Givens an im­proved bullpen weapon down the stretch

Baltimore Sun - - ORIOLES - By Ed­uardo A. Encina eencina@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Ed­dieInTheYard

TORONTO — Ori­oles righthander My­chal Givens’ first full ma­jor league sea­son has in­cluded some strug­gles — most notably try­ing to re­tire left-handed hit­ters — but the rookie re­liever now finds him­self a cru­cial late-in­ning piece to the bullpen.

This time last sea­son, Givens, a con­verted in­fielder who changed to pitch­ing three years ago, was just find­ing his bear­ings. His un­con­ven­tional sidearm de­liv­ery baf­fled hit­ters, as did his mid-90s fast­ball. But once ma­jor league hit­ters ad­justed to him, he had to do the same.

Now, the 26-year-old is pitch­ing some of his best base­ball, be­com­ing a depend­able arm that man­ager Buck Showal­ter can lean on late in the game.

“I’m just tak­ing it one step at a time,” Givens said. “There’s al­ways room to learn and get bet­ter, whether you have a short time in the big leagues or a long time in the big leagues. You’re al­ways learn­ing each day and that’s been the process through­out this year.”

Af­ter a score­less two-in­ning out­ing in Sun­day’s win over the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs in which Givens struck out four of the seven bat­ters he faced, he has pitched eight straight score­less out­ings. In that time he’s al­lowed just three hits over eight in­nings while strik­ing out 12 and walk­ing one.

Since July 31, Givens has a 2.39 ERA and has held op­pos­ing hit­ters to a .198 bat­ting av­er­age.

“Ob­vi­ously, you want him to be good and he’s been a lot bet­ter than he was at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son,” closer Zach Brit­ton said. “I think for the young guys, it’s not how you start; it’s how you fin­ish. You want to see a guy mak­ing progress through­out the sea­son. You see guys some­times start out well and some­times they fall off, whereas he’s do­ing the op­po­site. He’s do­ing bet­ter as he’s gain­ing more ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The Ori­oles en­tered the sec­ond half of the sea­son want­ing to take the load off right-han­der Brad Brach, who pitched 491⁄ in­nings in an All-Star first half he spent as the setup man in place of the in­jured Dar­ren O’Day. O’Day is back, but Showal­ter said that he doesn’t have the “us­abil­ity” he did in the past. That’s made Givens much more im­por­tant.

“We kind of have to pick our spots,” Showal­ter said. “But it’s nice to have some depth there. Just be­cause we’ve done it in the past; it doesn’t mean it’s go­ing to hap­pen tonight. You’ve got to earn it and our guys have gone out and earned it every time they’ve got­ten.”

Givens was a valu­able weapon in this past week­end’s se­ries against the Di­a­mond­backs, a team that fea­tures a pre­dom­i­nantly right-handed lineup. The Ori­oles face an­other righty-heavy lineup this week in Toronto, so Givens should be an im­por­tant piece again.

Showal­ter has been able to com­pen­sate for some of Givens’ strug­gles against left-handed hit- ters by plac­ing him in sit­u­a­tions where he doesn’t have to face left­ies, even if that means us­ing him ear­lier in the game.

Left-handed bat­ters are hit­ting .370 against Givens this sea­son com­pared with a .158 mark from right­ies. It’s plain to see that left­ies are hav­ing an eas­ier time pick­ing up Givens’ un­con­ven­tional throw­ing style.

“The thing I like about Mike is that when he gets a lit­tle out of whack for an out­ing, he gets right back on the horse,” Showal­ter said. “And that’s what we’ve tried [to do], as you’ve seen, tried to get him right back out there and get back to what they’re ca­pa­ble of do­ing. I think he has such a good feel now for how that hap­pens. Guys go in there and look at stuff when things go well. They look at stuff when things don’t go well.

“You’ve got to be your own pitch­ing coach out there some­times,” Showal­ter said. “You see him get out of the strike zone for a cou­ple of pitches and all of a sud­den he’ll make a qual­ity pitch and that’s a sign of ma­tu­rity. It’s like Dy­lan [Bundy] and like [Kevin Gaus­man]. I can keep nam­ing them. Some­times we lose sight of how many pitch­ers we have with not much ma­jor league ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Learn­ing to in­cor­po­rate his changeup in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions has helped. In the first six weeks of the sea­son, left­ies were hit­ting .529 against him, a num­ber that dropped to .370 at the break and .324 since July 31. Over his past eight out­ings, left­ies are hit­less in four at-bats, with one strike­out com­ing on a changeup. That’s ob­vi­ously a small slice, but still a sign that he’s start­ing to fig­ure out how to pitch to left­ies.

It’s “just un­der­stand­ing who I am and what kind of pitcher I am, know­ing that I’m com­fort­able throw­ing from the arm slot I do, and just learn­ing about be­ing up here,” Givens said.

Brit­ton said he’s seen a dif­fer­ent level of ag­gres­sive­ness from Givens, com­ing from hav­ing more con­fi­dence in his pitches and also learn­ing to lo­cate his fast­ball not only down in the zone, but el­e­vat­ing it to keep op­pos­ing hit­ters off bal­ance.

“The best thing about him, I think, right now is just that he seems more con­fi­dent go­ing af­ter guys,” Brit­ton said. “His num­bers against left-han­ders, I’m al­most go­ing to write them off this year be­cause I know he’s bet­ter than that. Some­times as a re­liever you don’t have a lot of op­por­tu­nity and you strug­gle right out of the gate. And be­tween lefty-righty, some­times those num­bers get in­flated. There were things he needed to make ad­just­ments on to left­ies and I think he has. I think that’s the best thing, for us to watch him go out there and [be ag­gres­sive]. Just this last se­ries, I know Ari­zona doesn’t know any­thing about him, but to go out there and just at­tack guys.”

TOM SZCZERBOWSKI/GETTY IMAGES

Since July 31, Ori­oles re­liever My­chal Givens, a con­verted in­fielder, has a 2.39 ERA and has held op­pos­ing hit­ters to a .198 bat­ting av­er­age.

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