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Examining Dan Duquette's 2017 Pitching Mission

April 17, 2017
If you have been busy preparing your taxes since about mid-December, you may have missed Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette's rather frenetic search for pitching depth.

Now, let's be as clear as we can, there isn't a time of year Duquette isn't trying to better his roster. And when he does, it's pretty clear what the aim is: to better an area of the 40-man roster.

The difference this time is the sheer non-stop grab for arms of all kinds -- righties, lefties, starters, relievers, young and old.

Since late December, Duquette has acquired right-handed pitchers Logan Verrett and Gabriel Ynoa from the New York Mets. Then, in response to some questions surrounding the lack of a second situational lefty, Duquette plucked Vidal Nuno from the Seattle Mariners and, almost before he arrived, Duquette, aware of the New York Yankees' impending roster crunch, was able to acquire his second lefty, Richard Bleier.

If you are counting, that's four pitching acquisitions. Then, as the season was ready to start, Duquette picked up right-hander Alex Asher from the Philadelphia Phillies, signed out-of-work righty Edwin Jackson to a minor league deal and picked up his third left-handed reliever in Andrew Faulkner from the Rangers. In the seeming frenzy to the start of the season, he brought in yet another right-handed arm, former Toronto Blue Jays prospect Miguel Castro.

All told, Duquette added eight pitchers to the Orioles' depth charts, and all but Jackson have minor league options. So what is all this about? For the past couple of seasons, we were told right-handers Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson, and even recently righty Joe Gunkel, were ready for the next step in helping the big league club.

It seems to me Duquette has embarked on a plan similar to a basketball coach who doesn't have a solid big man. Instead of being more talented than the opposition, he is going to wear them down. In basketball, three bad centers still give the coach a way to average the minutes, and it still gives your team 18 fouls to use.

Duquette, Showalter and the Orioles' brain trust know very well what the Orioles' strengths and weaknesses are. And in this case, they may have a new idea of how to make up for the deficiencies within their staff. 

So far, the Orioles have carried two right arms of questionable distinction -- Wilson and Oliver “out of options" Drake. Neither of them has been very good to-date, and neither seems to have their position nailed down.

During the Duquette era, the Orioles have had, shall we say, a reputation for creativity when it comes to using the disabled list and turning a 25-man roster into more of an accordion-like, 35-man roster.

Consider the home game against New York April 9, when the Orioles needed to activate lefty Wade Miley from the DL to start; it was a game the Yankees won, 7-3, despite Miley battling through five scoreless innings. As it happened, during the Orioles' tilt with the Yankees April 8, outfielder Joey Rickard strained a finger sliding into a base and poof -- he went on the 10-day DL to make room for Miley.

After the April 9 game, manager Buck Showalter acknowledged three pitchers -- Drake, righty Brad Brach and lefty closer Zach Britton -- were not available due to concerns of overuse.

It's understandable the Orioles would want to have the important arms fresh for the games that can be won.

Meanwhile, with the Orioles' starting pitching being so iffy, it seems the team is planning for an almost unprecedented shuttle between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk. With all these arms, there stands the chance that in column No. 1 you might have Nuno, Bleier and Faulkner, as almost clones from the left-hand side. Then you have the potential for Verrett, Asher and Castro to be the right-handed equivalents.

With all six of those pitchers having options, it's easy to see the design of a plan that would have their tickets punched to Baltimore multiple times this season. Could the Orioles' use of the DL get so clever, that like the Patriots, the league will institute new rules to change that ability for hocus pocus?

***

Righty reliever Darren O'Day had, perhaps, his worst outing as an Oriole against the Yankees in the game Miley started April 9. In two-thirds of an inning in the top of the ninth, he surrendered three walks, allowed a key stolen base and gave up a big hit that broke open a 3-3 tie and allowed the Yankees to win, 7-3.

Don't get me wrong, O'Day is a solid contributor, but his injuries and missed time in 2016 have to once again call into question the club's odd decision to allow lefty reliever Andrew Miller to leave for the Yankees on a four-year, $9 million per year deal without so much as a fight in December 2014. And then, just one year later, the club signed O'Day for four years at $7.75 million per.

O'Day has been a terrific reliever and a leader in the Orioles' clubhouse for six years. But, at the end of the day, as good as he has been, he has never been the kind of difference-maker Miller was and would have been in black and orange.

This is very rarely brought up in these parts, in large part due to O'Day's great clutch factor. But the O'Day since his big contract has not resembled the great O'Day from before the signing. 

Issue 232: April 2017