It has been a long, cold, snowy winter, and unfortunately it is not over, but the great news is that this is the week all baseball fans have been waiting for as pitchers and catchers report for most of the teams in the league. The Baltimore Orioles will see their pitchers and catchers report on Thursday, but today begins our Orioles Spring Training preview and first up in part one: returning relievers.
Over the course of the next week and a half we will unveil our ten-part Orioles Spring Training preview that will cover all aspects of the team and will conclude with our final 25-man roster prediction. Today though, we will kick things off with previewing the Orioles' returning relievers in the bullpen.
Baltimore will return five of their full time relievers from a year ago in Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Troy Patton, Darren O'Day and T.J. McFarland, and other guys who made some relief appearances in Kevin Gausman, Steve Johnson, Zach Britton, Josh Stinson, and Mike Belfiore.
Yes, we are aware that Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez made relief appearances last season, but barring the Orioles all of the sudden bringing in not one, but two veteran starting pitchers, both Norris and Gonzalez will be in the starting rotation this season.
Currently, if you really want to nail down the details, the only guaranteed returning full time relievers from a year ago that will be in the bullpen this season are Hunter and O'Day because Patton will begin the season serving a 25-game suspension, Matusz could earn the fifth spot in the starting rotation and McFarland appears to likely be heading to AAA Norfolk to begin the season as a starter for the Tides.
Now, it is pretty unlikely, at least in our opinion, that Matusz earns the fifth spot in the rotation largely due to the vast amount of success he has had since moving to the bullpen back in 2012, thus he will be in the bullpen as well to give three full time relievers returning. The remaining four or five relievers, depending on how many pitchers Buck Showalter decides he wants to keep on the roster, will be made up of newcomers or returners that were not full time relievers last season.
Johnson has a very good opportunity to become the team's long-reliever this season with McFarland likely beginning the year in AAA, but will also be battling for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Along with Johnson, Britton will also be battling for the fifth spot in the rotation, but the fact that he does not have any options remaining will somewhat help Britton. If the lefty does not make the starting rotation, he too could be the team's long reliever.
Gausman is an interesting guy in this mix, but despite the urge of fans to make sure Gausman is in Baltimore no matter what, we believe that if Gausman does not earn the fifth spot in the starting rotation, he will begin the season in AAA Norfolk to continue to work as a starter because the Orioles will need him as a starter at some point this season and it is a lot easier to go from starting to relief, than it is the other way around.
Stinson and Belfiore are both likely to become part of that frequent rider program that the Orioles seem to have with Norfolk, but Stinson's 0.79 ERA as a reliever last season (made one start and did not fair well) does give him a shot at cracking the 25-man roster.
Of course the biggest, and most talked about change among the bullpen this season is Hunter in the closer's role. Baltimore traded All Star closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland A's this offseason in order to not have to pay him the $10 million he eventually got in arbitration, and despite the club's stance that they would "reallocate resources" or in other words spend the money elsewhere, they didn't and Hunter will take over as the team's closer. Hunter, much like Johnson, is a failed starter, but Tommy's live arm makes him an attractive idea as the closer, but Hunter will have to improve on the .294 average left handed hitters had against him last season as he will face a lot of them in the ninth inning.
The Orioles have a solid returning core in the bullpen with Hunter, O'Day and Matusz, with other returning guys that have had some success in the big leagues, but later today we will reveal part two, which will cover the newcomers to the bullpen and that group could be the biggest factor in the bullpen's success.
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