SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles bullpen, a major strength last season, will likely begin the 2023 season without one of its top contributors and questions surrounding multiple others.
Right-hander Dillon Tate suffered a strain of the flexor tendon in his forearm in November, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Thursday as Baltimore began its first organized workout of spring training. Elias said Tate will likely begin the regular season on the injured list, missing most of April.
“It’s concerning that one of our better relievers is not going to be on our opening day roster,” Elias said. “I know he’s bummed about missing the WBC [World Baseball Classic] and all that, but he’s doing well. He’s a pitcher. Injuries happen. This shouldn’t last too long.”
But there’s also concern for left-hander DL Hall and right-hander Félix Bautista, and left-hander Nick Vespi is working back from a hernia surgery he underwent in January. Those four players threw a combined 179.1 innings for Baltimore last year.
In early February, Vespi said he expects to be ready for opening day, although Elias said it’s “TBD” whether the southpaw would be ready for opening day because of a slower buildup during the spring.
Hall, a rotation candidate, will still prepare as a starter but is behind schedule because of right lower lumbar discomfort he began to feel three weeks ago during offseason training. Elias said the issue “is resolving, if not resolved.” That still pushes the timetable back for spring training game action.
And Bautista, who burst onto the scene last season with 15 saves, worked through rehab this winter after his 2022 campaign ended with shoulder soreness and a knee sprain. Elias said Bautista is throwing bullpens off the mound, but appearing in a spring training game may take longer.
“He could be able to break for opening day, depending on how much of a ramp-up we’ll be able to get him,” Elias said. “I think it’s just going to be a question of how many spring training outings do we think he’ll need to be able to be declared ready to go close out American League East games in April. But he’s healthy, it’s just put him behind in terms of schedule and how many real spring training games he projects to get at this point. He’s behind a normal schedule.”
The flurry of injury updates casts something of a shadow over a bullpen that is coming off a strong season.
Orioles relievers improved their ERA from 5.70 in 2021 to 3.49 in 2022. Baltimore didn’t lose any main contributors over the winter and added right-hander Mychal Givens, a former Oriole who has high-leverage experience. Givens should take much of what would have been Tate’s April workload.
Tate said he’s able to play catch and work out, but the intensity is low. He doesn’t know an exact timeline on when he can begin to ramp up. Hall told reporters Friday that his back pain was minor and he is back to throwing.
But with Vespi and Bautista potentially missing time early in the season, too (and Hall potentially fitting in the rotation) there could be opportunities in the bullpen this spring.
Tate became one of the Orioles’ preferred late-game options out of the bullpen, pitching 73 2/3 innings and posting a 3.05 ERA. Bautista’s rookie season featured a 2.19 ERA and one of the best splitters in baseball. Vespi didn’t allow an earned run for Triple-A Norfolk and was steady for the Orioles, with a 4.10 ERA. Hall, in his 10 relief appearances, pitched to a 3.60 ERA.
“You can never have enough good arms, and we’re going to have other things come up, too,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “These things happen. It’s part of the game. But we feel great about the depth we have in camp and they [Bautista and Tate] are two huge pieces of our team and just want to see them get healthy and get out there.”
With 12 rotation candidates, it’s possible some of the arms that don’t crack the five-man rotation could backfill the bullpen, particularly while the more established relievers remain out.
Infielder Ramón Urías, who suffered a knee injury at the end of last season, said he’s healthy and a full participant early in camp despite his late removal from Mexico’s World Baseball Classic team. Urías said there was a health insurance issue, with the World Baseball Classic unable to provide coverage because of his knee injury.
“Everything was fine [with the knee], they just didn’t want to cover me,” Urías said. “It was very disappointing, because I was very excited to represent my country and play with my brother [Luis] in that tournament, but unfortunately that won’t happen.”