O's opt for closer by committee in 2021

March 23rd, 2021

Two-plus years into his O's managerial tenure, Brandon Hyde has yet to name a closer. This season is no different.

The Orioles’ skipper confirmed Tuesday he plans to operate via closer-by-committee in 2021, rather than adhere to predefined late-inning roles with his relief corps.

“I’m going to be giving guys opportunity pitch in the back end of our games,” Hyde said. “We don’t have established closers. We have guys who’ve gotten a taste of it, but nobody with a bunch of saves or [who has] pitched in a ton of high-leverage spots. All of these guys are going to get an opportunity to pitch at the end of games. I will probably go with the hot hand and matchups.”

Hyde didn’t mention any pitchers by name. But with sidelined with an oblique injury, the most likely closing candidates appear to be hard-throwing lefty , righties and , and perhaps lefty .

Cesar Valdez remains a potential candidate after finishing 2020 as the O’s closer, but he is being stretched out this spring and probably provides more value in a multi-innings role. Valdez started Tuesday’s 4-3 win against the Rays, holding Tampa Bay to one run over three innings. He is one of 12 Baltimore pitchers to notch at least one save since the start of '19.

“Whatever role they decide for me, I’ll do my job to the best of my abilities,” Valdez said through team interpreter Ramón Alarcón. “I think I could do well in either role, but it’s up to them to decide.”

More from the game
When 's game is going right, the slugger often says, he’s driving the baseball to right field. Which is what made Tuesday so encouraging. Opening the Orioles' scoring in the third inning, Mancini launched an opposite-field two-run shot off Trevor Richards. It was Mancini's second home of the spring and second in four games as he continues his comeback from Stage 3 colon cancer.

“My expectations for myself haven’t changed because of what happened,” Mancini said on the MASN broadcast. “I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t give 100 percent and my best effort.”

Positive signs for the Orioles also came in the form of ’s first home run of the spring, another two-run shot off Richards in the third. Signed to a one-year free-agent contract on March 16, Franco declared himself ready for Opening Day after the homer. Hyde hedged that assessment postgame, saying Franco still needed to check off several boxes before that, including playing full games and in back-to-back games.

Franco played six innings Tuesday. He is scheduled to sit Wednesday and return to the starting lineup Thursday, Hyde said.

From the trainer’s room
is set to test his balky right elbow Wednesday, per Hyde, in a side bullpen session that could go a way toward determining his roster status. In camp on a Minor League deal, Hernández, 34, hasn’t pitched since exiting his March 16 start with elbow discomfort. He allowed five earned runs in 5 1/3 Grapefruit League innings before the injury.

Should Hernández come out of the session healthy, time would appear to permit him one final Grapefruit League outing before the O’s head north. If he doesn’t, the team must decide whether to cut ties or begin the season with Hernández on the injured list. The six-time All-Star last pitched in a regular-season game for the Mariners in 2019; he was battling against Matt Harvey, Wade LeBlanc and Jorge López for a back-end rotation job.

“I’m here to help the team in whatever role there is for me. If they want an extra umpire, I’m up for it. If they want an extra hitter, I’m up for it.”
-- Valdez

Up next
The Orioles head south Wednesday to Ft. Myers, Fla., for the final time this spring for a 6:05 p.m. ET matchup under the lights against the Red Sox. Rotation hopeful gets the start opposite Nathan Eovaldi at JetBlue Park.