The Orioles ended their Rule 5 experiment with left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr., who was designated for assignment one day after he yielded a second grand slam within a week.
Carrying two Rule 5 draft picks in the bullpen – both Cortes and right-hander Pedro Araujo needed to log at least 90 days on the active 25-man roster to meet Rule 5 requirements – was going to be a challenge, and after the Orioles bullpen had to account for a heavy load in the season’s first 10 games, the club decided it had to go in another direction.
“If we could have gotten a little deeper into our games with our starting pitching, I think I could have protected him more,” manager Buck Showalter said. “But, we were forced into some things. I still think he's got a chance to be a good pitcher, and we'll see where it takes us.”
In a corresponding move, the Orioles recalled right-hander Yefry Ramírez from Triple-A Norfolk. Ramirez, who started Norfolk’s opener Friday, was one of the only right-handers on the organization’s 40-man roster available.
Despite the rotation rebuild that included adding Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb and re-signing Chris Tillman – all right-handers – the Orioles needed left-handed help and initially projected Cortes and his softballing, kitchen-sink arsenal as a potential starter before he settled into the bullpen to open the season.
He struggled in that role, especially in matchups with left-handed hitters. Last Tuesday in Houston, he entered the game in the seventh inning with the bases loaded to face left-handed hitting Josh Reddick and yielded a grand slam.
In Monday’s 7-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, Cortes entered with the bases loaded and two outs to face another lefty, left fielder Curtis Granderson. But Cortes fell behind Granderson 3-0 before issuing a five-pitch walk. He then got ahead of Josh Donaldson 0-2 before allowing a grand slam to straight-away center two pitches later.
Cortes was one of three Rule 5 picks the Orioles selected in December. Araujo, who is coming off consecutive multiple-inning scoreless outings, is the only one of that group who remains on the 25-man roster. Jose Mesa Jr. was sent back to the Yankees.
The Orioles were intrigued by Cortes’ minor league track record of success that included a career 2.08 ERA and 2.06 mark last season in 30 outings spent mostly at the Double-A and Triple-A levels of the Yankees organization.
“I think regardless of what division you're playing in, it's the big leagues,” Showalter said. “And like I said, they're going to have to pitch. Like Pedro has — and he's done pretty well. Nestor is capable of better. I'd still like to have him. It's a pretty tough situation to thrust guys into, but we knew that coming in. We were willing to take the risk.”
Ramírez, also a former Yankees farmhand, was 15-3 with a 3.47 ERA at the Double-A level last season. He was acquired at last season’s nonwaiver deadline from the Yankees in exchange for international bonus slot money. Ramírez, 24, allowed one run on one hit in four innings in his only start for Triple-A Norfolk.
MRI for Rasmus
Outfielder Colby Rasmus, who went on the disabled list with a left hip flexor strain before Saturday’s game in New York, was scheduled to have an MRI on Tuesday.
Showalter said that the initial timetable on Rasmus’ injury was five to eight days, but that Rasmus had been initially scheduled to have further tests done on his hip once the team returned home.
“I think that's what we're trying to find out,” Showalter said of the injury’s progression. “I don't know if they don't like the progression he's made in the last couple of days, but I think [head trainer] Brian [Ebel] and the doctors were going to do it anyway once we kind of settled back in, just to check the site and make sure there's nothing going on there.”
Rasmus, who injured the hip when his spike caught the ground while he was running last week, underwent hip surgery in October 2016. His hip also nagged him last year — when he opened last season on the DL — in his brief time with the Tampa Bay Rays. Rasmus played in just 37 games with the Rays before leaving the team to be with his family.
Harvey remains in bullpen
Top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey remained in the Orioles bullpen for Tuesday’s game.
Harvey, who received his first big league call-up Monday to supplement a depleted bullpen but didn’t pitch, entered Tuesday having not pitched in 12 days. His last outing came in minor league camp in Sarasota, Fla. He was set to start for Double-A Bowie on Monday before he was called up by the Orioles.
“I just feel really fresh,” Harvey said. “I don’t think it’s a big obstacle. I’ve thrown a couple sides so I could throw off the mound, but it hasn’t been too bad.”
Showalter indicated that the team’s bullpen — which is still recovering from pitching 11 2/3 innings Sunday — could take on a different look after Wednesday’s series finale against Toronto, which has a righty-heavy lineup. The Orioles have a day off Thursday before their four-game series in Boston opens Friday.
“Obviously, there's some adjustments we might make going up there to Boston,” Showalter said.” I looked today. They have seven left-handed hitters. That could change a lot, but it would play better.”
Harvey has yet to pitch above the A-ball level and has logged just 18 2/3 regular season innings since Tommy John surgery in 2016.
Around the horn
Mark Trumbo began a minor league rehab assignment on Tuesday at Double-A Bowie, batting third as the Baysox’s designated hitter. … Alex Cobb is still scheduled to start Saturday in Boston. He will have his work day Wednesday at Double-A Bowie and join the team for their flight to Boston on Thursday.