SARASOTA, Fla. — Kaleb Ort could be forgiven if he ever needed to take off his cap and check which logo was stitched upon it.

On Friday, standing on the mound at Ed Smith Stadium, Ort wore an Orioles cap. He faced several batters and impressed with his fastball and his increased focus on secondary pitches, forcing three groundouts before striking out Anthony Santander. But he could’ve had three other hats this offseason — if he was around long enough to claim one — from the Seattle Mariners, Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies.

The right-handed reliever was claimed off waivers three times. Then, this week, the Orioles traded cash to acquire Ort from the Phillies. It has “been a roller coaster,” Ort said when he arrived at Baltimore’s spring training home.

In truth, much of his career has followed a similarly unconventional path. He went undrafted, played in the independent Frontier League, then earned his first minor league contract two years later with the New York Yankees. He made his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox at 29, pitched one-third of an inning and was sent back down. At 32, following two more rough stints in the majors with the Red Sox, Ort is here.

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He’s an Oriole — just check the cap to make sure — and he’s a candidate for one of the final bullpen roles once camp breaks.

To earn a place in that bullpen, however, Ort knows there must be changes. He looks at his 2023 metrics and sees his fastball usage at 72%. Throughout the offseason and into spring training, regardless of which team held his contract at the time, Ort has worked on adding variability into his pitch mix.

“If I can keep it [my pitch mix] kind of leveled out instead of so heavy on one side, it’s going to help me out in the long run,” Ort said.

His four-seam fastball will still be essential. So will his slider. But Ort wants to improve his changeup and introduce a cutter more frequently into his arsenal. By doing so, he sees a road back to the majors.

Ort’s high fastball usage last year — 12 percentage points higher than 2022 — wasn’t entirely by design. Ort said a bone bruise on his elbow, which caused him to miss time on the injured list late in the year, kept him from using his slider as much as he wanted. Plus, when in a jam, Ort fell into a habit of relying on a fastball that ranks in the 80th percentile of velocity (96 mph), per Statcast.

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“I probably just got caught up in certain situations and let it ride,” Ort said. “I got bit for it a few times. If I go out there and certain things weren’t there, let it ride. And I know the usage was definitely up too much, for sure.”

He hardly threw his changeup and cutter — the latter a pitch he picked up late in the year — and his slider was underused as well (23.3% in 2023 compared to 33.3% in 2022). As a result, Ort’s MLB ERA ballooned to 6.26 last year despite a 1.54 ERA in Triple-A.

The cutter, especially, could prove to be a valuable pitch. He used it 13 times in 2023 and forced misses or weak contact each time. Over the offseason in Michigan, where he grew up and still winters, Ort worked on that pitch, hoping to mirror it against his four-seam fastball, which has slight arm-side movement.

The cutter, Ort said, “is almost the same thing but the other way.”

“I think it’s going to ride that tunnel and be able to stay long enough, or late enough, to where it can keep guys guessing even more,” Ort said. When Ort used the cutter late last season, the flashes of life showed him “it’s there.” Now, he needs to use it more to increase his confidence in the offering.

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The competition for the final bullpen spots is ample, although the UCL sprain for Kyle Bradish and John Means’ delayed throwing program likely open a few spots. Tyler Wells and Cole Irvin, who might have otherwise been bullpen candidates, are instead front-runners for the rotation.

That leaves Ort among a group of hopefuls that includes left-handers Tucker Davidson, Matt Krook and Nick Vespi, and right-handers Wandisson Charles, Jonathan Heasley and Bryan Baker.

“We’ll find innings for everybody,” manager Brandon Hyde said, “to evaluate them properly.”

Grapefruit League games begin Saturday, with the Orioles facing the Red Sox. In the meantime, Ort participated in his first live batting practice session Friday since arriving in Sarasota. He pulled out a few cutters along with his firm four-seamer. His slider bit against right-handers. His changeup forced Santander to whiff.

In all, the handful of batters against Ort managed weak contact at best. He’ll need more outings of similar effectiveness to rise into Baltimore’s bullpen outlook, and command of all four pitches would bolster those chances.

But at this point, at least, Ort has a spring training home. The hat proves it.

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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