With One Week Before Opening Day, Orioles Have Plenty Of Pitching Questions To Answer

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde is still undecided about how many pitchers will head north with the major-league club.

The team is considering five or six starters, or perhaps as many as nine arms to fortify the bullpen.

“All our pitching question marks are going to be something we’re focusing heavily on this last week and we’re going to come up with the best decisions we feel give our team the best chance to win, as well as what’s best for our players,” Hyde said this week.

Hyde has plenty of options.

When Mike Elias took over as the Orioles general manager in late 2018, his main focus was stocking the organization with young arms. Two years later, Baltimore has one of the deepest minor-league affiliates for pitching among all MLB clubs.

Some of these young players will have an opportunity to make an impact at Camden Yards this season. Here’s at a look at how the Orioles might enter the 2021 season with their pitching.

Projected Starting Rotation

John Means: The 27-year-old left-hander was named the Opening Day starter and will anchor the rotation. Means has gone 14-15 with a 3.97 ERA and 1.114 WHIP during 42 appearances (37 starts) for the Orioles from 2019-2020. He dealt with some adversity last season, but he fully recovered from those struggles and allowed just one run in each of his final four starts, going 2-1 with a 1.52 ERA.

Matt Harvey: The right-hander is looking to resurrect his career after dealing with some struggles during the past few seasons. The Orioles signed placed him on the 40-man roster March 25, meaning he will head north with the club. Harvey, who turns 32 on March 27, went 25-18 and did not have an ERA above 2.73 in any of his first three seasons with the Mets (2012, 2013 and 2015) and started the 2013 All-Star Game. His career appeared to be on a continuous upward trajectory before he began to falter in 2016. He bounced around the majors the past three years, pitching for the Reds, Angels and Royals.

Dean Kremer: The 25-year-old right-hander represents the new guard for the Orioles. Kremer made four starts as a rookie last season and went 1-1 with a 4.82 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP. That performance earned him a starting spot in the middle of the rotation. The question surrounding Kremer is whether he can say consistent throughout the arduous MLB schedule.

Keegan Akin: The young lefty began last year at the alternate training site in Bowie, but he was called up last August. Akin, who turns 26 on April 1, made his first career start on Aug. 31 against the Blue Jays, allowing two runs and three hits with six strikeouts and two walks in 4.1 innings. Overall, Akin appeared in eight games, including six starts, and went 1-2 with a 4.56 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. He allowed 27 hits with 10 walks and 35 strikeouts in 25.2 innings.

Jorge López: The 28-year-old right-hander has pitched well enough to claim the final spot in the rotation, especially with Félix Hernández’s dealing with right elbow discomfort. López, however, will have to show more consistency to maintain that spot. He’s gone 9-17 with a 6.03 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in five major-league seasons (69 games, 33 starts). Lopez is out of options, so he could potentially move to the bullpen as a long reliever at some point during the season.

Projected Bullpen

Bruce Zimmermann: The 26-year-old Loyola Blakefield alum has been the Orioles’ best pitcher this spring. The left-hander has shown deft command and the ability to put hitters away with a fastball that has touched 95 mph. Look for Zimmermann to make a push to be part of the rotation throughout the season. He does have minor-league options, which gives the club some flexibility.

Cesar Valdez: The 36-year-old right-hander is also capable of starting, especially as an opener. However, Valdez, who signed with the Orioles out of the Mexican League in January 2020, can be a valuable part of the bullpen and can throw multiple innings. He is also versatile enough to serve as a closer.

Tanner Scott: The left-hander has the potential to help close out games in light of the recent injury to Hunter Harvey. The 26-year-old Scott dominated last season in his 25 appearances — tied for the second-most appearances by a left-hander in the majors. He did not allow an earned run in his final 13 appearances and allowed earned runs in just two of his 25 games on the season. Scott is looking to keep that momentum rolling.

Paul Fry: The left-hander found some consistency last season and will play a key role in the bullpen despite struggling this spring. Fry, 28, posted a career-best 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings and has overcome some of his issues allowing home runs (seven in 2019).

Shawn Armstrong: The 30-year-old right-hander has the potential to throw multiple innings. Armstrong also can pitch the ninth if the Orioles decide to go with a closer by committee. Last season, he stranded 84.6 percent of his inherited runners (11-of-13) and posted a career-low 0.80 WHIP with the big-league club.

Dillon Tate: The highly-touted right-hander made 12 appearances last season. Tate, 26, held right-handed hitters to a .105 (4-for-38) batting average and did not allow a hit in five straight appearances at one point. Tate, who was acquired from the Yankees for Zack Britton, will be a key reliever for the team in 2021.

Cole Sulser: The Orioles are counting on Sulser to bounce back from a challenging 2020 season, when he went 1-5 with a 5.56 ERA and had three blown saves. Sulser might not initially be a late-inning option, but he still has upside and could be a solid right-hander for Brandon Hyde.

Travis Lakins: The 26-year-old right-hander was a pleasant surprise last season, tying for the team lead with three wins. He also finished with a 2.81 ERA and a save. His 22 appearances were the most by an O’s right-handed pitcher, and that experience bodes well for him to make the final roster.

Mac Sceroler or Tyler Wells: With veteran lefty Wade LeBlanc being granted his release, one of these Rule 5 pitchers could earn a job in the bullpen. That decision could come down to the final days of spring training.

Update: Wade LeBlanc was mentioned as a possibility previously, but he was granted his release by the Orioles March 25.

See Also:
Orioles Spring Training Notebook: Trey Mancini Healthy, Ready To Make An Impact
Orioles’ 2021 Infield Features Familiar Faces On The Corners, New Faces Up The Middle
Orioles Prospect Adley Rutschman Focused On Improving … Not His Big-League Debut
Orioles Outfield Outlook: Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins Battling For Time In Center Field
After Challenging Year, Orioles LHP John Means Optimistic For Future
After Successful Audition, Orioles LHP Keegan Akin Ready For Spotlight In 2021

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles

Todd Karpovich

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