In a bullpen that’s been largely defined by its turmoil and turnover this year, the steady improvement of right-hander Mychal Givens has been somewhat overlooked.
Since an uncharacteristic outing May 16 in Detroit, when he walked three and all three runners scored during what was the heart of the Orioles’ period of bullpen exhaustion, Givens has been an even more electric version of the pitcher the team came to rely on so much the previous two years.
In his 21 outings since then, Givens has allowed three runs — all on solo home runs — and 15 hits while striking out 30 and walking just four in 25 2/3 innings for a 1.05 ERA.
Manager Buck Showalter sees several reasons for that growth, from pitching coach Roger McDowell helping tighten up his slider and make it less prone to spinning out over the plate to more willingness to throw a changeup to left-handed hitters.
“Those are things that when you talk to him, as he gets older and some nights he’s not throwing with that plus velocity, that he’s going to have to have the ability to defend himself,” Showalter said. “I think that’s been one of the things that’s allowed him to pitch at another level at times, the less margin of error with the breaking ball [from] the one that he was throwing and the changeup.
“Believe me, if he throws a couple a game the way advance scouting is, once you put that in the back of a left-handed hitter’s mind, the next step is for him to be able to throw it against a right-handed hitter. Mike is real athletic. He may get out of whack for a little while, but he kind of gets back in order. He doesn’t let things snowball as much.”
Indeed, Givens’ slider has gotten harder at times this year, averaging over 89 mph in June. And he’s throwing the changeup 26 percent of the time against left-handed hitters as opposed to 18 percent last season, according to data from BrooksBaseball.com. That’s helped him bring down lefties’ average of .366 with a 1.025 OPS off him in 2016 to this year’s .150 average with a .478 OPS — better than he’s fared against righties.
Givens sees it all as a natural part of his maturation.
“It’s just getting better,” he said. “You can get better being with this great bunch of guys in the bullpen that we’ve had the last few years and learning from them, being around Zach [Britton] and Darren [O’Day] and Brad [Brach] with the years they had. Just being around them makes you a better pitcher. The knowledge of our ’pen has been a great help and contributed to what I’ve done.”
Monday’s scoreless eighth inning lowered Givens’ ERA to 2.09 with a 0.972 WHIP in 47 1/3 innings.