Just because Mychal Givens is the most experienced reliever in the Orioles bullpen doesn't mean that he'll waltz into the closer's role come Opening Day — because the Orioles may not go with a traditional closer at all.
Manager Brandon Hyde said Givens' role right now is "to pitch in high-leverage situations," and Givens said that's fine by him.
"Whether that's closing or that's the seventh or that's the eighth, obviously we're in a good spot when Mychal comes in the game to pitch," Hyde said. "We haven't determined roles or anything like that. Mike's a class act, has pitched in big games, postseason games, and he's got back-end bullpen stuff, so he's going to be a big part of shutting down an offense for us."
Givens, who assumed the closer role late last summer after Zack Britton, Brad Brach, and Darren O'Day were traded, had spent most of his career to that point in the do-it-all role requiring him to pitch in high-leverage situations in the mid- and late innings. That training made him comfortable in any role with the Orioles, and could allow him to pitch more often than a traditional closer would on a team with modest expectations as this one has.
"We're just in a situation of trying to win games," Givens said. "I don't expect myself to be a closer. I don't expect myself in any situation. I've been lucky to be around Darren O'Day, Zack, and Brad, and we all mixed and worked off each other. Another big name was Andrew Miller, who I've gotten to work with a lot, I actually hung out with him a little this offseason and with Team USA in 2017. Just be prepared to play any role in any situation and just go out there and try to win a ballgame and try to stop the bleeding."
Hyde said decisions on who pitches when in the bullpen will be mostly determined by personnel and situation, but he certainly subscribes to the idea that the most important outs of the game may come before the ninth inning, before the save statistic is typically applied.
"If you have an elite closer, a Mariano Rivera or an Aroldis Chapman type, then you want them pitching at the end of the game in an ideal world," Hyde said. "But I think there's high-leverage situations that happen the last nine outs of the game. You try to line up your guys to pick parts of the lineup, to attack their hitters the best way you can.
"I'm not going to manage to a save statistic, per se. I'm going to manage to try to win the game, and whether that's certain guys pitching the seventh, eighth, ninth inning, it might change nightly. That depends on what our club looks like at that point."
For Givens, who had nine saves in 13 chances while pitching to a 3.99 ERA last year, the experience of coming into the game in a jam has seemed to spark more success for him than the types of clean innings that a closer may often inherit. But having experienced what closers go through, especially on teams with scant leads to protect in the ninth, will only help prepare him for whatever Hyde and company ask.
"You learn each year what your body tells you and how you prepare," Givens said. "Gratefully, I've been around guys to [learn to] prepare myself in any situation. You go based off how the game is going, and I knew when I was a rookie in '16 that middle of the game, fifth or sixth inning, tie game, up by one, up by two, down by one, down by two, I'm mostly likely to be the guy. So, I just have to get with our coaching staff and with Brandon Hyde and [pitching coach Doug Brocail], just feel their brain and see what kind of situation they want. Whether it's middle of the game or late in the game, I'm just trying to prepare myself."