Their lockers are side by side in the Orioles spring clubhouse, something that young pitchers Evan Phillips and Cody Carroll believe was just a happy coincidence.
Now, they can lean on each other the way they did last August, after both joined the major league club during the flurry of July trades that transformed the Orioles from a spiraling veteran team into a collection of young players from all walks of life.
Carroll, 26, was acquired from the New York Yankees on July 24 in the deal that sent closer Zack Britton to the Bronx. Phillips, 24, came over in the multiplayer deal that sent Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to the Atlanta Braves. They quickly fell in with the group of young pitchers trying to prove themselves over the final two months of a lost season and became good friends.
“Yeah, because we were kind of able to break in together,’’ Phillips said. “It probably would have been a little more difficult if we came up on our own, but even the veteran guys around here, they’re so welcoming. They made things easier for us.”
It also helped that both pitched well at the outset, Carroll with scoreless one-inning stints in his first two appearances and Phillips with a two-inning Orioles debut in which he retired all six batters he faced and struck out three.
Unfortunately, the nice first impressions gave way to the reality of being rookie pitchers in the American League East and both of them struggled way more than they succeeded the rest of the way, but that’s probably another reason why they become fast friends.
“A lot of us young guys who were up at the same time last year got real close,’’ Phillips said. “I’m really excited to have Cody right here as my lockermate in spring. He’s been my throwing partner in camp so far. We work well with each other because we’re similar pitchers with what we throw and we’re good buddies off the field.”
The Ed Smith Stadium spring training complex is a veritable land of opportunity and the bullpen features as many as five wide-open spots. Carroll said there were lessons to be learned from the struggles he and Phillips endured last season, and hopes their first taste of major league experience will end up being both bitter and sweet.
“I think for me, it kind of showed me that you don’t have to come up here and be somebody different than you were in the minors,’’ Carroll said. “Come back up here and be yourself. That’s kind of what I got away from a little bit, which was not exactly what I wanted, but in the long run, it will help me for sure.”
Phillips agreed that the pain of getting knocked around in the majors will be worth the gain if it helps them come into this season with a better sense of self and a better grasp of how to approach big league hitters.
“I think trusting yourself was something I really needed to work on,’’ Phillips said. “I come up to the major leagues and I hear all these things about how to attack these hitters a certain way rather than trusting myself and what got me there. There are always two sides of it. There is so much information up there and so much information about the other hitters, but you’ve got to be yourself. You’ve got to be your own pitcher and do what you do best.”
Phillips ended up with a 13.11 ERA, which isn’t hard to do when you only pitch a handful of innings. Carroll got more work, but ended up with a 9.00 ERA in 15 appearances. Manager Brandon Hyde said he wants the young players who struggled their first time in the majors to exhale.
“Whether they had a tough time in the big leagues last year or not, I just want them to know that it’s a clean-slate deal for us,” Hyde said. “We’re just looking for guys that compete. I hope that they take that experience as a positive and show what they can do here in camp.”
Carroll got to make his major league debut against his old team and pitched a scoreless inning in a rare Orioles victory over the Yankees. He faced them four more times over the course of the late summer with mixed results.
Like just about everybody in camp, he’s looking for a fresh start and is enjoying the loose atmosphere in the spring clubhouse.
“I think you can see it just walking in here,’’ Carroll said. “Everybody’s relaxed and having fun. Everybody’s hanging around with each other. Most of the guys are young, but everybody’s on the same team. Everybody’s competing for a spot, but I think it will be fun.”
Last season might have featured way more downs than ups for everyone who donned an Orioles uniform, but both Phillips and Carroll considered their time with the big league club a net positive.
“I think you just gain valuable MLB experience,’’ Phillips said. “It’s a different vibe at the major league level. The hitters are much more talented, much more experienced in their own right. Coming into the spring, I’ve learned a lot of lessons for myself and I’m sure the other young pitchers who were up late last year have learned the same things. Now that we have that knowledge, we can come into spring training, come into early in the season and know what to expect and how to go about our business on a day-to-day basis.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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