not only those players themselves, but the pitching staff and team at large, we’re going to look at that and consider that.
“I know that there have been frustrations, and we share them. We’re not at that point. We’re going to continue to push and look.”
Elias had hoped for measured improvement this year.
“I don’t think anybody’s happy about the win/loss record,” he said. “It’s very important for us to remain focused and committed. Overreacting briefly to struggles from young players, making rash roster decisions with guys who have bright futures is not in our long-term nor our short-term best interests.”
Some of the players who performed well last year but haven’t this year are Ryan Mountcastle, who has played first base, left field and served as the designated hitter, and left-handed reliever Tanner Scott. Both appear to have bright futures but are struggling — Mountcastle is chasing pitches out of the strike zone, especially breaking balls, and Scott has lost command of his slider and fastball.
Elias has said that when he brings up players, he wants them to stay with the Orioles but a number of been sent back to the minors. Among those are starters Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann, and outfielder DJ Stewart.
“It’s frustrating to see that especially with [Mountcastle and Scott] and others having such smooth years last year in the shortened season,” Elias said about 2020’s 60-game schedule. “It’s more often than not that there are ups and downs with young players, and it’s the exception that comes up and just continuously performs well in the major leagues.
“We’re understanding of that, but we’ve got to put the work in, and we’ve got to put them in positions to improve … if we feel at any time that someone is overwhelmed, that their development would be better benefited from being in Norfolk than being in the major league environment, we will do that, but suffice to say that guys are on the major league roster because we want them to be there. We see better performances on the horizon for a lot of these guys.”
The Orioles have the fifth pick in July’s player draft. ‘
“We’re far from getting all of our scouts and our analysts in the same room to debate players and line up the board,” Elias said. “We have a lot of time.”
Capacity limits are being lifted for games at Oriole Park, but fans are impatient with the pace of the rebuild.
“It’s very painful,” Elias said. “We follow this team as well on a night-in, night-out basis. We’re living it. We understand the length of losing that this fan base has gone through, dating back to 2017, in a lot of ways. This is a long time, but we have a lot of systemic work that has needed to be done.
“We were not participating internationally. That’s a third of the cost-control talent in baseball. We had issues that needed to be updated across player development and the analytics base. We’ve put in that work, and we’ll continue to put in that work and, meanwhile, we’re allowing young players the chance to play and stick in the major leagues.
“While the overall record and performance has been very difficult in that time, we are seeing some rewards from that.”
Elias cited Austin Hays, John Means and Cedric Mullins as examples.
“It takes more than one season or two seasons, especially in the division that we’re in,” he said. “We’re going to start seeing results eventually, I’m very confident in that.”
Elias said that the Orioles will move prospects to higher levels. They promoted right-hander Kyle Bradish from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk this week.
“We may be doing more big name moves in the next week or two,” Elias said. “Normally, a month of minor league play, you take with a grain of salt, but this is the first real data that we’ve gotten on some of these guys in well over a year and we’ve got to react to it probably a little more aggressive than we would otherwise.”