Only one bullpen spot remains a question, who will claim it?
The Baltimore Orioles opened up spring training games yesterday on the road against the Atlanta Braves. One of the few spots left on the roster, besides right-field, is who will be the last piece in the bullpen? The rotation is set after the signing of Yovani Gallardo. He joins Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jiminez, Kevin Gausman, and Miguel Gonzalez. That does make an all right-handed rotation.
The bullpen will return all-stars in closer Zach Britton and set-up man Darren O’Day. Brad Brach continues to be one of the more underrated relievers in baseball. Mychal Givens all but has a spot locked after his electric call up last season. Brian Matusz, coming off his best year, is back as the lefty specialist. Left-handed batters produced only a .186 average and .231 on-base against Matusz. Just don’t let him face righties and he is fine. The would leave two spots left in the bullpen but one has to go to Dylan Bundy by default. Bundy signed a major league deal coming out of high school and is now out of options, which means he can’t be sent to the minors without first being exposed to waivers. Regardless of Bundy’s injury history every team in baseball would claim him. The Orioles are hoping for a healthy year from Bundy and getting his innings count back up. That leaves only one spot left in question.
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The Orioles always like to have roster flexibility. Among the players already penciled into the pen, only Givens can be optioned back and forth between the majors and minors. I don’t think he will struggle in any way this year but at times he could used as a way to get a fresh arm up from Norfolk. Before I had assumed Vance Worley would be locked into the last spot. In his career Worley has been used both as a starter and a reliever so he has the experience. He could be the long-man that eats innings when one of the starters has an early exit. Worley could also make spot starts if any of the pitchers in the rotation needs a start skipped. Like the other pitchers, not named Givens, he too is out of options so he has to make the team out of spring training. The downfall for Worley could be that he is another right-handed pitcher.
The bullpen does have two left-handed pitchers in Matusz and Britton. The Orioles like to use Matusz against strong lefty types like David Ortiz and Josh Hamilton. Those are just two of the lefties he own. But most of those situations come in the 7th inning or later. Britton obviously is the closer and isn’t being removed from his 9th inning end the game duties anytime soon. With the rotation being full of right-hander’s does the open spot go to another lefty? If an opposing team stacked it’s lineup with left-handed batters due to the all righty rotation, the Orioles could at least flip it around on them by having someone like T.J McFarland in the pen.
T.J. McFarland has been up and down with the major league team since being a Rule-5 pick back in 2013. He has made a couple starts for the big league club but besides that has worked as a reliever for the Orioles. When he has been in the minors though, McFarland has worked as a starter. This gives him the needed flexibility to go multiple innings. For his career, McFarland owns a 3.89 ERA but an unsightly 1.52 whip. Against lefties he has fared better. Lefties have hit for a combined .266 average and .310 on-base. They aren’t the level of Matusz, but if he can improve those numbers even slightly to around .250/.300, than McFarland could be an asset to the bullpen.
I will be the first to admit I’m not a huge T.J. McFarland fan. In a perfect world the Oriole’s would have at least one left-handed starter and Dylan Bundy could start the year down in the minors. Unfortunately that’s not the case. That would allow a more proven or even a more upside pitcher to make the bullpen. The way it’s constructed McFarland might make the best bet at this point. If anything another manager might have to go to his bench early if McFarland comes into the game. The good thing is we have all of spring training to find out. Maybe another lefty stands out in camp such as Andy Oliver or Ashur Tolliver. I do know this only one spot is open but who will it go to?