As he's sent out pitching prospects from big league camp this spring, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has often said it's because the innings in major league games are disappearing and there's no time for them to pitch. For the young, up-and-coming arms, a return to minor league camp means they can work as starters and get more innings than they would in major league camp.
But for those non-roster invitees in the bullpen who don't go back to minor league camp, this time of year is always the most difficult. On Saturday, veteran reliever Dale Thayer exercised an opt-out in his contract that allowed him to leave the Orioles and become a free agent. Neither he nor fellow veteran reliever Todd Redmond had pitched since March 17, though Showalter said they knew it would be this way.
"They get into a lot of stuff, just not necessarily in the game," Showalter said. "Not really [difficult]. It's like the position players, you look at at-bats and innings, they knew where the opportunities were going to be. They took advantage of that. It's time when we have to get guys at-bats and innings to get prepared for the season. They know that. And they also knew coming in here the opportunities were going to be in the first three weeks."
Reliever Pedro Beato, who went from March 16 to March 25 without pitching in a game, also falls into that category. Beato allowed his first earned run in his fifth appearance Friday, giving him a 1.29 ERA in seven innings. Thayer left camp with six innings of work under his belt and a 4.50 ERA in six innings. Redmond has allowed five earned runs in seven innings over six appearances.
After Thursday's game with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Redmond got his work in in the bullpen. He said there's not much he can do about the opportunities dwindling.
"It's always tough, but you've got to do what you can to stay fresh," Redmond said. "You're still competing, all the way until the last day. But I was pitching pretty regularly early on. It was good. It was fun. I still feel like I can go out there and pitch some more, but besides that, you do stuff to stay fresh and be ready."
Redmond said those post-game sessions are ones you "just treat as a normal bullpen."
Redmond, unlike Thayer, said he doesn't have an opt-out on the horizon, so it seems to be a waiting game until he gets his assignment to start the season.
Thayer's opt-out, which was first reported by MLB Trade Rumors, came as the Orioles were hosting the first of what they hope to be an annual charity event in Sarasota, Nashville's Music Row comes to the Ballpark.
A host of players and team partners crowded into a tent behind Ed Smith Stadium to hear performances by hit country songwriters Desmond Child, Bob DiPiero, Justin Wilson, and Nashville newcomer Margaret Valentine. Proceeds from the invite only event benefited the Sarasota Family YMCA Youth Programs and Music Health Alliance, which provides healthcare resources to musicians.
Jennifer Grondahl, president of the YMCA Foundation of Sarasota, said the Orioles approached them about being the local beneficiary for the event.
"We've had a relationship for a while," Grondahl said. "The Orioles have been a huge supporter of the Y locally, so it was sort of a natural partnership. … The funds from tonight will be used to help children who otherwise would not be able to participate in sports and summer camp through scholarships that the Y provides, and we scholarship many children — more than $500,000 worth of scholarships in Sarasota County last year."
Orioles executive vice president John Angelos said the event is one of many steps they're taking "to make the team incredibly ingrained in the community here."
He said the Orioles' are proud of their economic impact in the area — in 2015, the county and state said the Orioles generated $81 million annually. They've also supported tourism in Sarasota, but the community aspect is just as important, he said.
"What tonight's about is artists and athletes being active in the community," Angelos said. "We can really make a tremendous community outreach by using our good fortune as ownership groups, as Orioles athletes, as great Nashville songwriters. We can create impact in the community. This is the first of what we hope will be an annual event here in Sarasota."
"It's Baltimore South," manager Buck Showalter said. "That's why we have Camden Yards South there. It's a partnership in more ways than one. We get a lot out of it, and we like to think Sarasota gets quality things out of it. But this isn't just to repay something. This is what's right."