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NASHVILLE—After the Orioles won 101 games and the American League East and had a 3.89 earned-run averaage, fifth best in the American League in 2023, it was a surprise when Chris Holt, who had been the club’s pitching coach for the past three seasons, changed roles.
Holt, who had carried the title of director of pitching and pitching coach, will concentrate on working with young pitchers in the organization.
Assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes left the organization.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias confirmed the previously reported news that Drew French, who had been Atlanta’s bullpen coach for the last three seasons, would replace Holt as pitching coach.
“We had a great run of pitching development in our organization,” Elias said on Monday at the Winter Meetings. “It continues to be the case.
“Chris Holt was the person that took our pitching program to a whole new level, starting in the minor leagues at the end of 2018, early 2019 and we’re at a place now where we think it’s the best use of his skillset to allow him to supervise the entire system and put some focus back on the minor league development … and also get a new voice in the dugout for these young pitchers as they kind of go into the next phase of their careers.”
Holt came from Houston with Elias and worked with French in the Astros’ organization.
“These are guys that have had pretty successful maturation whether they’re first-year pitchers or second-year pitchers on the starter side,” he said. “I think it’s often helpful to have some different influences as you’re graduating into another phase of your career.
“[French] and Chris have a long-standing relationship, so I think he’s going to bring in some good best practices from the Braves and from his own career. This won’t be a wholesale philosophical change. It just kind of strengthens our pitching department up and down to have this added talent.”
Holmes’ replacement hasn’t been named, but it won’t be Ryan Klimek, who’ll return as major league pitching strategy coach.
“It’s very possible that we have another pitching hire,” Elias said. “It’s something we’re working on, our staff is working on, Brandon [Hyde] is working on, Drew French is working on. Everybody is taking a look at it right now.”
Wells/Hyde roles: Elias said that he’s not sure what roles left-hander DL Hall and right-hander Tyler Wells’ will play in 2024.
“I think that we won’t know until we get into spring training and even into next season,” Elias said. “I’m happy about the fact that we’re able to talk about both guys in a starter context and also a reliever context.
“That’s going to be determined, obviously by how well they’re throwing, but also who their teammates are and what their teammates look like because we know that both guys have had success in the bullpen. Obviously, DL’s was a shorter stint.”
Hall was the Orioles’ top draft pick in 2017 and he’s been groomed as a starter, but after his first major league start in August 2022, he has pitched only in relief for the Orioles.
‘We’re really confident he can help there,” Elias said.
Wells was a starter in the first half of 2023 and after three rocky starts was demoted in late July. He was recalled in September to pitch in relief.
“Long term, both of these players have the pitch mixes, the deliveries and the skillsets to start,” Elias said. “You may see one in the rotation and one in the bullpen. You may see both in the bullpen. Probably both of them to get into the rotation would probably require an injury to somebody else that we hope doesn’t happen.
“Both guys are really well positioned to impact the team regardless of what the role is.”
Who will close in 2024: With Félix Bautista out in 2024 after October’s Tommy John surgery, the Orioles aren’t sure who’ll close next season and previous closer experience isn’t necessary if the Orioles sign or trade for a reliever.
“It would be nice,” Elias said. “There are only so many of those guys. You don’t want to restrict yourself too much, but it is something that we are talking about and placing a little bit of value on if the player and the other guys that we’re talking about trading for.
“There’s free agents that have had that ninth inning experience in their career. It’s just a little bit of a warm, fuzzy, I guess. It’s definitely not a requisite to make that acquisition.”
Tate’s return: Dillon Tate did not pitch in 2023 because of an elbow injury. Despite that, Tate was offered a 2024 contract last month. There was much speculation that the Orioles wouldn’t tender him a contract.
Elias thinks Tate can return to his 2022 form when he was 4-4 with a 3.05 ERA and five saves.
“He’s healthy now. He’s been throwing. He’s been pitching off a mound,” Elias said. “He’s not feeling any symptoms. I feel really optimistic that he’s going to be Dillon Tate in Sarasota.
“That really sucked last year. We thought we were going to get him back in late May. It was just one of those things that just didn’t quite resolve the way he wanted it to. His command, the feel that he normally has for where the ball’s going wasn’t there. It’s not with the type of injury he had, a flexor strain, it’s not unusual.”
Elias said that Michael Baumann suffered a similar injury at the alternate site in Bowie in 2020 and it took him a year to return to form.
“It’s not terribly surprising,” Elias said. “I think we’re going to get a much different Dillon Tate experience in 2024 than we had in 2023. That would be great for our bullpen.”
Notes: The Orioles announced game times for their Grapefruit League games at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. There are 10 day games beginning at 1:05 p.m. and six night games starting at 6:05.
The first six home games are day games and the last three are at night. The night games are scheduled for March 6th (Pittsburgh), March 8th (Detroit), March 13th (Atlanta), March 20th (Philadelphia), March 22nd (Pittsburgh) and March 23rd (Toronto).
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