SARASOTA—With Dillon Tate’s right forearm injury sidelining him for perhaps the first month of the season and Félix Bautista’s left knee and shoulder injuries slowing his preparation for the 2023 season, there are many questions about the Orioles’ bullpen.
Before executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias disclosed the injuries to Tate and Bautista on Thursday, the biggest question was what would the Orioles do about their surplus of potential starters.
It’s conceivable that the Orioles would shift some of the starting candidates to the bullpen even though Elias cautioned that it might hinder their preparation to start later in the season.
Tyler Wells seems like a possibility. He was the Orioles’ closer late in 2021, shifted to a starting role last season, but could get caught in the shuffle with Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez seemingly the favorites for the rotation.
Manager Brandon Hyde said that line of thinking was premature on Friday.
“Not even thinking about that right now,” Hyde said. “He’s definitely a rotation candidate from what he did last year. As we get closer to breaking, we’ll figure out where we are roster-wise and we’ll see who’s going to break with us and not.”
Wells ended his season with 103 2/3 innings, fifth most on the staff. Because of oblique and shoulder injuries, he threw just nine innings after July 27th.
Austin Voth, who was invaluable as a starter after he was acquired from Washington in June, is another pitcher who could move to the bullpen.
Hyde says he’s not thinking about that, and that they shouldn’t.
“I want them in their minds to think that they’re rotation candidates and they’re going to get an opportunity to start,” Hyde said.
Wells thinks he’s a better starter than reliever.
“I think that the numbers showed it,” he said. “There are a few things I feel like I can work on and improve on, but at the same time, I showed that I’m a very capable starter. I think I’m a very capable reliever as well. I just think I’m going to continue to just develop myself and my mentality and I think that my mentality is going to carry me in any direction I can.”
Wells doesn’t try to handicap the starter’s competition.
“I’m not even really looking at it at all because it’s completely out of my control,” Wells said. “I know if I go out there and take care of what I need to take care of then I know that I’m giving myself the best opportunity. I’m giving the team the best opportunity, and that’s all that matters.
Even though 17 of Voth’s 22 appearances last season were starts, most of this career has been spent in the bullpen.
“I want to be a starter,” Voth said.
In 2021, Voth started only once in 49 appearances for the Washington Nationals. After 19 outings and a 10.13 ERA last season, the Nationals waived him and the Orioles claimed him.
“The way that it started, it wasn’t great, but then I come to the Orioles, and I was able to turn it around and finish strong,” Voth said. “That was a huge career booster for me. I had a career year at the end of the season. It showed what I can do as a starter.”
Hyde on bullpen options: With Tate out for the March 30th opener and Bautista questionable, Hyde said that he’s considering other closer options. Bryan Baker and Cionel Pérez, who each saved a game in 2022, could get a look.
“You think about your roster and you think about possibilities,” Hyde said. “Not having Tate to start the season, he’s a back-end guy for us, a high-leverage guy. That gives an opportunity to somebody else. I’d like to see somebody step up.
“You think back last year to this time. I didn’t know Bryan Baker was going to be going to be pitching in big spots the second half of the year especially and Bautista, I hadn’t seen him pitch on the mound yet.
“It would be great if we had a couple more awesome stories like Cionel and Bautista and Bake that we had last year. We just don’t know this year. I think Bake closed one out late last year against Toronto. Cionel pitched big innings for us all year. Those would definitely be guys I would consider pitching at the end of a game.”
Hall update: DL Hall, who has been slowed by lower back discomfort, said he’s feeling much better.
“It was just some minor discomfort in my low back, nothing too crazy,” he said. “I’m already on the way back up, just started back throwing. I just shut down for a couple of weeks. I’m good to go now.”
Hall isn’t concerned about a setback in the competition for roster spots.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to play out by the end of spring,” he said. “Just going to build up and try to stay healthy.”
There are 12 pitchers competing for starting jobs, and with the injuries to Tate and Bautista, some extra openings in the bullpen.
“I can’t really go one way or the other,” he said. “Whatever they decide is what I’ll do, and I’m going to perform no matter what I do, and give myself the best chance to help the team.”
However, Hall is clear on what his end goal is.
“I’m going to be a starter,” he said.