Baltimore Orioles: Breaking Down The Pitching In Norfolk

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - MAY 27: Fans hold up an American flag during a moment of silence for Memorial Day during the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 27, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - MAY 27: Fans hold up an American flag during a moment of silence for Memorial Day during the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 27, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Baltimore Orioles need a lot of pitching, but if you’re expecting some help to come up from the minors this season, you might be disappointed.

Watching the Norfolk Tides on a daily basis has become a lot less fun over the past week, partly for good reasons. OF DJ Stewart is now gone, mashing his way back to the major leagues with the Baltimore Orioles. IF Ryan Mountcastle has also been out of the lineup, but for injury reasons. Luckily, Chance Sisco continues to demolish baseballs and LHP Keegan Akin has continued his effective ways on the mound.

While the lineup gets a shakeup, and possibly another one with the eventual promotion of Sisco, I want to focus on the pitching staff. Do the Baltimore Orioles have help on the way? The short answer is, not this season.

The starting rotation for the Orioles currently owns the fourth-highest ERA in the bigs (5.47), ranks first in home runs per game (2.29) by a very wide margin, and average the third-fewest strikeouts per game (7.30). The bullpen has been even more horrendous, producing the second-worst ERA in the majors (5.98), 1.95 HR/9 IP (highest in majors), and a -1.2 fWAR (30th).

Luckily, the Orioles own one of the most underrated crops of pitching prospects in baseball. Grayson Rodriguez has become the darling of 2019, DL Hall, Blaine Knight, Drew Rom, Zac Lowther, and many others have been solid, while a number of arms continue to grind their way towards the major leagues (Hunter Harvey, Alex Wells, etc) and could still develop into useful parts.

Unfortunately, the big names among this group are years away from contributing at the major league level and any hopes of the Orioles pulling from the minors to find help in 2019 are bleak.

What do the Baltimore Orioles have in AAA Norfolk?

Keegan Akin is the top option and having a solid season, but he isn’t coming up to Baltimore in the near future. General manager Mike Elias addressed both Akin and Mountcastle a few days ago, stating that since neither player had much AAA experience, they aren’t candidates for a promotion, yet. I’m fine with that. Marinate as long as you can.

Luis Ortiz is ranked as the 18th-best prospect in the Orioles’ system, per MLB Pipeline, but he’s been the biggest disappointment on the Norfolk roster. Ortiz will occasionally impress you with a wipeout slider or a beautiful 95-96 mph fastball up in the zone to produce an inning-ending swing and miss. When Ortiz is on, he’s on, but those moments are few and far between.

Ortiz is frequently wild and hasn’t produced very many strikeouts. In his 39+ innings of work, Ortiz has just 25 strikeouts to 21 walks. Hitters look very comfortable against him, knowing that a fastball in the zone is eventually coming as Ortiz tries to settle into an at-bat. He’s only 23, so there’s still time to develop into something of value, but I’m not convinced that development will come to fruition.

What about Josh Rodgers? Oof. I really do like Rogers. He works very fast on the mound and isn’t a fireballer, relying on his pitch selection and command to get through outings. I love these types of arms, because they try to outsmart a hitter, rather than overpower them. Unfortunately, it isn’t working for Rogers.

Rogers has made eight starts with the Tides. In those eight outings, he has surrendered 15 home runs. I’m genuinely not making this up when I say that as I am writing this piece, I’m also watching his most recent start against the Columbus Clippers and he just gave up his second home run of the afternoon (he gave up three total in this game).

Outside of his May 1st start against the Durham Bulls (7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K), Rogers has given up at least one home run in every other start. He’s given up seven over his last 7.1 innings. Sure, juiced baseballs are one thing, but this involves so much more than a little extra juice. Opponents are now hitting .359 against Rogers and his ERA has jumped to 9.41.

There is one somewhat intriguing option, RHP Tyler Herb. Herb was acquired from the San Francisco Giants in the Mike Yastrzemski trade earlier this year. He’s a grinder who will have to really impress to get a big league shot, but he does have a low-90s fastball worth talking about. Herb can put some serious bite on the pitch and can run it up into the mid-90s, but walks are a concern. He has 19 in 32 innings. Ten of those have come in his last 11 innings.

Should Herb put in more quality outings and get a call-up at some point, it will be for a long-relief role. I’m still not convinced either way when it comes to Herb, but he’s worth keeping an eye on. I plan on watching his starts much more closely from here on out.

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Can the Baltimore Orioles look to Norfolk for relief help?

The bullpen hasn’t been much better down in Norfolk, but there are a lot of familiar names. Tanner Scott and Jimmy Yacabonis continue to work on their game against International League hitters. Scott has a 5.11 ERA in nine appearances (12 innings) and looks to be the same pitcher he’s always been. He can produce swings and misses but when his fastball is off, it’s going to get hit hard. Walks also continue to haunt the flamethrower.

The same story can be said for Yacabonis. When Yacabonis is firing, it’s beautiful. He’s struggled in Norfolk, pitching to a 5.40 ERA and 1.73 WHIP in 13.1 innings. Yacabonis and Scott both look uncomfortable at times and won’t be back at Camden Yards for a while.

Matt Wotherspoon has 34 strikeouts in 30.2 innings, but we’ve already seen him in the majors. Sean Gilmartin has been a reliable relief arm for the Tides (3.33 ERA, 27 strikeouts, one HR allowed, 27 IP), but nothing in his repertoire gives me confidence in his ability to be reliable at the major league level.

RHP Jay Flaa has been effective against right-handed hitters. I wouldn’t mind seeing the 6’3″ arm out of North Dakota get a shot, should the Orioles find themselves in an emergency situation and in need of a relief arm.

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