Oliver Drake obviously knew how well he had been doing at Triple-A, but he wasn't taking a September call-up for granted.
So when he received the news from Norfolk manager Ron Johnson on Monday night, it still had special meaning for the Navy product.
"I knew I had put myself in position for it," Drake said. "When R.J. gave me the call last night and told me I was coming up, I was excited."
Drake, 28, was with the Orioles once before this year, posting a 3.52 ERA in 7 2/3 innings from late May to early June. He walked six and struck out seven in that span, but gained valuable experience.
"It definitely helped, seeing I could have success here. Then when I went down [to Norfolk], I knew there were some things I needed to work on," Drake said. "I realized I need to be consistent with the quality of my strikes."
Drake had arguably the best season of any Orioles minor league pitcher. Armed with an excellent split-fingered fastball, Drake posted a 0.82 ERA in 42 games for the Tides, striking out 66 batters in 44 innings and converting all 23 of his save opportunities.
"We talk a lot about Mychal Givens' year, but at the Triple-A level as opposed to the Double-A level, there's not many guys in baseball that had a better statistical year in the minor leagues than Oliver Drake," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I'm excited for him."
Because Drake can throw two effective versions of his splitter — one that starts out of the strike zone and enters it and one that starts in the zone and darts out — Showalter said the righty reliever can handle right-handed hitters and lefties if he can also throw his four-seam fastball for a strike.
"I think his success up here will be how he can command his fastball, because they are going to make him locate it," Showalter said. "They know he has an out pitch [splitter] and they're gonna wanna attack him quick on the fastball. If he can locate it for strike one, there's a lot of things [that will] open up to him."
Showalter has also heralded Drake's makeup, saying he never seems flustered, perhaps a byproduct of his two years at Navy. He left Annapolis when he was drafted in the 43rd round in 2008 and offered $100,000 by the Orioles. It was the last year he could leave freely without fulfilling his full military commitment. Drake battled injuries and was previously removed from the 40-man roster, but is back in an Orioles uniform for the next five weeks.
"I'm just going to try to do what I did all season down in Triple-A, try to take the confidence I got from there and carry it over," Drake said.
Drake is one of two players the Orioles officially called up from the minors Tuesday when rosters expanded. Right-hander Steve Johnson, who was placed on the taxi squad Monday, was added to the 40-man. The St. Paul's graduate hasn't pitched in the majors since 2013.
Showalter said he didn't expect any more call-ups of pitchers immediately, but the club could add a position player. More promotions will occur in small waves as the minor league teams' seasons progress. Norfolk leads its division and Bowie has clinched a playoff spot.
Gonzalez results show inflammation
Showalter said starter Miguel Gonzalez had MRIs on his right elbow and right shoulder Tuesday, and the results came back showing only inflammation. Showalter said each test took about 45 minutes.
Gonzalez felt soreness in his right shoulder while pitching Sunday in Texas and might have overcompensated with his elbow. On Monday, he said there was soreness in his shoulder and swelling in his elbow. Gonzalez had Tommy John elbow reconstruction in 2009.
“The shoulder and elbow MRIs were nothing … probably a DL period — if we decided to do that — wouldn't take care of,” Showalter said. “It was a positive report. Didn't find any structural damage. That's good. We are going to let that quiet down, see if we can get him ready to pitch again. It was, I thought as good news as you could expect. I know he was really concerned. Every time you have Tommy John [surgery] and some tenderness in that area. Now we will go on with the treatment and see how quick we can get him back.”
There's no timetable for his return, but Showalter expects Gonzalez to pitch again this season.
Showalter said Kevin Gausman will remain the starter tonight and Ubaldo Jimenez will start Friday after Thursday's day off, leaving Saturday as the only day the Orioles should need a starter.
Around the horn
The following minor leaguers will represent the Orioles as part of the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League this year: outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, pitchers Donnie Hart and Jon Keller, infielder Adrian Marin and catcher Chance Sisco. Triple-A Norfolk hitting coach Sean Berry will be on Peoria's coaching staff. The Orioles have two other open pitching spots they haven't filled yet. According to a source, one will go to right-hander Hunter Harvey, who is recovering from a strained flexor mass. … Shortstop J.J. Hardy (groin) took batting practice and completed fielding drills Tuesday and is on schedule to be activated from the DL on Sept 8. … Left-hander Ariel Miranda, who the Orioles signed earlier this year out of Cuba, was placed on the DL at Bowie because of shoulder inflammation. … Right-hander David Hess was promoted to Bowie from High-A Frederick. … Sisco was with the big league club Tuesday working on fielding drills with catching instructor John Russell and the Orioles catchers. ... Right-hander Mike Wright (left calf strain) threw six scoreless innings, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out three batters for Norfolk on Tuesday against Charlotte. He could rejoin the Orioles soon.