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The Orioles’ solution to a long season might be preparing more pitchers to go long

Through the first week of workouts for pitchers and catchers in Sarasota, Florida, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde and his pitchers have often been asked to confront the challenges of keeping players healthy while managing nearly three times as many innings from a season ago.

This is often presented in the context of shortening pitchers’ outings or even seasons to keep their innings counts low. But Hyde on Saturday outlined that it might actually be having more pitchers — especially relievers — prepared to pitch longer in spring training.

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“I think you’re going to see some of our guys throw more innings in spring than normal,” Hyde said. “I would like to build all of them up to be multiple-inning guys. I’d like to see them all at least become one-plus, some guys two-plus, maybe even three out of the ’pen starting the year.”

The benefits for the Orioles with such a plan are manifold. It might allow them to better manage their starter’s innings knowing there are relievers available on a given night to cover more than just a few innings.

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It will also give them more starting options on the roster. It’s a lot easier to ask a long reliever who might not have pitched for a few days to start on short notice than going with an opener and needing to mix-and-match the entire game.

But it could also make players more valuable as the rotation behind former All-Star John Means could feature rookies Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin and possibly veterans Matt Harvey, Félix Hernández or Wade LeBlanc.

Having an emphasis on long relief could also help others gain roles on the major league roster out of spring training. César Valdez, who was the Orioles’ surprise closer at the end of 2020 and pitched well in winter ball in the Dominican Republic as a starter, will be one of several pitchers stretched out this spring, Hyde said.

“I think that he’s a candidate to do a number of different things just because he’s got the ability to start, he pitched the ninth inning for us there at the end of the year,” Hyde said. “He can go long out of the bullpen as well. So, we’re going to build him up innings-wise and then see where we are toward the end of camp.”

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It would also be a path for Bruce Zimmermann (Loyola Blakefield), who pitched twice for the Orioles in 2020, to be on the team as a bulk-innings option out of the bullpen.

“We have high hopes for him and we’re going to make that decision,” Hyde said of Zimmermann. “If he’s on the club, he’s going to pitch bulk innings. We’re going to make sure that he gets experience and he stays stretched out.”

They aren’t the only ones. Jorge López is out of minor league options and thus faces a pivotal spring, but if the Orioles want to keep him in the bullpen, he has experience pitching several innings in relief. So does nonroster right-hander Thomas Eshelman, who always proves his value and finds a way onto the team in some form or fashion.

Rule 5 draft picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells, who have made a good first impression on Hyde, might also have a path onto the team this way.

It could also be an easy transition for the Orioles’ current relievers. Some, such as Hunter Harvey and Dillon Tate, were starters as recently as 2019 and developed under multi-inning relief plans.

Cole Sulser made 19 appearances for the Orioles last year, and eight were for four outs or more. Paul Fry had seven such outings, with Tate, Eshelman and Travis Lakins each having six apiece. Tanner Scott and Shawn Armstrong had five, and Valdez had four.

Many of that group still have minor league options, so it’s possible the Orioles could build in longer rest periods after particularly long outings, with some chances for breathers in the minor leagues.

However the Orioles decide to play it come April, it won’t have much impact on pitchers as they prepare in spring. Every pitcher who has spoken to the media said they went through a normal offseason despite having such a disjointed 2020. Hunter Harvey said he prepared for the season by doubling up on his throwing from previous winters.

Kremer said he felt as if pitchers would be able to dictate how often they took the mound by both performing well and being honest about how they feel in between outings to prevent any lingering soreness from getting worse.

“Although they’re going to have strict limits, I think they’re also going to ask how guys are feeling and how they’re performing,” Kremer said. “I think there’s going to be a little bit of a longer leash than maybe they seem to say. But I don’t know, I’m not the coach.”

Around the horn

>> Orioles position players must report to camp by Sunday for physicals ahead of their first full-squad workout on Monday.

>> While Hyde had said every pitcher and catcher was in camp and reported earlier this week, he clarified Saturday that Australian left-hander Alexander Wells had travel delays because of coronavirus protocols in his efforts to get to Florida from his home country and is still in the intake process.

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