Looking ahead to what is hopefully a strong 2023 season, Baltimore Orioles fans were hit with some bad news on Thursday: Relief pitchers Dillon Tate and Félix Bautista, along with top prospect DL Hall, are all dealing with injuries and could miss time to start the season.
Tate is a solid reliever in the bullpen, Bautista emerged as a dependable closer following the trade deadline, and we've seen what Hall can do when he's at the top of his game. These injuries do in fact have a big effect on the team to start the season.
Let's start off with Tate, as that news came out first. Orioles GM Mike Elias said that Tate suffered a right flexor forearm strain while working out in November. That injury now provides an explanation as to why Tate was left off Team USA's roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Tate is expected to be on the shelf for the entirety of game action in spring training and is likely to start the year on the injured list. How much regular season action he misses is yet to be determined, but there's a chance he misses most or all of April.
Bautista, the Orioles closer, is dealing with shoulder soreness in his right shoulder and a left knee sprain. He has been rehabbing his knee all winter according to Elias, and is throwing bullpens and throwing off a mound.
Elias also said that Bautista's game debut in spring training will be delayed due to the injuries he is rehabbing, and an IL stint to open the year is a possibility depending on how many innings in Spring Training games he can actually pitch. Elias said this about Bautista:
"He’s throwing off a mound. He’s throwing bullpens and looking good, but will be a little bit later in getting into real Grapefruit League games than the normal player might be. He could break for Opening Day depending on how much of a ramp-up we’re able to get him."
Like Bautista, Hall will also be delayed getting into game action this spring, as the Orioles were building up Hall as a starter this offseason. He could also face an IL stint to start the year if he doesn't get enough game action.
The actual injury Hall is dealing with is right lower lumbar discomfort, which Elias says he is almost recovered from, but it has put him behind in his progression this spring, hence why he will be delayed getting into game action.
Another injury update to give concerns lefty reliever Nick Vespi, who's injury was previously reported. His hernia surgery kept him off Team Italy's WBC roster and will delay him in terms of getting into game action this spring, but he still has a chance to be able to make the opening day roster. He has been cleared to throw.
The injury news does make the battle for bullpen spots more interesting this spring. Tate and Bautista were locks for the bullpen, and Hall was a possibility, so at least two more spots are open for grabs. If Vespi starts the season on the IL, that makes three spots.
One of those spots could indeed go to Hall if he is healthy enough and the Orioles decide to keep him in the major leagues. It also gives rule five draft pick Andrew Politi a better chance to break camp with the team, which is necessary to avoid offering him back to the Boston Red Sox. It also gives some starting rotation candidates more of a chance to make the team, such as Spenser Watkins, Tyler Wells, and Austin Voth. Guys like Mike Baumann or Bruce Zimmermann could also see their chances at a roster spot increase.
It also gives a better chance to some of the team's NRI's at big league camp. Eduard Bazardo stands out the most, as he has experience in the big leagues and is an intriguing younger bullpen option at age 27. Flamethrower Darwinzon Hernandez also has a better chance to make the team, especially if a lefty like Vespi has to miss time. Hernandez will be participating in the WBC for Team Venezuela.
Hopefully this post will mean nothing as opening day approaches and Tate ends up being the only reliever to miss time to start the year, as he is projected to be on the IL. But, it's important to look at who might be replacing some of the more important parts of the bullpen, particularly Tate and Bautista, because the Orioles will need all the wins they can get in a tight AL playoff race.