One of the main reasons for the Orioles’ 31-game improvement in 2022 was their bullpen. From 2021 when the team lost 110 games to last year, the bullpen’s ERA fell from 5.70 to 3.49.
The biggest bullpen stars were Félix Bautista, Bryan Baker and Dillon Tate, all of whom were at the Crooked Crab Brewing Company in Odenton on Sunday for the Birdland Caravan, and Cionel Pérez, who wasn’t.
Pérez, who was claimed off waivers from Cincinnati in November 2021, was 7-1 with a 1.40 ERA and a save. He allowed just two home runs in 57 2/3 innings.
Baker, Bautista, Pérez and Tate return this season, as does Mychal Givens, who signed as a free agent in December. Givens, who was part of dynamic Orioles’ bullpens early in his career, was traded to Colorado in August 2020.
“I don’t know how we can be much better,” said reliever Joey Krehbiel, who was also on hand Sunday.
“The guys were incredible … All of us at one point were doing really, really well. We weren’t pitching better than we thought we could. We were doing what we practiced and prepared ourselves to do. Honestly, we just need to repeat. That’s the hardest thing is being able to repeat, repeat and be consistent.”
Bautista, who said he has lost more than 10 pounds this offseason, was a long shot to make the Orioles out of spring training, but he was so impressive that he replaced All-Star closer Jorge López after he was traded to Minnesota on August 2nd.
He was 4-4 with a 2.19 ERA and 15 saves in 17 chances. In his first major league season, he tired in September and was shut down for the final five games.
When Bautista returned home to the Dominican Republic, he was greeted warmly.
“When I got to my neighborhood, everyone greeted me with so much appreciation,” he said through a translator. “They even threw parties for me over there. It was a lot of fun and really cool seeing everyone again.”
Bautista hopes he’ll be able to complete his second major league season without incident.
“It’s a lot of focused hard work, trying to focus on getting my shoulder and my leg, specifically stronger and make sure there’s no lingering issues throughout the season,” Bautista said.
Tate, who’ll be leaving spring training to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, ended last season as the most experienced reliever on the staff. He led the bullpen with 67 appearances and was 4-4 with a 3.05 ERA and four saves.
“I think everybody is looking forward to just taking it up a notch,” Tate said. “We did exactly what we needed to do last year. I felt like our presence was felt [in] the division and other teams in baseball. I think they know that we mean business.
“For a lot of us, it’s just building on what we did in the previous year. At the same time, looking forward and pushing forward and not being too far in the past. 2022 was a good year, but it’s done and now this is the only year that matters.”
Tate is the only member of the bullpen who was a teammate of Givens in his first iteration with the Orioles.
“I think he gives us that veteran presence,” Tate said. “I think we saw that with the starting rotation when we had Jordan Lyles and now we have that in the bullpen.”
Tate and centerfielder Cedric Mullins will be the Orioles’ representatives on Team USA.
“It’s an honor to be selected for that. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m thankful, really,” Tate said.
Baker, who was 4-3 with a 3.49 ERA and a save, was strongest late in the season. After September 1st, Baker had a 1.10 ERA and allowed just eight hits in 16 1/3 innings. He thinks he can continue his strong performance in 2023.
“Definitely confident it will,” he said. “I think momentum is a very real thing. Hopefully, it carries over onto next year.”
Left-hander Nick Vespi, who was part of the Caravan on Saturday was 5-0 with a 4.10 ERA in 25 games and didn’t allow an earned run in 26 appearances at Triple-A Norfolk.
“I think pitching in the big leagues is always a tough competition,” Vespi said. “If there’s not a spot, you keep fighting and wait for a spot.”
Krehbiel, who had a strong first half, struggled late in the season with a 5.79 ERA in August and an 8.10 in September.
“I really don’t have an answer comparing the first and second half,” Krehbiel said. “Obviously, I didn’t try harder in the first than the second. I gave it my best effort for both halves.
“I just need to do what I did in the first and be more consistent, trusting my stuff, throwing the pitches that I think will work instead of trying to overdo it and be too perfect. I think I’m going to be all right.”
Krehbiel will have to compete with Vespi, Keegan Akin, Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi, Logan Gillaspie and Yennier Cano and possibly some starting candidates who could slide into the bullpen.
“The guys that are coming up, position players or pitchers are the real deal,” Krehbiel said. “I know it’s [not] an original response, but I have to do what I can do.
“I can definitely see myself getting one of those spots. Nothing is ever locked in, but in my head I think it’s locked in because I need to be focused and prepared.”
Baker pitched well in big games, and he’s eager to see what 2023 brings.
“I think there’s definitely more expectations this year,” Baker said. “As there should be based on what we did last year. I think that’s probably a good thing, honestly.
“The high character guys we have on this team, they’re ready to step up and execute the way that they can.”
Call for questions: I’ll be answering Orioles questions in a mailbag just before spring training begins next week. Please email your questions to: [email protected].