Osich eyes fresh start in lefty-heavy bullpen

Southpaw was claimed off waivers from San Francisco this week

February 21st, 2019

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Peel back the ugliness of Josh Osich’s career 5.01 ERA, and glimmers of dominance emerge.

Just ask Diamondbacks slugger Jake Lamb, who is 1-for-11 with six strikeouts off Osich. Or Rockies All-Star Charlie Blackmon, a former batting champ, who's hitless in seven at-bats. Bryce Harper, Anthony Rizzo and Daniel Murphy have 497 home runs between them -- and just two hits off Osich in 15 at-bats. All told, five of the National League’s most feared left-handed mashers have managed to hit Osich at just a .091 clip.

Holding the likes of them in check was the crux of Osich’s job over his four seasons with the Giants, which the southpaw spent almost exclusively as a left-handed specialist. While he never did it perfectly -- hampered by an early hip injury, his ERA ballooned to 8.25 in 2018 -- it isn’t hard to see why Baltimore found Osich worth taking a low-risk flier on after he was designated for assignment by San Francisco last week.

“It’s a fresh start someplace else, different league,” Osich said. “Nobody has really seen me here, so it should be pretty fun.”

A day after the Orioles snatched him off waivers, Osich arrived at the club’s Ed Smith complex and into a stable full of similar arms. He brings the total of left-handers in Orioles camp to nine, most with at least an outside shot of cracking the Opening Day bullpen. Four others, Tanner Scott, Donnie Hart, John Means and Richard Bleier, are on the 40-man roster. If healthy, Bleier is the only one guaranteed a spot.

“This is probably the most [in one clubhouse],” Osich said. “This is a lot of lefties. You don’t usually see this many.”

With all that depth comes few clear answers, and that’s part of why Osich is here. The Orioles’ bullpen rated as one of the worst in the Majors last season, and those struggles barely dissipated when O’s relievers pitched with a platoon advantage.

Eight different lefties combined for a 4.23 ERA in 2018 -- the fifth highest mark among AL relief corps. That number spiked to 4.61 against left-handed hitters, who also hit .250 with a .314 weighted-on-base average against Oriole southpaw relievers. Even with the contributions of Bleier, who held lefties to a .629 OPS before undergoing lat surgery in June, those totals both ranked 13th in the AL.

“It’s an open competition in a lot of ways,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “We’re pretty much saying, ‘Go win the job.’”

Pitching plans
Of all those left-handers, Josh Rogers is probably the only true rotation candidate. He’ll get an early chance to make an impression by following starter Yefry Ramirez in Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener. The Orioles are planning to trot out seven hurlers that afternoon against the Twins, in this order: Ramirez, Rogers, RHP Mike Wright, LHP Paul Fry, RHP Evan Phillips, RHP Bo Schultz and RHP Zach Pop.

Harvey humming along
After facing one round of hitters in his first live batting practice session of the spring earlier in the week, Hunter Harvey doubled that workload Thursday afternoon. The Orioles will continue to ease the oft-injured righty toward game action, with an eye toward him breaking camp healthy above all else.

“His stuff was electric,” Hyde said. “There was a lot of chatter around the cage about his stuff.”

Musical chairs
Hyde confirmed that, with recently acquired shortstop Alcides Escobar now in the fold, most of Jonathan Villar’s early reps will come at second base. But like nearly every position player in camp, Villar will dabble elsewhere as well. Unlike Escobar, though, who could see time at third and even in the outfield, Villar’s place remains up the middle.

“As camp goes along, he’ll start mixing in at shortstop as well,” Hyde said. “You never know what’s going to happen in a six-month season. I never want to surprise a guy, moving a guy to a position he’s not accustomed to.”

A natural shortstop, Villar shifted to second full-time in 2017 and played nearly 80 percent of his games there in 2018, including 36 of 54 with the Orioles. But his primary position became a question after the club non-tendered Tim Beckham, and added only Rule 5 picks Richie Martin and Drew Jackson to the depth chart this winter, before signing Escobar last week.

“I like more shortstop, you know?” Villar said. “But I feel comfortable at both.”