Whenever I hear Joe Saunders brought up into a conversation about baseball, my mind always drifts back to that day in October of 2012 when he pitched 5 2/3 innings of work in the American League Wild Card Game. He helped the Orioles advance to the ALDS to face the Yankees by allowing just one run and striking out four batters during his start.
Since then he has pitched for the Mariners in 2013 and the Rangers this season where in eight games he posted a 6.13 ERA and an 0-5 record. Most recently, Saunders has been playing for Kansity City’s Triple-A affiliate where he had an even more unimpressive 6.75 ERA in four starts with the ball club. Because of this performance he was released by the Royals earlier last week.
The last time he posted good numbers from the mound were in 2012 with the Buckle Up Birds when he had a 3.63 ERA over seven games with Baltimore. You could say Saunders had Oriole Magic pumping through his veins that year.
In an attempt to get that Oriole Magic back in his arm, the Orioles signed Saunders to a Minor League contract on Friday. He will report on Monday to the Norfolk Tides. He will report to the Tides however not as a starter, but as a relief pitcher.
This is a low-risk, high reward move by Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter. There are no promises that Saunders will turn things around with the Tides and be Major League-ready come September when the Orioles call up many players for their final push to the Postseason.
However, the Orioles have made a habit of turning unreliable starters into great relief pitchers. Just looking at Baltimore’s current roster alone, there are two pitchers that come to mind. Tommy Hunter was a starter in 2011 and 2012 for the Orioles where he had a combined 10-11 record with a 5.26 ERA. In 2013, Hunter made the switch to the bullpen and saw immediate improvements. Last season he had a 2.81 ERA. Although he struggled in the closer role early this season, Hunter settled in nicely as a set-up man and now has a 3.86 ERA.
Zach Britton, after three seasons with over a 4.60 ERA, has been “lights-0ut” in 2014 as a reliever and as a closer. With 22 saves under his belt this season, Britton has become one of the more reliable closers in the Majors.
Could Saunders be yet another starter-turned-reliever in the Orioles organization? Time will tell…