SARASOTA, FLA. — Whether it's at his locker near the door in the Ed Smith Stadium clubhouse with his big, red headphones on, or back in the Airbnb he calls his spring training home, everything that happens on a given day gets poured into Dillon Tate's worn, green spiral notebook.
The five-year-old practice that began his sophomore season at UC-Santa Barbara — before the Texas Rangers selected him fourth overall in the 2015 draft after his junior season, through trades to the New York Yankees for Carlos Beltrán and to the Orioles for Zack Britton, and into this spring in Sarasota — means he logs details on everything from arm care and workouts to bullpens and game write-ups.
Despite an inconsistent workload where he’s mostly pitched late in games in unfamiliar scenarios, Tate is pleased with what his notebook describes about his first Orioles camp.
"I've actually been happy for what I've done in the spring so far," said Tate, 24. "I'm still continuing to work on some things, but so far, I'm happy with how it's gone. … I'm already more consistent than that time last year [after the July 24 trade], so that's really cool to see.
“Now, I'm trying to make that portion even more consistent, too. There's a few things that I'm trying to clean up and hopefully I can accomplish that in spring training and then get going into the season and let that momentum carry me into the season."
I feel like it's going to help me be more consistent over the long haul, and understand the process in which I do things.
Orioles pitcher Dillon Tate on his notebook
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The practice of keeping a notebook in some form or fashion isn’t unique to Tate. Orioles pitchers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman have in recent years. But the reasoning behind it addresses one of the main hurdles Tate has hit in his development path.
If health has been the primary thing keeping Tate, the top piece acquired for Britton, from reaching his first-round promise — he broke the 100-inning mark in a season for the first time last year with 123 1/3 innings between Double-A Trenton and Double-A Bowie — then consistency is 1A. That's where the notebook comes in, he said.
"It's more so about the preparation, what goes into each game,” Tate said. “Each day, it consists of my throwing and assessing my catch play and the things that I'm doing well in that session and my workload as far as lifting, arm care, core, anything supplemental. I also write down how my body is feeling day to day, so I can track these things and get an idea of what I was doing in a certain week, and maybe I can go back to that if I want to feel fresh for another outing. It gives me options."
By creating a log of how everything feels, he can catalog what might contribute to a certain sensation, or what he did leading up to an outing that felt particularly good.
Each of the Orioles’ three starting outfielders provided big swings in a 9-6 win over the Rays, with home runs by Anthony Santander and Cedric Mullins in the fifth inning setting the stage for a three-run double by Yusniel Diaz in the eighth.
"It's just a way for me to understand each thing that I'm doing, especially when I do something well, and understand what that feeling is and going about repeating it," Tate said. "I feel like it's going to help me be more consistent over the long haul, and understand the process in which I do things if I ever need to get back on track with anything."
Such a search for consistency exists on an even more granular level. His fastball was 92-94 mph late last year, and he features both a slider and changeup that can get whiffs at their best but come and go within games. He also seemed to have trouble early and late in outings with Bowie, being hurt by big innings as he got into and left games but generally pitching well in the middle.
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This spring, he's allowed three runs on four hits in four innings over three outings, with two walks and two strikeouts. Manager Brandon Hyde said he's been impressed with Tate thus far, but it’s been hard to get him innings with so many pitchers above him in the major league mix who need to be stretched out as starters to prepare for the season.
Hyde said Tuesday that the Orioles were "going to extend him still, multiple-inning wise, and make the decision" on whether he'd be a starter or reliever from there. On Wednesday, however, he said the priority was to prepare him for the season as a starter. Tate is scheduled to pitch in relief again Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Orioles have passed the halfway point in spring training and they've got a winning record in the Grapefruit League. What that means is unclear, but they seem to be getting comfortable in their own skin.
"We're still trying to extend his innings, we still want him to work on other pitches besides just coming out and blowing for nine pitches in an inning," Hyde said. "We still feel like there's some upside there as a starter, so we're going to try to extend him out as of right now. We're trying to extend him out as we can, so whether that's pitching an inning, two innings here, and going down to throw more, or to throw a simulated game, whatever it may be."
Tate isn't spending his spring paying too much attention to how he's being used. Instead, he's embracing the learning environment the Orioles have created. As a cerebral pitcher who benefited from many of the technologies available to him in the Yankees farm system, he's enjoyed being able to dive back into that world after losing those tools post-trade.
"I can't really dive too much into the system and the analytics and everything, but I've gotten some direction on some things that will give me a better understanding of how to pitch to my strengths," Tate said. "That's about all I can really say right now. I think it's going to continue to get better. .
"I 100 percent think that this is the best possible place that I can be in, in order to have that growth for me, and being in the AL East on top of that. When it's my time to come up, there's going to be another learning curve on top of what there already is right now, so this is a great place to be right now."