He has never struggled like this during the exhibition season, so it’s a new and unwelcome experience.
His Grapefruit League ERA is a voluminous 30.38. In four appearances, he has pitched 2 2/3 innings and given up nine runs on nine hits, three of them home runs.
Still, this is spring training and after spending 3½ seasons as one of the Orioles’ most dependable middle and setup relievers, it’s got to be easier to shake off a few bad outings in Sarasota. Right?
“No, it’s never easy,’’ Givens said. “I’m a competitor. I’m not a person to say, ‘I’m working on stuff.’ ”
But he is working on stuff … a lot of stuff. He’s also getting a lot of new information from the new coaching staff and analytics crew. He says that’s all good, but — by his own admission — he’s just out of sync and waiting for everything to fall back in place.
“I’m just trying to get my timing and my rhythm getting together,’’ he said. “Right now, it’s not syncing, everything — my turn, getting my hand behind the baseball. It’s spring training right now. I’m just trying to get through it and get all the kinks out.”
The Yankees got after him for three runs on three hits, including a home run, in the eighth inning and came from behind to score an 8-7 victory at Steinbrenner Field. Manager Brandon Hyde said afterward that it was just a “command” thing, that Givens was throwing the ball well.
“It just didn’t look like he was commanding, but I was happy with his fastball velo,” Hyde said. “It just wasn’t his night. … It’s still too early [to be concerned]. We’re seeing his stuff tick up in every outing. That’s a positive.”
Givens has never experienced anything like this. In his four major league spring trainings, he gave up a grand total of four earned runs — one in each Grapefruit League season.
“I think as far as my timing and rhythm, this is the first time,’’ he said. “It’s an adversity thing you have to deal with and I’d rather deal with it in spring training. [Pitching coach] Doug Brocail and the coaching staff has been great as far as, ‘Let’s try to get things working,’ and all the cameras we have are trying to help me understand my body a little bit more.”
Is it possible he’s trying to synthesize too much information?
“No, I don’t think it’s the cameras and the pitching coaches getting me out of whack,’’ Givens said. “I just think it’s a lot of stuff we had to deal with last year, going through the struggles.”
The 2018 season was the first time Givens had to deal with any kind of failure, but it was only a bad year in relative terms. He was 18-3 and had pitched to a combined 2.75 ERA in his first three big league seasons. He was 0-7 with a career-high 3.99 ERA in 2018, but his ratios of hits to innings and strikeouts to walks were not dramatically different than those previous seasons.
The won-loss record was more reflective of the historically bad performance of the team.
“I think my timing was bad and trying everything to get back in sync is the biggest thing like everybody else,’’ he said. “Hitters can struggle this whole month. It doesn’t mean they’re bad. Everything’s about timing and sync.
“I need to get myself going, and that’s why it’s good to have a couple more weeks to work everything out before Opening Day in New York.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.