September has arrived, and along with it, several fresh faces have joined the Orioles' roster.
The Orioles actually began their roster expansions before Sept. 1, taking advantage of rules loopholes to bolster their bench with the additions of utility man Jimmy Paredes and catcher Steve Clevenger, then acquiring veteran outfielder Alejandro de Aza and infielder Kelly Johnson in a pair of Aug. 30 trades.
Since Sept. 1, the Orioles have also recalled right-handed relievers Ryan Webb and Evan Meek, and selected the contracts of veteran lefty Joe Saunders and outfielder Quintin Berry. Additionally, the Birds have sent a handful of minor league players to work out at the team's spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla., in case the O's want to add any of them later in September.
For now, the Orioles' active roster stands at 33 players -- 16 pitchers and 17 position players -- which gives manager Buck Showalter plenty of options at his disposal during the final month of the regular season.
But will any of the new additions play a meaningful role in September?
Though Showalter often talks about the importance of having depth, he doesn't tend to use his bench very often, barring injuries. Showalter prefers to stick to an established everyday lineup and doesn't give much rest to his regulars. Center fielder Adam Jones and Nick Markakis have both started every game of the season, the only pair of teammates in the majors to do so. Nelson Cruz has started all but two games, splitting time as a designated hitter and outfielder. Shortstop J.J. Hardy started 97 consecutive games from April through August before missing three games with a sprained thumb; he then started another 17 straight games before back spasms forced him out of the starting lineup Sept. 2.
Showalter has seemed hesitant to give his core players a day off or to remove them from games early, except in blowouts. That may continue to be the case until the O's mathematically clinch the American League East.
Because of Showalter's fondness for his starters, he also doesn't tend to use a lot of pinch-hitters during games. Case in point -- in the seventh inning of the Orioles' Sept. 1 loss against the Twins, with the tying run at the plate, Showalter let the light-hitting, right-handed catcher Nick Hundley bat for himself against Twins righty Phil Hughes, rather than using the newly acquired de Aza or Johnson as a pinch-hitter. Of course, Showalter ultimately looked brilliant when Hundley crushed a game-tying three-run homer, and anyone who questioned the decision ended up with serious egg on their face.
So don't expect to see Johnson, Clevenger and other newly arrived bench bats get much playing time. Some of them, in fact, seem redundant with each other. Berry and season-long bench player David Lough both have similar profiles as outfielders who bring good defensive skills and speed but not much at the plate. Granted, there are some differences between them -- Lough has the better offensive upside, while Berry is a speed demon who is 24-for-24 in stolen base attempts during his career -- but it'll be difficult for Showalter to find playing time for both of them and de Aza while he continues to start Jones and Markakis every game.
As for the newly arrived pitchers, they likely won't see much action in meaningful situations. The O's already have a strong, established bullpen, with Andrew Miller, Darren O'Day and Zach Britton locking down the late innings while Tommy Hunter and Brad Brach handle middle relief. Showalter had seemingly lost his confidence in Webb before the O's optioned him Aug. 1, while Meek has had several stints in the majors this year without much success. Showalter is unlikely to hand Webb and Meek the ball in close games.
Saunders, meanwhile, is trying to reinvent himself as a lefty specialist, but Brian Matusz will presumably continue to be the Orioles' No. 1 option in such situations until Saunders proves he can handle the new role.
For now, the new additions to the roster won't make an immediate impact. Showalter often says he likes his guys, so until the O's have clinched, he'll stick with the players that helped the Birds take a, eight-game AL East lead into September. Once that happens, though, Showalter might want to start thinking about keeping his everyday players fresh for the playoffs. That's when the September roster expansions could really start coming into play.