SARASOTA, Fla. — One of the biggest questions throughout Orioles spring training was answered Sunday afternoon when the club optioned DL Hall to minor league camp.
The left-hander had a slow start this spring with a lower back injury — a setback that prevented Hall, the organization’s No. 2 pitching prospect, from being built up as a starter in time for the beginning of the season.
The Orioles had two choices: Ramp him up as a starter in the major league bullpen, where he ended the 2022 campaign, or send him to Triple-A to go through his workload progression in Norfolk. They chose the latter option, putting Hall’s future as a starter above the short-term success of the club’s bullpen.
“Just had a little bit of a shortened spring training,” manager Brandon Hyde said after the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Phillies on Sunday. “He threw the ball great, really happy with the progress he made. I loved the way he threw the ball all spring training. We just want to give him a few more innings and build him up a little bit more.”
Hall, the Orioles’ first-round pick in 2017, made his major league debut last season, starting one game in August and relieving 10 in September. With one of the best pitch arsenals in the organization, Hall would likely be a top reliever for the Orioles if he were put in the bullpen.
But the Orioles — and Hall — are committed to keeping the 24-year-old as a starting pitcher.
While Hyde said the past few weeks that building Hall up in the Orioles’ bullpen was an option, he said Sunday it would be much more challenging than doing so in Triple-A.
“It’s just hard to build guys in the bullpen, honestly,” Hyde said. “Because you don’t know what’s going to happen night to night. We felt the best thing for right now was to keep him as a starter and get him stretched out in Norfolk.”
In his two outings this spring, Hall displayed the stuff — the hard fastball, plus changeup and sharp breaking ball — that earned him consensus top-100 prospect status this offseason. Hall struck out seven batters and allowed two earned runs in four innings — totaling 18 swings and misses.
However, his highest pitch count was just 50 pitches Saturday in 2 1/3 innings — after which both Hall and Hyde said he got tired at the end. Hyde didn’t say when Hall could make his way back to Baltimore, but did note that it could take some time.
“He hasn’t even gone three innings yet, so it’s going to take a few starts,” Hyde said.
One potential factor for the club is Hall’s service time. If he’s called up May 20 or later, Hall would not hit free agency until after the 2029 campaign — unless he finishes first or second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. If he’s brought to Baltimore before May 20 and remains in the majors for the rest of the year, he would become a free agent after the 2028 season.
Hyde said Hall “took it like a pro” when the club informed him that he would be sent to Triple-A, adding that “it’s just a matter of time” before Hall is back in the big leagues.
In his relief appearance Saturday, Hall said that the feel for his pitches was at an “all-time high.” To regain his stamina as a starter, he said all he needs is more repetition.
Hall was also open to starting the year in the bullpen, noting that his main goal is to pitch in the big leagues.
“I’m going to do anything I can to be pitching at the big league level,” he said. “Just going to keep pushing and keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
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Two other Orioles pitchers were optioned to minor league camp Sunday — right-handed reliever Yennier Canó and right-handed starting pitcher Spenser Watkins.
Canó was on the outside looking in of the Orioles’ bullpen competition and allowed six hits and four runs in seven spring innings. Watkins, who started 20 games for Baltimore in 2022, was one of 12 starters competing for the rotation to open camp. Like when the club optioned left-handed starter Bruce Zimmermann down last week, Hyde noted that the Orioles will need more than five pitchers to start games in 2023.
“We’re happy to have Spenser in Triple-A with us,” Hyde said. “We’re going to have more than five starters. Just want him to stay ready.”
Hall going down to Triple-A tightens the competition for the final few seats in the bullpen. It could make left-hander Keegan Akin a lock for the bullpen, as Hyde has said he wants a second left-hander behind Cionel Pérez. Right-handers Andrew Politi, Mike Baumann and Joey Krehbiel are also in the battle for the last couple spots.
For the rotation, the competition for the final three spots is now down to five pitchers — Cole Irvin, Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, Tyler Wells and Austin Voth.
Irvin, Bradish and Rodriguez have inside tracks — with Irvin and Bradish perhaps more secure than Rodriguez — but Wells and Voth both pitched well at times in the rotation last year.
Baltimore Sun reporter Nathan Ruiz contributed to this report.