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Brandon Hyde addressed the 2019 struggles with the Orioles’ pitchers this week. How do they plan to move forward?

Orioles pitchers, David Hess, Richard Bleier and Evan Phillips talk about looking ahead to a new season.

When manager Brandon Hyde and his coaches gathered their massive group of pitchers and catchers earlier this week to meet on the field and begin workouts, the official start of spring training for the 2020 Orioles included a reference to a past that was more often than not beleaguered.

Few pitching staffs in major league history have struggled as much as the Orioles’ did in 2019, as the club obliterated the record for home runs allowed with a month left in the season and created countless other pieces of history along the way.

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But it wasn’t left entirely in the past. The ensuing months have meant individualized development plans for every one of the returning pitchers, with clear paths to get better and build on the baseline of last year.

It’s a balance, though, of dwelling on a forgettable year and using the lessons from that year to ensure it never happens again.

“I want the guys that had struggles, I want them to come back from it, and I want them to know what that feels like and tell yourself that’s not going to happen anymore,” Hyde said. “I think that was a little bit part of the message, too. There’s a lot of bounce-back type guys here, and guys that are going to pitch with a chip on their shoulder.”

Orioles pitcher #58 Evan Phillips throws during his pitching session on Wednesday. Orioles Spring Training at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. February 12, 2020
Orioles pitcher #58 Evan Phillips throws during his pitching session on Wednesday. Orioles Spring Training at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. February 12, 2020(Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Right-hander David Hess, one of several pitchers who is aiming to improve on a difficult 2019, said having so many pitchers who had the same types of battles with inconsistency and volatile results all together creates a common mindset to carry the group through camp and beyond.

“A big focus is the transition from, OK, we don’t want to just learn. We want to apply this and put this into practice and learn what winning is like,” Hess said. “Not just how to get there but how to consistently do that. I think we’re really focused on that and really focused on trying to find ways to win and compete in a tough division. This is not a division where inexperience is an easy thing to have but we’re trying to do everything we can to compete and get right back in the mix.”

The Orioles pitching staff has endured plenty of turnover from 2019. The anticipated arrival of recently signed nonroster free agent Tommy Milone will make 36 pitchers in major league camp for Hyde and pitching coach Doug Brocail. Only 15 of them pitched last year for the Orioles, and save for All-Star John Means, no one in that group ended up with consistent results.

A 108-loss season like the one the Orioles had, combined with some of the individual performances, might be something left unacknowledged as the major league team and franchise move forward in their rebuild. Some players said they expected Hyde not to ignore it, though, and understand why he approached it as he did.

“I think we learned a whole lot as a team, and to feel like we learned and gained as much experience as we did, we still lost over 100 games,” right-hander Evan Phillips said. “That puts a big chip on our shoulder coming into this season. We’re a pretty young team in general but I think with the veteran leadership that we have and the young guys starting to play with that edge that we’re looking for, I think we’re going to play a lot better this year, continue to learn and continue to grow.”

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Orioles pitcher David Hess, throws during practice Wednesday, said having so many pitchers who had the same types of battles with inconsistency and volatile results all together creates a common mindset to carry the group through camp and beyond.
Orioles pitcher David Hess, throws during practice Wednesday, said having so many pitchers who had the same types of battles with inconsistency and volatile results all together creates a common mindset to carry the group through camp and beyond.(Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Wherever you look on the staff, especially in the bullpen, there are facets of the 2019 season to build on. Phillips had an 8.41 ERA when he was recalled in September but allowed one run, limited his walks, and elevated his strikeout numbers in the season’s final month. He says he learned not to try to change who he is on the mound and to pitch to his strengths.

Left-hander Tanner Scott, one of the hardest throwers in the system, was able to pound the strike zone at Triple-A Norfolk but struggled to replicate that in the majors and said the year was “a growing point.”

Veteran left-hander Richard Bleier also turned things around as the season progressed and he got further away from his 2018 lat muscle surgery. Even as one of the elder statesmen of the pitching staff, he knows the education continues for established players, too.

“I think everything is a learning moment, good or bad,” Bleier said. “If you just kind of forget about things, you might make the same mistakes. I’ll take all the information from last year and build off the things that I was happy about and try and improve on things that I wasn’t happy about.”

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