Checking in on the Baltimore Orioles' relief options in spring training
The Baltimore Orioles entered Spring Training 2023 returning all of the key members of their stout 2022 bullpen. Joining the group was former Orioles closer Mychal Givens, who after stints in Colorado, Cincinnati, Chicago, and New York, signed a one-year contract with the Orioles. Overall, it has been an uneven start for this group of pitchers, with some dominating their opponents, other struggling, and others still waiting to throw their first pitch of the spring. By its nature, spring training results are fickle, stemming from small sample sizes and pitchers who simply are not fully ramped up. But with 8 spots in the opening day bullpen, spring results may dictate whether certain guys earn a spot in the opening day bullpen in Fenway Park.
1. Felix Bautista - LOCK (depending on health) (1 of 8)
The Orioles' presumptive closer, hard-throwing righthander Felix Bautista missed nearly three weeks of spring training while recovering from knee and shoulder issues, before pitching a scoreless inning in his debut against the Pirates on Tuesday. As Masn's Steve Melewski reported, Manager Brandon Hyde was pleased, but cautious, about Bautista's debut. "Fastball velocity was there, good splits,” manager Brandon Hyde said after the game. "His first time out and it looked like he had been out there for a while. Real positive for today. Let's see how he is tomorrow and after his next few outings, but today went as well as it possibly could."
2. Dillon Tate -OUT (injured list)
Right-hander Dillon Tate, who excelled in a setup role last season, has yet to take the mound in Florida due to a right flexor forearm strain, and is expected to start the season on the Injured List. With Tate on the shelf, this opens the door for other relief candidates, such as Rule V selection Andrew Politi, to make the club. Tate is expected to rejoin the club in May, at which time they may face another tough decision as to who must go for Tate to return.
3. Cionel Perez - LOCK (2 of 8)
Cionel Perez is one of the handful of relief candidates who has had a normal spring. The hard-throwing lefthander has appeared in four games in the Grapefruit League, allowing one run on five hits, two walks, and four strikeouts. He will return to a setup role in 2023.
4. Mychal Givens - LOCK (3 of 8)
Mychal Givens is back with the Orioles after a trade in 2020 that sent him to Colorado for utility man Terrin Vavra, infielder Tyler Nevin, and pitcher Michael Deshon. The Givens signing looms large in light of the injuries to Tate and the slow start for Bautista. Givens has pitched well in three innings of work this spring, allowing no runs and striking out five.
5. Bryan Baker - LOCK (4 of 8)
Bryan Baker entered spring training as a virtual lock for a bullpen spot, and was even considered as an option for saves if Felix Bautista was not ready for opening day. In five appearances, however, Baker has struggled immensely, allwing 8 runs on 10 hits and 4 walks over 4.2 innings, to the tune of a 15.43 ERA. While the poor spring is unlikely to affect Baker's role in the opening day bullpen, it is concerning for a pitcher who got off to a slow start in 2022 before finishing the season on a strong note.
6. Joey Krehbiel - BUBBLE
After a dominant start to his Orioles career in the first half of 2022, Krehbiel stumbled to the finish line. Unfortunately, the downward slide has continued for Krehbiel this spring, as he has pitched to a 19.64 ERA in his four appearances. As Timmy Wilcox of Birdswatcher noted in a recent article, Krebiel's days in the Orioles' bullpen could be numbered.
7. Keegan Akin - NEAR LOCK (5 of 8)
A starter-turned-reliever, Akin found his niche last year as a multi-inning reliever for the Orioles. The left-hander entered Spring Training on the right side of the roster bubble, and has only improved his stock with five scoreless innings this spring, to go along with five strikeouts. Barring something unforeseen, Akin will make the Orioles as the second lefty behind Cionel Perez.
8. Nick Vespi - BUBBLE
Left-hander Nick Vespi, who underwent offseason hernia surgery, made his spring debut only days ago. Vespi does not throw hard, but relies on movement and deception to keep hitters off balance. Vespi is a pitcher whom the Orioles may keep in the minors so they can get a longer look at Rule V selection Andrew Politi, who would return to the Red Sox if he does not make the opening day bullpen. Keegan Akin's strong spring and emergence as the second lefty out of the Orioles' bullpen also likely places Vespi on the wrong side of the bullpen bubble.
9. Austin Voth - LOCK (6 of 8)
While the Orioles' five man starting rotation appears to be taking shape, Austin Voth seems to be on the outside looking in. This, combined with a rough spring that has saw Voth allow 7 runs in 7.2 innings (and incredibly only one strikeout), likely seals Voth's fate as a reliever, at least to start the season. With that said, the right-hander clearly showed enough last season to stay off the roster bubble, especially since he is out of options. In other words, it would be a shock for Voth not to join the Orioles in Boston on opening day.
10. Tyler Wells - LOCK (7 of 8)
Tyler Wells finds himself in a near-identical situation as Austin Voth: the Orioles rotation of Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer, and Kyle Bradish appears all but set, and does not include Wells. Also like Voth, Wells pitched well in the Orioles starting rotation last summer, before an injury in Tampa Bay sidelined him for much of the second half. And like Voth, a poor spring (11.57 ERA in 7 innings) has done Wells' starting candidacy no favors. While he could always return to the rotation, a return to the dominant reliever he was in 2021 would be a great outcome for both the Orioles and Wells.
11. Andrew Politi - BUBBLE
Andrew Politi is one of several pitchers who finds himself on the proverbial bubble for a bullpen spot. The Orioles selected Politi in the Rule V draft out of the Red Sox organization and have provided him a legitimate chance to make the team, using him in five games. His 7.71 ERA is high, but was inflated by one poor outing against the Phillies where he allowed all four his spring runs. Averaging over one strikeout per inning between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Worcester last season, Politi and his Rule V status likely give him an edge over others for that final bullpen spot.
12. Spenser Watkins - OUT
Spenser Watkins has been a valuable member of the Orioles pitching staff over the last two seasons, and should pitch in Baltimore this year. However, with the starting rotation likely filled out and simply not enough spots in the bullpen, Watkins will likely begin the year in Triple-A Norfolk and be one of the Orioles' first calls should they need an extra arm in 2023.
13. Yennier Cano - OUT
Cano entered Spring Training as a long shot to make the opening day roster. And while the value of spring training stats is limited, Cano has done himself no favors this spring, pitching to a 13.50 ERA in three games. It is safe to say Cano will not be joining the Orioles when they head up to Beantown to start the season.
14. Darwinzon Hernandez - OUT
When the Orioles acquired Darwinzon Hernandez from the Red Sox, he appeared to have some chance of making the team. But Nick Vespi's apparent return from injury and Keegan Akin's strong spring have likely foreclosed Hernandez's chances of of making the team as another left-handed reliever.
15. Logan Gillaspie - BUBBLE
Logan Gillaspie is a solid right-handed reliever who simply might get squeezed out of the pen due to a numbers game. He has not allowed a run in five innings this spring, and pitched well in 2022 (3.12 ERA in 17.1 innings). But with Austin Voth and Tyler Wells likely relegated to the bullpen to start the year, there simply is not enough room for Gillaspie. Hopefully, he will remain in the organization and return to the Orioles' pen at some point in 2023.
16. Eduardo Bazardo - BUBBLE
The Orioles have gotten a good look at the former Red Sox reliever this spring, as Bazardo leads the team in appearances with six. He has pitched decently, allowing three runs in six innings and striking out an impresive nine batters. Unfortuantely for Bazardo, his fate is similar to Gillaspie's: there simply is not enough room for him in the opening day bullpen. Bazardo joined the Orioles as a non-roster invitee and will likely begin the season in Triple-A Norfolk.
There are at least 15 candidates (not counting DIllon Tate) for 8 spots in the Orioles opening day bullpen. Seven of those spots appeared sewn up: Felix Bautista, Cionel Perez, Mychal Givens, Bryan Baker, Keegan Akin, Tyler Wells, and Austin Voth, with the final spot between Andrew Politi and Nick Vespi. As noted above, some relievers have struggled this spring, while others have excelled. Some have only just made their debuts, while others have appeared in several games. Overall, the Orioles bullpen should be just as good as it was in 2022, barring health. And just as important, and as this article shows, there are several pitchers who are just a phone call away ready to join the pen if needed.