O's plan to be creative with pitching plans

February 17th, 2021

With 102 more games on the schedule this year than last, teams have at least 918 additional innings to cover on the mound. It's a league-wide issue, forcing teams to brainstorm creative solutions even at this early spring date. The Orioles are no different.

The circumstances have the O's considering using a six-man rotation among other nontraditional strategies, manager Brandon Hyde said Wednesday, after pitchers and catchers completed their first official workout of Spring Training. Hyde was one of several managers to float the idea of a six-man rotation on Wednesday, joining the Pirates' Derek Shelton, the Marlins' Don Mattingly and others.

"I think anything is possible this year when it comes to pitching," Hyde said. "We are in a unique situation with the season being so short last year. Guys are coming into this year coming off an unusual year, where they were ramped up for spring, shut down, ramped back up for Summer Camp and lost a lot of innings. I do feel our guys are prepared for this year, but it is definitely a concern. It's something we'll monitor on a daily basis."

It's especially pressing for a rebuilding team like the Orioles, who struggled to get length from their starters before the pandemic hit and now must manage the workloads of many young pitchers. Of the 35 pitchers who reported to camp to O's camp this week, none threw more 2020 innings than John Means's 43 2/3. Means threw 155 frames the year before, a decrease of more than 300 percent

For context, Lance Lynn led MLB pitchers with 84 innings in 2020; Lynn threw 208 1/3 frames in '19.

For Orioles prospects, the situation is even murkier. They'll have right-hander Dean Kremer (No. 9) and lefty Keegan Akin (No. 15) competing for rotation jobs this spring; Kremer completed 18 2/3 big league innings last year, Akin 25 2/3. At least three other Top 30 pitching prospects are candidates to debut in 2021, and all were limited in '20 to work at the club's alternate training site or instructional camp.

All of which points to the three veterans signed recently to Minor League deals -- Matt Harvey, Félix Hernández and Wade LeBlanc -- getting real chances in what is a wide-open Orioles rotation competition behind Means. It should also bode well for swingmen types like Thomas Eshelman, Jorge López and Bruce Zimmermann, as well as create opportunities for multi-inning relievers like Dillon Tate.

The O's used a franchise-record 19 starters in 2019 and 10 in 60 games last season.

"You're seeing teams really trying to expand their camps and get as much depth as possible, guys on the mound who can go multiple innings or potentially start," Hyde said. "I don't think anybody has a clue about what that will look like. I don't want to put a specific number on the starters we need, but I think depth is going to be of the utmost importance this year. We'll need guys who can eat up innings."

Taking attendance
Harvey was the lone Orioles pitcher yet to report to camp as of Wednesday afternoon, per Hyde, who said Harvey had yet to complete his physical exam. The veteran righty agreed to a Minor League deal Saturday to compete for a spot in the O's rotation, with the deal pending a physical. That deal became official Wednesday, hinting at Harvey's imminent arrival to camp.

Beating the odds?
In unveiling their annual playoff projections this week, the baseball statistics site Fangraphs made headlines by predicting the rebuilding Orioles the only team without any chance at making the postseason. Citing thousands of simulations, Fangraphs projected Baltimore's odds at a playoff berth at 0.0 percent. It gained traction on social media and, yes, caught the attention of Orioles players and staff.

"I think we've outplayed projections every year that I've been up here, and the plan is to outplay the projections again," said Means. "I think if we can consistently do that, I think we're going to be pretty well off. I think we have a better chance than 0.0, for sure. We try not to listen to the noise too much."

Hyde also downplayed the projections, calling it "the least of my concerns."

"I'm not worried about an article," Hyde said. "I'm worried about the guys in that room, about getting better on a daily basis and controlling what we can control."

This is the third consecutive season the Orioles entered the season projected to finish last in the American League East, per Fangraphs. They finished last in 2019 and fourth in '20.

Numbers game
Speaking of numbers, the following Orioles are rocking new uniform digits this spring:

Freddy Galvis, No. 2
Pat Valaika, No. 11 (formerly No. 74)
Yolmer Sánchez, No. 13
Matt Harvey, No. 32
Félix Hernández , No. 34
Rylan Bannon, No. 39
Tyler Nevin, No. 41
Bruce Zimmermann, No. 50 (formerly No. 85)
Alexander Wells, No. 52
Jahmai Jones, No. 78
Adley Rutschman, No. 96
Ryan Ripken, No. 99