As Orioles build left-handed relief depth, how will it affect major league bullpen?

The Orioles' signing of pitcher Kelvin De La Cruz on Monday was the latest addition to the club's growing group of left-handed relievers who could compete for bullpen spots in 2014.

Last season, the Orioles carried three lefty relievers -- Brian Matusz, Troy Patton and T.J. McFarland -- all season long, which to some could already seem excessive.


Earlier this month, the Orioles added Chris Jones -- the left-handed reliever who was acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the trade for Luis Ayala and pitched well at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk this past year -- to their 40-man roster.

While he's still a few steps from the major leagues, left-hander Tim Berry -- who shined at Class-A Frederick and in the Arizona Fall League -- will likely also be added to the 40-man roster this week so he is protected from being selected in next month's Rule 5 draft.


And Monday, the Orioles added the 25-year-old De La Rosa, a 6-foot-5 left-hander who held left-handed batters to .217 average and recorded 37 strikeouts in 106 plate appearances. De La Cruz also recorded 11.26 strikeouts per nine innings, the third-highest ratio in the Pacific Coast League.

Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said he believes De La Cruz can compete for a bullpen spot this spring. Duquette likes De La Cruz's downward angle and his fastball-breaking ball-changeup mix that can draw a lot of swings and misses.

One thing is for sure, you can never have too much left-handed pitching. But you only have so many left-handed spots in the major league bullpen.

Matusz has reinvented himself as a reliever because of his ability to get lefties out. Last season, he held left-handed hitters to a .168 batting average and recorded 33 strikeouts in 112 plate appearances. Over his career, he's been equally as successful, holding lefties to a .208 clip.

In 2012, Patton held lefties to a .212 batting average, but as a whole, he hasn't been a good situational left-handed reliever. Last season, lefties hit .289 and righties .254 against Patton.

McFarland's situation is different. He was mostly used in a long relief role after the Orioles made him their Rule 5 pick last December. But McFarland's future is likely as a starter, and now that his Rule 5 season is over, he'll probably go back to starting role this season, even if he begins at Triple-A Norfolk.

As for Matusz and Patton, they're both heading into their second year of arbitration eligibility. Projections show that Matusz could make in the $2-2.2 million range and Patton in the $1-1.2 million range. While it is a certainty that Matusz will be tendered a contract, Patton might not be.

While the Orioles still hope left-hander Zach Britton can flourish as a starter, he also could be used in relief at the major league level.


Keep in mind that Orioles must pay other arbitration-eligible players like Chris Davis, Jim Johnson and Matt Wieters some hefty raises in 2014. So, if cheaper players like Jones – who held lefties to a .196 batting average last season -- or De La Cruz can come in this spring and show they can fill that situational left-handed role, then maybe it allows the club to move Matusz or Patton by trade.

Building this sort of depth is a good problem to have. It leaves your options open. And Orioles manager Buck Showalter has talked repeatedly that you don't necessarily need a left-hander in the bullpen if he can't get left-handed hitters out. It seems as though the Orioles have assembled a good group of pitchers who can do that.

Now they just need to sort them out.