BALTIMORE -- When the Orioles snatched up Ty Blach on a waiver claim from the Giants last month, they hoped the left-hander would help stabilize a rotation that has wobbled amid turnover and inconsistency all year. Instead, Blach’s tenure in Baltimore was nothing but rocky.
The Orioles optioned Blach back to Triple-A Norfolk after he struggled again in Friday’s 7-1 loss to the Rays at Camden Yards, the southpaw’s third rough start in three tries with the club. Blach was tagged for seven runs over four frames, all during a terrible second inning when Tampa Bay jumped ahead on RBI hits from Kevin Kiermaier and Mike Zunino. Blach then surrendered a two-out grand slam to Austin Meadows, putting the Orioles behind by an early touchdown.
Blach, 28, went 0-3 with a 12.15 ERA in his first three starts with the club. The Orioles do not need a fifth starter until rosters expand next month. Friday’s loss also officially eliminated the rebuilding Orioles (41-88) from playoff contention.
“I feel like the numbers don’t necessarily show how well I threw the first two outings,” Blach said. “Today, I got two outs and had to make one more pitch there somehow to get through that inning. For the most part, I feel like I’m really close. It’s just the numbers that haven’t shown it.”
All the early fireworks made things relatively easy on Rays starter Trevor Richards, who struck out five in six shutout frames. They also set the stage for rookie right-hander Dillon Tate to save the Orioles' ‘pen with three scoreless innings of relief. Promoted on Friday to replace the injured Shawn Armstrong, Tate is one of several young hurlers the O’s plan to give an extended look when rosters expand in September.
Blach could be back by then, as the Orioles are expected to summon most of their eligible arms to provide depth come the season’s final month. But that time will be all about evaluating players with an eye toward 2020 and beyond. Here’s a look at some of the higher-priority potential candidates, and their likelihood of being called up.
1B Ryan Mountcastle
Case for promoting him: The club’s most advanced hitting prospect, Mountcastle has done nothing but rake in his first taste of the International League, pacing the circuit in hits and batting .311 with 24 homers and a .871 OPS through Friday. The 22-year-old, rated Baltimore's No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline, is as much a part of the Orioles' future as any position player they have at the upper levels.
Case for not: Given the ground state of their rebuild and glut of bat-first corner types on the roster, the Orioles have little incentive to start Mountcastle’s service clock early, especially if he isn’t going to get regular at-bats. And that doesn’t seem likely, with Trey Mancini, Renato Nunez and Chris Davis on the roster, Mark Trumbo potentially returning from right knee surgery and the club giving extended looks to Anthony Santander and DJ Stewart in the corner outfield spots.
OF Austin Hays
Case for promoting him: The Orioles have been playing without a true center fielder all season, and they believe that Hays, who is healthy again, is athletic enough to handle the role. Service time is less of a concern since Hays, the Orioles' No. 6 prospect, already made a 20-game big league cameo in 2017.
Case for not: There is a development case to be made for holding back Hays, who missed chunks of the past two seasons due to injury and hasn’t dominated Triple-A upon returning to the field. Hays is hitting .250 with a .773 OPS over his first 49 games at Norfolk.
LHP Keegan Akin
Case for promoting him: Akin, Baltimore's No. 11 prospect, seems likely to be protected at some point this winter, and he’s the most highly touted pitcher to spend significant time at Norfolk this season without getting a Major League call. Even before Blach’s demotion, the Orioles had only three starters -- Dylan Bundy, John Means and Asher Wojciechowski -- more or less rooted to their rotation spots.
Case for not: That said, Akin has taken a step back performance-wise at Triple-A after lighting up Double-A Bowie last season. His ERA has jumped more than a run, from 3.27 to 4.92, with his promotion to Norfolk.
RHP Dean Kremer
Case for promoting him: Kremer has done nothing but impress since coming over from the Dodgers in last year’s Manny Machado trade, posting a 2.83 ERA in 23 starts for Bowie before earning a promotion to Norfolk this month. The Orioles are likely to add him to their 40-man roster at some point before the new year.
Case for not: Kremer just got to Norfolk, making only two starts at the Triple-A level as of Friday. There is reason to believe the club’s No. 8 prospect still has room to develop.