BRADENTON, Fla. — DL Hall isn’t all the way back to being himself yet.
The stamina he’s used to having ran dry as he started his third inning of work Saturday night, and the Orioles’ left-handed pitcher hasn’t unleashed the high-90s velocity that stands out in most prospect rankings. Even his hair is different, cutting his flow into a buzz cut to donate the locks to a child battling cancer.
But he’s recording outs again, and that’s closer to Hall’s norm than anything else this spring training.
In Hall’s second appearance of the spring, he raised his pitch count and worked into a third inning out of the bullpen. He allowed one run on two hits, walked two batters and struck out three Pittsburgh Pirates in an Orioles 6-4 win at LECOM Park.
With opening day less than a week away — Thursday, in Boston — the time for final statements is upon most members of Baltimore’s camp roster. Right-hander Tyler Wells made the most of his final start, rolling through five innings without an earned run.
And as Hall pushes for a place on the opening day roster, Saturday’s outing was a pivotal step. He won’t be ready as a starter in the major leagues — at least not right away — but Hall could slot back into a bullpen he already appeared in last season.
“I’m going to do anything I can to be pitching at the big league level,” Hall said. “I’m going to keep pushing and keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
Hall, MLB Pipeline’s No. 97 overall prospect, got off to a late start in camp because of lower back discomfort. He appeared in his first game Monday, pitching 1 2/3 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies, where he struck out four batters and allowed one earned run.
He returned on five days’ rest — emblematic of a starting pitcher build-up rather than a reliever buildup — and threw 49 pitches with 32 strikes.
“He got tired there the last hitter or two, but the stuff was really good again tonight,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Really impressed by the strike-throwing, honestly. Strike-throwing ability the last couple times has been really good. Good changeup. Good slider with him, and a mid-90s fastball right now that he’s commanding well.”
Hall’s long-term value comes as a starting pitcher, and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said this winter that the organization wants to build him up as one. But after making an August debut last season in which he allowed five runs in a start against the Tampa Bay Rays, he returned to the minor leagues to develop as a reliever.
The 24-year-old returned to Baltimore as a September call-up in the bullpen. In those 10 innings out of the bullpen, Hall struck out 13 batters and allowed four runs.
He doesn’t yet have the electrifying stuff he displayed then, but he’s making strides. Hall said his “feel” — the way the ball is coming out of his hand — “is probably at an all-time high, so that’s always a positive.” Still, Hall’s fastball has shown between 93 mph and 95 mph on the stadium radar gun in two outings so far, below his usual velocity (he averaged 96 mph in the majors last season).
“You always want to light up the radar gun, but right now for me, it’s getting that feel back, getting that stamina back, and then we’ll start,” Hall said. “Once we’re in Camden Yards, we’ll start letting it go.”
Based on his experience last year, Hall is comfortable coming in as a reliever, even though his eventual goal is to be a starting pitcher. That’s the main question with Hall as spring training comes to an end.
Because of his late start in camp, he’s not yet built up as a starting pitcher. So will he fill into the Orioles’ bullpen come opening day, or will he begin at Triple-A Norfolk to further stretch himself out as a starter?
The choice is not his. But in the immediate future, Hall only has one goal, anyway.
“I’m just looking forward to taking an opportunity to get big league hitters out,” Hall said, “no matter out of the ‘pen or starting.”