Orioles manager Buck Showalter often warns that September baseball and spring training are the greatest deceivers when evaluating a player, and in reliever Oliver Drake, it’s hard to tell which is true.
Drake had perhaps his best stretch as a major leaguer last September, posting a 1.59 ERA in nine appearances with 14 strikeouts. But he is following it up with a spring during which he has allowed 11 earned runs and 20 base runners in 9 1/3 innings over eight appearances. It all makes for a difficult evaluation of the 30-year-old former Navy standout, the only player on the 40-man roster who is on the 25-man roster bubble and out of minor league options.
“That’s tough,” Showalter said. “Come on in the meeting tomorrow and help us. That’s the quandary, every year, especially when they’re out of options. Every year, you go, is this going to play? … That’s a hard one. That’s really where you earn your keep, because it’s full of September and March really good performances that doesn’t seem to show up [later]. You look at the pitchers they’re facing, the hitters they’re facing, especially early in the spring. There’s a process there. You have to remember there’s a process.”
That process has been a “real frustrating” one for Drake.
“You don’t want to come to the spring and put up the numbers I have,” Drake said. “You just want to get better each time you’re out there and make sure when the season comes, you’re ready. … It’s just the quality of the pitches. I’m putting balls in the strike zone, but over too much of the plate. They’re up and they’re balls that guys can hit instead of making quality strikes. That’s kind of the big separator with it.”
Drake was first added to the 40-man roster in 2011, but didn’t get any big league time the following year and burned an option before he was outrighted to the minors at season’s end. He re-signed on a major league deal after the 2014 season and has spent parts of the last two years in the majors. He’s compiled a lifetime 3.28 ERA in the minors and 3.48 in the majors.
Still, scouts have seen the same Drake as they have for years this spring, and there's a chance the team could get him through waivers.
“There’s not anybody that you’re going to see today that has a better track record in the minor leagues than Oliver Drake, so we try to keep that in mind, and he’s showed us flashes of it in the big leagues,” Showalter said. “I try to keep that in mind. The track record usually the problem with it is it’s been a short sample in the big leagues. There’s a lot of guys in that boat, but he’s in a different boat because of the options. It's designed to protect the player, where you can’t hoard these guys like people used to do years ago. Oliver is going to pitch in the big leagues this year.”
Drake, for his part, says he has tried to keep the team’s looming roster decision on him out of his head as he tries to prepare for the season.
“You try not to think about those things,” Drake said. “They’re kind of out of your hands. I just want to make sure I’m ready whenever the season starts.”
Around the horn: Outfielder Chris Dickerson will be unavailable for a few days with shoulder soreness that cropped up Monday on a throw, Showalter said. Dickerson has also missed time after he fouled a ball off his foot and was hit by a pitch above the elbow. ... Third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Welington Castillo arrived in Florida from the World Baseball Classic late Monday night, Showalter said, and will return to camp Wednesday. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, whose Netherlands team lost in the semifinal to Puerto Rico Monday, will also be back in camp Wednesday, though none will likely play until Friday at the earliest. ... Infielder Ryan Flaherty (shoulder) is pain-free, Showalter said, but won't play until after Thursday's day off to be sure.