Orioles' Roger McDowell expects opportunities for young pitchers in rebuilding rotation

Orioles beat writer Jon Meoli discusses pitching coach Roger McDowell’s focus on the club’s young pitchers instead of possible free agent additions as the Orioles look to rebuild their rotation around Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. (Baltimore Sun video)

SARASOTA, FLA. — Orioles pitching coach Roger McDowell on Wednesday declared the club's three-day pitching minicamp a success, and while the likelihood is there will be some veteran additions to the pitching staff when the team returns to Sarasota next month, McDowell isn't letting himself be bothered by that.

"Here's the thing," McDowell said. "You know what my job description is? Take the pitchers that we have and get them better and compete in the American League East. That's what we'll do. Whoever we have, that's what we're going to have, and you know what? My job is to get them better and hopefully do well, not only in the American League East but throughout the course of a major league season. It's a daily process, and I think we made a lot of progress with a lot of guys last year. Hopefully that process will continue with whoever we have."


Outfielder-turned-pitcher Dariel Álvarez has embraced life on the mound for the Orioles and is progressing well in his rehab from Tommy John surgery.

As it stands, the Orioles have just Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman returning to their starting rotation with just over a month before pitchers and catchers report. Some of the internal candidates to join them were at the minicamp this week, including Miguel Castro and Rule 5 draft pick Nestor Cortes Jr. Others, such as Mike Wright, Gabriel Ynoa and Alec Asher, are training on their own.

And those will be the pitchers McDowell occupies his time with going forward.


"We do have a number of guys who are going to get opportunities that may not have been presented to them if you have different people here," McDowell said. "So, they're going to get that opportunity, and I'm very much looking forward to working and starting the process, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, of getting better."

That the Orioles haven't added any free-agent pitching yet isn't atypical for them, as they usually do most of their business in late January and February. But the fact that the free-agent market is moving at a glacial pace means business could drag further into spring training, and means the Orioles coaches have to prepare for the possibility that the pitchers they have will be the ones they take from Florida.

"I think every year is a little different because of the dynamics of how our industry works, and you have different numbers and different quality of guys who are free agents and people who come out," manager Buck Showalter said earlier this week. "It looks like it's going to play a lot slower, but then that can change in a week's time. So, I don't know. We will end up, right now I assume, with the 34 [pitchers] coming to camp and the people in the system and saying, 'OK, what do we do today? If the season opened up today, what would we do?'

"Well, it doesn't. We've got a lot of people that are pulling for us not to sign anybody, not to trade for anybody. I guarantee if you go talk to Mike Wright, who's out with Brady [Anderson] right now, he's hoping we don't. There's a lot of guys like that. And there's some unknown there, but the industry doesn't always cooperate with your time frame. Your time frame has to be adjusted."

McDowell on Harvey

Monday's bullpen session was McDowell's first look at 2013 first-round pick Hunter Harvey, who is entering the season fully healthy after missing most of the past three years with injuries. McDowell liked what he saw — and found it all familiar.

"You pull up pictures of his dad [former major league reliever Bryan Harvey], he looks just like him, especially from the face," McDowell said. "But his body, he's got the pitcher's body. Hopefully he can stay healthy and we can stay on top of his health and he can get back to pitching and not worrying about it. I know Buck asked him the other day about being able to throw a baseball and not have a question every time of how does it feel?

“Getting over that hurdle, a lot of times it's a mental hurdle for guys when they come back from injury. ‘When I get release or get extension, how's it going to feel?’ I think it's good that he was able to get down here. I know him and his dad have been doing some work. It was good to see him."

Preparing Castro to start

McDowell was full of praise for right-hander Miguel Castro, who was one of the team's top relievers last season and will work in 2018 to transform himself into a starter — beginning with his body.

The Orioles' annual January minicamp has been a worthy snapshot of every year of reliever Mychal Givens' career. This year, before he reported, he showcased how important he can be off the field, too.

"Boy, he could use a few pounds, huh?" McDowell joked about Castro's tall, lean frame. "Miggy, as you guys saw last year, a guy who pitched in a variety of roles but also was able to get extended and pitch some extended innings for us. He saved us a number of times. I think he has the ability. He has the pitches. What does he need to do? I think he just needs to go out there and get the ball. When you come out of the bullpen and throw multiple innings, it's a little different. You don't have the preparation involved. You don't have the hitter preparation involved.

“But just give him the opportunity and see where he's at. He has the pitches for both sides of the plate. He can get both righties and lefties out. He's got an above-average fastball, a good changeup, his breaking ball is getting better. That's part of the process of getting that three-pitch mix and hopefully getting through a lineup a couple or three times."


Around the horn

Left-hander Richard Bleier threw a second bullpen session of minicamp Wednesday but was the only player to take the mound as the event wrapped up. ... McDowell said the team is comfortable giving reliever Mychal Givens more responsibility this season. ... McDowell and bullpen coach Alan Mills went over bunt coverages before the camp broke Wednesday.

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