Spring training competition is nothing new for Orioles right-hander Vance Worley. Every year, it seems, he's trying to prove his worth.
This spring, the 28-year-old Worley finds himself with his fourth team in five years, once again fighting for a spot on the 25-man roster.
"I feel like my whole career has always been about having to prove it again and again and again," Worley said on Wednesday. "There's always someone nipping at your heels, especially at this level. You've got the younger guys. This guy throws hard. This guy's got this, he's got that. I'm not that guy. I've never been that guy."
Worley will have his first opportunity to make an impression on his new team on Friday afternoon in Dunedin, where he will make his first Grapefruit League start of the spring against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Park.
Worley — who previously pitched with the Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins and Pittsburgh Pirates — enters spring training in a unique situation. When the Orioles claimed Worley off waivers in October, he was slated to compete for the club's fifth starter spot along with the likes of right-handers Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson. Later in the offseason, trade acquisition Odrisamer Despaigne was added to the mix.
But the Orioles' signing of veteran right-hander Yovani Gallardo to fill out the rotation means Worley is now competing for a bullpen job. Worley is out of minor league options so if he doesn't make the team out of camp, it might be difficult for the organization to keep him. He must clear waivers and accept an outright assignment before the team can send him to Triple-A.
"Nothing about this game is easy," Worley said. "Obviously different situations present themselves every spring. It's all about staying healthy and going out there and giving your best effort. Ultimately, the decision is out of your control, so you just have to go out there and do what you know how to do and control what you can control."
Worley has mainly been a starter. Last season with the Pirates was the first time in his major league career that Worley saw extended time in the bullpen. He worked as a reliever when he was first called up to the majors with the Phillies in 2010 and then again in the 2011 postseason with Philadelphia.
Worley said he learned a lot from last season. He won a rotation spot coming out of spring training with the Pirates, but when right-hander Charlie Morton returned from injury seven starts into the season, Worley was sent to the bullpen. After working in relief for the next 2 ½ months, posting a 3.00 ERA in 30 relief innings, the Pirates designated Worley for assignment to make room for trade acquisition Joe Blanton.
After he cleared waivers, Worley accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A, where he pitched as a starter and went 3-1 with a 2.38 ERA in five starts. He remained in the minors when rosters expanded on Sept. 1 but was called up in the middle of the month as an extra bullpen arm.
"Getting sent down and just having to wear it last year and then get put back in the rotation, that was tough," Worley said. "Any guy who has that situation where you clear waivers — that was my second time clearing — It's about being mentally tough, because some guys crumble. Some guys just fall apart and they say, that's it for the year. I know I'm a big leaguer and you have to have that mindset. If you have that, you're going to get another opportunity if you put up the right numbers."
Even though Worley brings both starting and relief experience, and he saw success pitching out of the pen last season — his ERA as a reliever last year was 2.83, compared to a 4.81 mark as a starter — he still sees himself as a starter.
"That's what I've done my whole career, is starting," Worley said. "Last year was the first year when things kind of got changed around. Obviously, it wasn't the prettiest. I got sent back down to Triple-A and started there and showed that I am a starter and not a reliever, but whatever it takes to be on a big league roster, that's what I'm going to do and obviously that's what I have to be. So just go out and give what I've got and hopefully they like it."
A starting opportunity might not be in the cards now, but the Orioles plan to stretch Worley out this spring. He could slot into the rotation mix easily if there's an injury to one of the starters.
"It's really early in the stage," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We're still familiarizing ourselves with him. Some of our guys think that he's got some upside and he's had some success as a starter. We're looking at him for more of the possible depth [he gives] as a starter, but the problem is he's out of options. He'll start out with us pitching him as a starter and see what develops, especially if we get an injury or something. We'll see if he can fill in. But we're still in the infant stages of what we think he may or may not be."
Even though he's moved around, Worley has seen success at the major league level. In his first full season with the Phillies in 2011, he was the fifth starter in a rotation that included Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. He tried to learn as much as he could from two-time Cy Young Award winner Halladay, especially the tricks of throwing a sinker. He learned his cutter grip from Hamels. He went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA that season
After a rocky year with the Twins in his only previous experience in the American League, Worley re-emerged with the Pirates in 2014, going 8-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 18 games (17 starts). His style is one that could fit the Orioles well.
Worley is a ground-ball pitcher, relying mostly on a sinker-slider mix to pitch to contact and let his defense work behind him. His fastball averaged 89 mph last year.
"Ever since I got to the big leagues, it was about moving the ball," Worley said. "It's not about throwing hard. I rely on my defense and keeping guys off balance."
Even though the Orioles plan to stretch Worley out, his best fit might be as the team's long-relief man. But Showalter likes to have a few relievers with minor league options in the bullpen so he can keep it fresh, and last year's long man — left-hander T.J. McFarland — is a pitcher who can be shuttled to Triple-A Norfolk in order to add an extra arm when needed.
Because Worley doesn't have options, any team could claim him on waivers before he could be sent to the minors. But Worley is making $2.6 million this season, which is a steep salary for a long man. So if he doesn't make the Orioles out of spring training, he would likely only be claimed by a team looking to fill an immediate starting need. Because he has been outrighted to the minors previously, Worley can refuse an assignment to the minors even if he clears waivers.
"There's a lot of things working for him, No. 1, he's got capability," Showalter said. "He doesn't have options, so we have to make sure we make a good decision on him because there's a chance you could lose him."