Givens’ sore left knee could affect bullpen
Pitchers making adjustments on cusp of opening day
DUNEDIN, Fla. — Orioles reliever Mychal Givens’ status for opening day is in question as the right-hander deals with a sore left knee, an ailment that muddles the club’s bullpen competition with spring training nearing a close.
Manager Brandon Hyde said Givens, who hasn’t pitched since Thursday, has been held out due to “precautionary measures” to manage the soreness in his landing leg knee.
“The knee’s been bothering him, the knee’s sore,” Hyde said. “He’s gonna be hopefully ready to go in a few days, but we’ll see.”
Could the knee issue prevent Givens from breaking camp in the big leagues?
“Hopefully not,” Hyde said, adding that the goal is for Givens to throw on the back fields in a few days.
The Orioles signed Givens to a $5 million contract this offseason in a move to offer stability to a mostly young and inexperienced bullpen. Several of the Orioles’ top relievers in 2022 — including Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez and Bryan Baker — experienced success for the first time in the majors. Givens, meanwhile, has been a reliable arm in major league bullpens for eight years, including in Baltimore from 2015 to 2020.
An extra bullpen seat is already up for grabs because of setup man Dillon Tate’s forearm strain that will keep him out for most of April. If Givens can’t open the season in the Orioles’ bullpen, that opens another spot for the several pitchers in that competition.
A Givens absence would increase the chances for one or multiple of the following right-handers to break camp in the bullpen: converted starter Mike Baumann, Rule 5 draft pick Andrew Politi and middle reliever Joey Krehbiel.
Against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday, Baumann and Politi both pitched scoreless innings. Baumann hasn’t allowed a run in his three outings since he was transitioned to a short-relief role last week, while Politi hasn’t surrendered a run in seven of his eight appearances this spring. Krehbiel pitched a scoreless inning Tuesday for his fifth straight scoreless outing.
Hyde has said he wants a second lefthander in the bullpen, and with Nick Vespi and Bruce Zimmermann being optioned Monday, that leaves Keegan Akin and DL Hall as the Orioles’ options. An extra spot could also allow the club to roster both Hall and Akin. Hall, the Orioles’ No. 2 pitching prospect, is still being built up as a starter and will either progressively increase his workload in Triple-A or as a member of the big league bullpen. Hyde said Hall’s second spring outing will be Saturday after he pitched 1 innings Monday.
While opening day is almost a week away, Orioles pitchers are still using their final outings to make adjustments to their deliveries or approaches.
Veteran Kyle Gibson made a “little delivery change” in his five-inning scoreless start Sunday to unlock his lower half and be more athletic moving down the mound. Kyle Bradish on Monday altered his hands in his set position, and although that outing went poorly for him (nine runs in 2 innings), he still plans to work on it moving forward. And Bautista on Monday worked on making his fastball and splitter look similar coming out of his hand — known as pitch tunneling — and threw 16 of his 24 pitches for balls.
“They’ll be doing that all season,” Hyde said of his pitchers making mechanical tweaks. “I think everybody’s always trying to improve their pitches. We have a great pitching room with guys from our analytics team to our pitching coaches, they do an amazing job of trying to get our guys better. That’s happened here the last few years. I think that’s just an ongoing process of guys evaluating after every outing and see if they can get a little bit better.
“Normally, you don’t make drastic changes during the season. That’s what offseason’s for. But during the season you definitely want to watch video of yourself and try to improve every single day, and our guys have done that.”
Terrin the cover off the ball
Utilityman Terrin Vavra is playing like his roster spot depends on it.
Vavra, one of several players competing for seats on the Orioles’ bench, went 2-for-4 in Baltimore’s 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays to improve his spring slash line to .351/.390/.622.
“We have a great competition in this clubhouse,” Vavra said. “It’s all very respectful, which is fun to be a part of. You never want to put the cart before the horse. You want to let those decisions play out the way they’re supposed to, and trust the hard work that you’ve put in and the preparation that you’ve put in.”
His two base knocks displayed a level of pop that Vavra hadn’t showcased against big league pitching before. Facing two-time All-Star José Berríos, Vavra roped a single 106.1 mph to right field in his second at-bat and then clobbered a 399-foot home run to left-center field. In 103 major league plate appearances last season, Vavra’s hardest batted ball was 104.5 mph and his farthest homer was 357 feet.
“The more that you square balls up, the more those numbers are going to keep going up,” Vavra said. “My game doesn’t always include the long home runs, but I’m still trying to hit the ball as hard as I can. That’s something you always focus on to keep improving upon, whether that’s in the offseason, during the year. That’s always something you want to do more of.”
Also against the Blue Jays, Orioles starting pitcher Dean Kremer continued his sharp spring with five innings of two-run ball against a lineup filled mostly with Toronto’s starters. He allowed two solo home runs on pitches left over the heart of the plate, but the 27-year-old right-hander was otherwise sharp.
“Not too much different than it would be in season,” Kremer said about facing the Blue Jays’ regulars. “We kind of know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and it’s pretty much who executes and who doesn’t.”
Former first-round draft picks Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad were reassigned to minor league camp Wednesday afternoon.
Both youngsters impressed in their small samples this spring, displaying the hitting ability that earned both players recognition on top-100 prospect lists.
Kjerstad, the Orioles’ No. 2 overall pick in 2020, was perhaps the club’s best hitter in camp. He went 16-for-42 at the plate with four doubles, four home runs and a 1.219 OPS.
Cowser, the Orioles’ No. 5 overall selection in 2021, was 7-for-33 with three home runs, 13 walks and a .920 OPS. The highlight of Cowser’s camp was the 476-foot home run he clobbered last week.
The Orioles now have 44 players on their spring training roster — a number that must be cut to 26 by opening day next week.