Bullpen re­mains team’s pride

Strong re­lief corps to re­turn in­tact next year

Baltimore Sun - - ORIOLES NHL - By Jon Me­oli With the 2016 sea­son fin­ished, there’s no bet­ter time than the present to take stock of the Ori­oles’ or­ga­ni­za­tional depth at ev­ery po­si­tion. We have bro­ken down po­si­tions in­di­vid­u­ally and sep­a­rated the play­ers all through the sys­tem into th

The men: This sea­son, as in so many pre­vi­ous years, the re­lief corps was per­haps the Ori­oles’ most suc­cess­ful and widely re­spected group. For the sec­ond straight year, the team had a pair of All-Stars. Closer Zach Brit­ton re­ceived the honor for the sec­ond straight sea­son and Brad Brach was named to his first mid­sum­mer clas­sic af­ter tak­ing over for the in­jured Dar­ren O’Day as the team’s pri­mary setup man.

The Ori­oles’ re­liev­ers led the Amer­i­can League with a 3.40 ERA and ranked third in the ma­jors.

Brit­ton had a his­toric sea­son, con­vert­ing all 47 of his save op­por­tu­ni­ties while post­ing a 0.54 ERA. Brach fin­ished the sea­son 10-4 with a 2.05 ERA in a team-high 71 ap­pear­ances, and saw his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties grow sig­nif­i­cantly as O’Day dealt with ham­string and shoul­der in­juries that limited him to 34 ap­pear­ances.

Also as­cend­ing in 2016 was rookie My­chal Givens, who built on a strong de­but in 2015 to strike out 96 in 742⁄ in­nings with a 3.13 ERA in 66 ap­pear­ances. Givens was as good against right-han­ders as fel­low rookie Don­nie Hart was against left­handers. Early-sea­son strug­gles for Brian Ma­tusz meant the team was with­out a left-handed spe­cial­ist for most of the year, cy­cling through Ashur Tol­liver, T.J. McFar­land and Brian Duensing be­fore set­tling on Hart. The 26-year-old al­lowed five hits in 44 plate ap­pear­ances by lefties and al­lowed one run in 181⁄ in­nings over­all.

Pri­mar­ily in a long-re­lief role, Two-time All-Star closer Zach Brit­ton con­verted all 47 of his save op­por­tu­ni­ties this sea­son. Vance Wor­ley qui­etly had a strong year, com­pil­ing a 3.20 ERA out of the bullpen and av­er­ag­ing over two in­nings per re­lief ap­pear­ance. The al­ter­na­tives: Plenty of arms came through the bullpen as the sea­son went on — prac­ti­cally too many to list. The Ori­oles used 23 re­liev­ers.

Down the stretch, Tommy Hunter and Oliver Drake be­came cru­cial parts of the bullpen, though they only had a Septem­ber sam­ple size to work off this year.

Hunter, who pitched for the Ori­oles from 2011 to 2014 and part of 2015 af­ter a brief stint with the Toronto Blue Jays, re­joined the team af­ter his re­lease by the Cleve­land In­di­ans in late Au­gust and had a 2.19 ERA in 12 ap­pear­ances. Drake, who was up for part of 2015 and early in 2016 with limited suc­cess, al­lowed two earned runs over 121⁄ in­nings over his last 10 out­ings. The fu­ture: The past two win­ners of the Ori­oles’ Jim Palmer Mi­nor League Pitcher of the Year awards — Hart and Givens — were re­liev­ers, a sign of the value the club puts on de­vel­op­ing its bullpen as­sets. Some in the or­ga­ni­za­tion take more pride in that fact than oth­ers, but ev­ery level fea­tures some im­pres­sive re­lief arms who could come up to the big league bullpen.

Pe­dro Beato (2.65 ERA in 65 ap­pear­ances for Triple-A Nor­folk) and Ja­son Stof­fel (2.44 ERA in 55 ap­pear­ances for Nor­folk and Dou­ble-A Bowie) led Ori­oles mi­nor lea­guers in ap­pear­ances. They were two of a hand­ful of main­stays on a pitch­ing staff that was in flux be­cause of the ma­jor league team’s needs all sea­son.

In terms of up­side, the clos­est wave of re­lief pitch­ing can be found in the Ari­zona Fall League. Hardthrow­ing left-han­der Tan­ner Scott, who throws a fast­ball in the high-90s, had a 4.76 ERA in 641⁄ in­nings with 81 strike­outs and 57 walks for High-A Fred­er­ick and Bowie. An­other fire­baller, 21-year-old Je­sus Li­ranzo, had a1.87 ERA in 27 ap­pear­ances be­tween Low-A Del­marva and Bowie.

Also join­ing them in the Fall League from the Baysox are Jimmy Ya­cabo­nis (2.64 ERA in 50 ap­pear­ances be­tween Bowie and Fred­er­ick) and Ste­fan Crich­ton (3.73 ERA in 48 ap­pear­ances for Bowie).

Be­low them in the sys­tem is the wave of re­liev­ers that con­sti­tuted so much of the team’s 2015 draft class, in­clud­ing left-han­der Gar­rett Cleav­inger and right-han­der Ryan Meisinger. Cleav­inger, a third-round pick, struck out 102 bat­ters in 761⁄ in­nings be­tween Del­marva and Fred­er­ick, while Meisinger, an 11th-round pick, had a 1.57 ERA with 94 strike­outs and 21 walks in 742⁄ in­nings for the same two af­fil­i­ates. The skinny: There were times this year when a string of short starts con­trib­uted to a worn-out bullpen. But when this unit was at full strength, it was among the best in the game.

The good news is that the whole bunch will be back next sea­son, though ar­bi­tra­tion raises will make Brit­ton, Brach and Wor­ley more ex­pen­sive. The team will also main­tain a good bit of flex­i­bil­ity as Hart and Givens have op­tions. The Ori­oles won’t of­ten find them­selves to be lack­ing fresh arms.

Of course, all of this dis­counts the fact that the Ori­oles’ sea­son ended with a head-scratch­ing re­lief de­ci­sion by man­ager Buck Showal­ter, who didn’t use Brit­ton in the wild­card game against the Blue Jays. But no mat­ter how the re­liev­ers are de­ployed, the depth and qual­ity of the bullpen is likely to be a strength for years to come.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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