Baltimore Orioles: Focus on the ‘pen in 2014


I’m a firm believer in exhibition games in sports. Yes folks, that includes NFL preseason! (I have no issue with four games in August that don’t count towards the season standings, as it helps players to be ready for the real thing.) In a way, I feel that athletes and perhaps even coaches might take exhibition games a bit too lightly given that the results in effect don’t count. Perhaps this is just the competitive part of me, but I would submit that every time you put your uniform on it means something.

That aside, I bet that very few of you recall the the Baltimore Orioles’ spring training opener this year. (For the record, it was a 5-2 win over Minnesota with Trayvon Martin hitting a homer in the eighth for the win.) Don’t worry, I had to look up the result to recall it also! However the Birds used nine pitchers that day, each one throwing one inning. And while a starting rotation began to form as spring training went on, you’ll recall that the Orioles didn’t have a set rotation going in. They brought 30 pitchers or so into camp and took the five best ones as starters. Zach Britton actually started the game that afternoon at Ed Smith Stadium, and his 2013 season was mostly a shuffle between Norfolk and the Orioles’ bullpen.

So here’s my point; did that come back to haunt the O’s down the stretch in the regular season? Most people would probably say that it nipped them in the behind a bit, but perhaps not for the reason that I’m thinking. Again, I feel that you need to treat exhibition games almost as regular season games. Obviously the results themselves aren’t quite as important, but you play just like you practice. In spending so much time and energy in finding those five starters, is it not possible that the Orioles didn’t pay enough attention to the bullpen?

The correct answer here is that anything’s possible. The bullpen guys did in fact get their reps in spring training this past year, and don’t forget that Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland ended up making the team and making an impact with the Orioles all season. However from the perspective of pitching itself, the goal in spring training was for the Orioles to find their five starters. I do feel that there were probably a few names (such as Tillman and Gonzalez) who were going to be in the rotation one way or the other, however it was ultimately an open competition.

I suppose what I’m saying is that if the Birds have more of a set rotation going into spring training next year, perhaps that will allow them to pay closer attention to the bullpen. While closer Jim Johnson blew nine saves, the Orioles’ middle relief was somewhat suspect as well. It seemed that Pedro Strop (prior to being traded) was a liability, and even Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter struggled at times. (Note that not everyone struggled for the entire season, and both O’Day and Hunter also found ways to right themselves.)

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mind that managers generally slot pitchers to throw a specific amount of innings (and specific innings at that) in spring training games. There’s no reason why that can’t continually happen, however perhaps it would benefit this particular mix of pitchers better if they’re able to have those roles in spring training games. There were a lot of times this year when various “starter candidates” pitched at various points in the games. Again, if the roles are more clearly defined, perhaps the results might be just a little bit better.

Ultimately I’m going to defer to Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette on this and on all things, and I would encourage Orioles fans to do the same. However it’s just an interesting point that’s worth bringing up.