Okay, so let’s try to tally this up- Chris Tillman is back from Norfolk, and brings along Frank Mata, a former minor league free agent in his first season at AAA. Meanwhile, Alberto Castillo gets another shot in Baltimore in the bullpen and gets to pitch alongside David Hernandez, the 5th starter who will now be a reliever. Oh yea, and in case you blinked, Justin Turner is gone from the organization after being picked up by the Mets. With Koji Uehara going back in the DL (shocker) along with Alfredo Simon, the O’s needed relievers, and this part of the team once hailed as its strength is now all but unrecognizable.
In 2009, the relief staff was made up of Jim Johnson, Chris Ray, Dennis Sarfate, George Sherrill , Danys Baez, Jamie Walker, and Matt Albers. Only one of these players remains with the major league club, and Albers is only with the team right now because he is out of minor league options, and the O’s are out of alternatives. Sarfate is down in Norfolk, Johnson is on the DL, and everyone else is gone. In 2010, Will Ohman has been the most reliable reliever, initially brought in as a left-handed specialist and was an afterthought to fans. He may now be the closer. Of course, this isn’t all bad. Most experts saw David Hernandez as a better fit for the bullpen down the road, with his explosive fastball and the tendency of hitters to get a bead on him the second or third time through the order. He has the endurance to throw 2 or 3 innings and can make a spot start, so he will be a valuable asset in the pen.
Alberto Castillo will likely take over the left-handed specialist duties, but he will have to prove that he isn’t a AAAA player and has a future after his first lackluster stint in Baltimore this season. Frank Mata is the wildcard in all of this relief reshuffling. The 26 year old started closing this year for Norfolk after being acquired from the Minnesota Twins over the offseason. In his first season at the AAA level, Mata was dominating hitters, but only in 19.1 innings so far. That could be a complete aberration, but the Orioles are out of alternatives- at this point they need to take the hottest pitcher at Norfolk at any given time.
While I wish Chris Tillman could have gotten a few more starts at Norfolk to show that he had worked out whatever kinks had plagued him during Spring Training, it makes sense to bring up the pitcher with at least some major league experience. He had posted a 3.12 ERA in 57.2 innings over 10 starts at AAA after a tough first couple outings as he attempted to work on the cut fastball he added to his repertoire this offseason. Among those ten starts was a no-hitter on April 28 against Gwinnett, showing a quick rebound from his early struggles. However, he hasn’t completely dominated the competition, allowing 4 earned runs in 6 innings on May 14. Once again, he makes more sense than Jake Arrieta, who would be facing live major league pitching for the first time. At least Tillman has an idea of what to expect, and the Orioles know what they can expect from him. Even if he pitches no better than in 2009, his 5.40 ERA will be no worse than what they got out of David Hernandez.
Finally, the Orioles lost Justin Turner to the New York Mets, failing to pass the utility infielder through waivers. I know we have a lot of Turner fans out there, but I didn’t see him becoming the heir to Brian Roberts at second or ever becoming an everyday starting infielder- he just didn’t have the bat for it. It always stings to lose a potential complimentary piece however, and while he wasn’t getting many reps in Baltimore, it would have been good to have him around and try to work him into the mix down the line.
Just a quick question: Why in god’s name was Pedro Florimon, Jr. protected during the Rule 5 draft and remains on the 40-man roster? He is hitting .183 at Bowie and is lugging around a .927 fielding percentage at the shortstop position. They must see something in him that I don’t quite understand.