September roster expansion has created plenty of new roles for pitchers in the Orioles bullpen, and none have taken advantage more than Oliver Drake.
With two scoreless innings Thursday, Drake has struck out 11 in 7 2/3 innings while allowing two runs on three hits in five appearances since his Aug. 28 call-up, capitalizing on an award-winning minor league season and turning it into success with the Orioles.
"It's just being consistent each outing out there," Drake said. "There's been other times when I've come up and done well one outing, then I start to struggle and struggle, then done well. It's nice to have a stretch right now where I'm going out there and I consistently feel like I'm throwing the ball pretty well."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Drake seems more comfortable.
"I'll tell you, his fastball command has been better," Showalter said. "If Oli can command the fastball, he can have some success up here. He's got an out pitch, and sometimes that fastball is the out pitch. He's been able to stay away from that; he's got the ball-to-strike [forkball working]. He throws a forkball, not a split. The difference between a forkball and a split, he throws a forkball. The ball-to-strike forkball, you've got to be careful with when you're ahead in the count. But the strike-to-ball forkball is a pitch that could allow him to have a lot of success, especially when he can command the fastball."
Drake made his major league debut last May, pitching in five games before returning to Triple-A Norfolk until rosters expanded in September. He had similar success last September, striking out 10 and allowing two earned runs in eight innings, but still needed to show the efficiency to make him valuable in a bullpen that requires multi-inning stints so often.
He also was with the Orioles in late June this year. Down at Norfolk, he had a 2.72 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings, and was voted by opposing managers as the International League's best reliever in Baseball America's superlatives. This stint in the majors has built on that success because he has been able to pitch multiple innings, Showalter said.
"Those are two efficient innings he pitched last night," Showalter said. "That's good to see. That's something that really has been pressed upon him, talked about. Being more efficient, not having those 25-30 pitch innings. In the American League, you're not as valuable to a club. That's why we've had so few appearances out of our bullpen, because guys have been able to pitch multiple innings."
Said Drake: "It's about attacking the zone, getting ahead so you can set yourself up to go out there for another inning and not throw a lot of pitches. You have to be efficient and get guys out quickly."