There was a ton of buzz about Orioles sophomore pitcher David Hernandez at the winter meetings as he was one of the players other teams asked about the most. The Rangers, for example, wanted Hernandez in the Kevin Millwood deal before both teams settled on reliever Chris Ray.
As a rookie, Hernandez went 4-10 with a 5.42 ERA in 20 appearances (19 starts) and kind of faded as the season went on. But the level of interest from other teams doesn't surprise me because teams love big strikeout numbers and Hernandez has been among the league leaders in Ks pretty much everywhere he's been before the majors. He's also a big, strong kid with life on his fastball.If the Orioles are going to keep him -- and it appears that way -- they're going to need to make a decision on his role. Plenty of baseball people -- both inside and outside the organization -- think the 24-year-old would make a pretty effective seventh- or eighth-inning guy, and I concur. With youngsters Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz projected to be in a rotation that includes veterans Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie, and prospects Jake Arrieta, Brandon Erbe and Zach Britton on their way, it makes sense for the Orioles to make that decision sooner rather than later.
Whether Hernandez becomes a reliever or not (and I think he eventually will), there will be quite a battle to win jobs in the Orioles' seven or eight-man Opening Day bullpen. I don't know if there are any certainties for the group beyond Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara, assuming the latter is healthy. Even after they traded Chris Ray and nontendered Brian Bass, the Orioles' 40-man is stocked with relievers -- Matt Albers, Alberto Castillo, Armando Gabino, Luis Lebron, Cla Meredith, Kam Mickolio, Wilfrido Perez and Dennis Sarfate. Several of those names could be roster casualties this offseason.
The Orioles will likely acquire a closer and a left-handed specialist. They're still expected to bring back versatile reliever Mark Hendrickson. And a couple of the starters that don't make the rotation, potentially Hernandez and Jason Berken, could be added to the bullpen mix as long men candidates. Pitchers and catchers won't report to Sarasota, Fla., for another two months, but the battle for the bullpen spots could get pretty interesting.
- Jeff Zrebiec