Orioles' rebuild will likely create opportunities in bullpen, but late-inning options still unclear

The Orioles’ rebuild will include many new looks, and among them is the changing of the guard for a bullpen that’s been the foundation of the team’s recent success.

With closer Zach Britton and setup man Brad Brach — both pending free agents — likely to be traded in the coming days and weeks, a different group of relief arms will have to shoulder the load in the eighth and ninth innings in high-leverage situations for the remainder of the season.


“It hasn’t happened yet and I know there’s a lot of talk about it, and I understand why, but I think it’s probably something better served to talk about when it happens,” manager Buck Showalter said. “But I think there are some great opportunities for some people.”

The Orioles could move Zach Britton in the coming days

Britton and Brach have combined for 170 saves for the Orioles since the beginning of the 2014 season, so it’s hard to imagine anyone else as the team’s full-time closer.

But the potential change is a reality.

The market for Britton, who entered Sunday’s game in Toronto having recorded eight straight scoreless innings while cutting his ERA in half after a rocky return from Achilles tendon surgery, is robust. And while Brach has struggled this season, posting an uncharacteristic 4.97 ERA and 1.74 WHIP in 38 innings, he can still help a contender bridge late innings, especially given the way bullpens are being constructed for the stretch run and postseason.

The Orioles bullpen is already without right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Richard Bleier, who are both out for the remainder of the year after season-ending surgeries. That has already allowed the team to evaluate some of its younger bullpen arms.

But the potential loss of Britton and Brach would shift the leadership of this year’s bullpen. Right-hander Mychal Givens, a pre-arbitration pitcher who just reached three years of service time this season, would become the active bullpen’s most experienced pitcher.

Givens, long assumed to be the closer in waiting, has been in the late-inning mix with Britton, Brach and O’Day for the past three seasons. He’s also been used in a variety of roles over parts of four seasons with the team, including multiple innings and a setup role. He has just one career save, but would be the likeliest arm to take over closer duties if Britton and Brach are dealt.

“I really don’t sense that,” Givens said. “I just try to every day try to get better and work what we’re going through this season while at the same time trying to help the younger guys and give them the same treatment that I got when I was around a really good bullpen when I first came up with guys like Darren, Zach, Brad and Tommy Hunter.


“Just trying to be somewhat of a veteran [guy]. It’s something that doesn’t hit you until it happens, the possibility of Zach or Brad being traded because they’ve been a big part of what we’ve done here. … Whatever happens with Zach or Brad, who knows, but we still have to look forward and try to get our bullpen where it should be.”

Clubs have inquired about Britton and Brach, and a couple have also asked about Givens, but the Orioles would prefer to keep keep Givens, who has had some hiccups with a 4.50 ERA in 50 innings, since he has shown closer stuff and is under club control for three more seasons beyond this one.

Besides Givens, the turnover will potentially give more late-inning opportunities to left-handed rookie Tanner Scott and converted starter Mike Wright Jr., Showalter said.

“You mention [Givens and Scott], you could throw Mike Wright into that situation too,” Showalter said. “Mike’s really shown some signs of taking to the bullpen and his stuff playing up. We have a couple more guys like that. It’s fun to watch. We’ll see.”

Even Britton and Brach grew into their roles. When Brach first arrived, he was a middle-inning reliever before getting more opportunities late in the game. Britton was a starter who transitioned to the bullpen in the spring of 2014 when he was out of minor league options. Both became All-Stars.

When Givens first arrived, he was assigned to a middle-inning role, as was Scott more recently.


The Orioles’ rebuild has begun, and the team’s players and staff realize that things are going to start looking a little different now.

“They have that potential, yeah,” Showalter said. “It’s a graduation, whether you look at how we used Brad when he first got here and Mike when he first came up. Zach, they develop into that. I don’t think anybody can sit here and say for sure. There’s a lot that goes into that, but the ability [is there], there’s a lot of moxie, there’s a lot of experiences you reach back for and use. They have that potential and they have that ability, now, if they can bring the other things that come into play.”

The team would also like to settle on the future of Miguel Castro, who opened the season competing for a rotation spot but continues to serve as a multiple-inning bridge. He has received more late-inning opportunities as well, but his command problems have been more glaring late in close games.

Scott — whose developing slider to complement a high-90s fastball has been his ticket to the big leagues — has been thrust into move high-leverage opportunities recently. After he struck out the side in the seventh inning Saturday, he entered Sunday’s game with a one-run lead in the eighth and yielded a game-winning two-run homer to Yangervis Solarte.

“He’s done it before,” Showalter said. “There are tight spots in the sixth inning in the major leagues. There are tight spots in the fifth inning, the sixth and the seventh. It was painful. Hopefully, he’ll learn from it.”

Showalter said it’s also important to determine the ability of Scott and fellow lefty reliever Paul Fry to be able to get both left- and right-handed hitters out.

“That is really valuable for left-handed pitchers and Richard showed he could do that,” Showalter said. “There’s not that many situational left-handers as there used to be. There’s a lot of reverse split guys.”

While Scott’s 6.67 ERA this season isn’t impressive, he’s shown flashes of promise. He struck out the side on 12 pitches in his previous outing Saturday and has 43 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings while cutting down on his walks (just 15), the one issue that haunted him in the minors, where he averaged 5.2 walks per nine innings.

“He’s made some strides,” Showalter said of Scott. “You look at say an ERA versus hits to innings, or if you compare how he was with his walks from his first year to his second year. He’s been better every year. We constantly ask what’s in his best interest, pitching here or pitching there? He’s pitched in 28-30 games [with the Orioles].”

The Orioles have a track record of developing strong relievers, and the organization is now searching to find what that next wave will look like.


“There’s going to be a rebuild, so hopefully it’s an opportunity for guys to come up and see what they do and hopefully it changes so where we can eventually be one of the teams we used to be,” Givens said. “I’m just trying to soak in a lot of the information from them and take in everything we’ve done the last few years. … It seems a lot of people around Major League Baseball are doing what the Orioles have been doing for a while.”