When veteran pitcher Yovani Gallardo left Friday’s game after two innings with right shoulder and bicep tendinitis, you wonder if some small part of the Orioles organization breathed a soft sigh of relief.
No one is taking satisfaction in the 30-year-old being injured, of course, but anyone who’s watched Gallardo pitch so far has observed a significant drop in velocity from even last season, leaving one to wonder if he was healthy. If he had been 100 percent over these first four starts, you’re left with a pitcher who simply can’t get the job done with a fastball sitting in the mid-80s and the lowest ground-ball rate of his 10-year career.
It’s certainly disappointing that Gallardo is already on the shelf after the Orioles forfeited the 14th overall pick in this year’s draft and $22 million over the next two years to sign him, but the pitcher we’ve seen so far isn’t a better option than the likes of Mike Wright, Vance Worley, or Tyler Wilson. In other words, his trip to the 15-day disabled list isn’t a dramatic on-field loss if what he’s done so far is all he’s capable of at this point in his career.
This doesn’t mean that a cortisone shot and a couple weeks of rest will magically transform Gallardo into the pitcher he was three or four years ago, either, but you hope he has a little more left in the tank than what he’s shown and this time away could help him recapture that. If not, it’s fair to ask why the Orioles were still willing to sign Gallardo when their rigorous physical brought red flags about the state of his right shoulder and prompted a restructured deal of two seasons instead of three.
That wouldn’t make them correct about Gallardo as much as they would look desperate to have signed damaged goods because they waited all offseason to address a rotation that finished 14th in the AL in ERA in 2015 and lost its most consistent starter over the last four years in Wei-Yin Chen.
Bundy a starter?
It’s encouraging to see Dylan Bundy healthy and contributing out of the Orioles bullpen with a 2.57 ERA through the first three weeks of 2016, but the discussion of him being a starter later this season is premature.
In addition to his lack of starting experience above Double-A Bowie, Bundy hasn’t shown the ability to miss bats so far with opposing hitters sporting an 89.8 percent contact rate, the highest of any Orioles pitcher in 2016. The 23-year-old has one strikeout in seven innings of work with a fastball averaging just over 93 miles per hour in short stints out of the bullpen when pitchers typically cut it loose.
If he’s only hitting 93 or 94 mph when asked to only throw 20 or 30 pitches, how would that translate as a starter being expected to go six or seven innings?
Of course, this is a small sample size and it’s reasonable to think Bundy’s velocity will increase the further away he gets from his 2013 Tommy John surgery and his shoulder issues from a year ago, but little of what we’ve seen so far from him in 2016 screams starter candidate.
For now, the Orioles and their fans should just be thankful that he’s healthy and contributing in relief, and they’ll see how he progresses from there.
Kim deserving of more chances
It isn’t difficult to see where South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim stands within the organization after starting just three times in the Orioles’ first 17 games, but he’s gone 5-for-10 with two walks in those limited opportunities.
Meanwhile, primary designated hitter Pedro Alvarez is off to a miserable 4-for-37 start. To be fair, Alvarez has a track record of bringing 30-homer potential to a major league lineup, but the Orioles invested $7 million in Kim over two years compared to a one-year, $5.75 million deal for the former Pittsburgh Pirate. This isn’t to suggest that Kim should be given an everyday DH role over Alvarez, but he’s done enough with his rare chances to warrant more frequent shots here and there.
If you don’t think he can play, release him or give him a few more chances to prove that he just can’t cut it in the majors. When he has received time, however, Kim has far from embarrassed himself.
Davis showing more patience
Chris Davis entered Monday with a .230 batting average, but he’s hit six home runs and his walk rate has gone through the roof in the early going.
The 30-year-old slugger has walked in just under 20 percent of his plate appearances, up from 12.5 percent last season. He’s also swinging at just 21.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone compared to 31.0 percent last year, another reflection of improved patience at the plate.
To this point, he’s striking out a little less frequently, walking a great deal more, and homering at a similar rate (7.9 percent of plate appearances) to what we saw in 2013 (7.9 percent) and 2015 (7.0 percent). It’s still very early, but the Orioles will gladly take that spike in on-base percentage and not care nearly as much about his batting average.
Brach the pitching MVP so far
Zach Britton and Darren O’Day understandably receive most of the attention in the bullpen, but Brad Brach has been the Orioles’ most valuable pitching piece so far this season.
Tied with T.J. McFarland for the club lead with 11 1/3 relief innings, Brach has pitched to a 0.79 ERA and is averaging 10.3 strikeouts and 3.2 walks per nine innings. Right-handed hitters are just 1-for-19 with 10 strikeouts against him while lefty bats are 3-for-17, making him a good matchup for Buck Showalter against any hitter.
His mid-90s fastball and slider make him very difficult against right-handed bats and the downward movement on his changeup makes him that rare right-handed middle reliever who can be extremely effective against lefty hitters. Considering the issues the Orioles have had with starters getting into the sixth inning, Brach’s effectiveness and durability are key to bridging the gap to O’Day and Britton late in games.