Everyone knows that the Orioles are not going to win a lot of games during this rebuilding year, but the promising young players taking part in this competitive casting call still live and die with every poor performance and go to bed wondering who will be going back to Triple-A Norfolk the next day.
On Monday, that was center fielder Cedric Mullins, who struggled mightily at the plate through the first four weeks of the season. The day before, it was Mike Wright, who arrived at the ballpark to find out he had been designated for assignment, perhaps using up the last of several chances to stick on the major league pitching staff.
Who knows who’s next. Hard-throwing reliever Miguel Castro needed 45 pitches to get two outs Monday night against the Chicago White Sox, which had to put his roster spot in question, though manager Brandon Hyde indicated after the game that the club had no plans to call up another pitcher after the bullpen allowed eight runs over four innings.
Still, in a season such as this, plans can change in a hurry. That’s the sometimes cruel flip side of the golden opportunity that was presented to every prospect who made the team out of spring training or has been called up to the big leagues since the grand transition began last July.
“There are a lot of great players that have been sent back to Triple-A … a lot of great players,’’ Hyde said Monday. “That’s a part of the game. That’s just part of your development, learning to deal with adversity and fighting through tough times and maybe going down there to recharge and restart something. Figure something out. Go back to something that worked and come back up here and hopefully have a long career.”
He explained that the decision on Mullins was made with the hope that the young outfielder will go to Norfolk and get his groove back. He’s one of the club’s top prospects and certainly is not gone for good, but the team obviously wanted to get him out of here before he suffered any lasting damage to his self-confidence.
“This is a tough game,” Hyde said. “This game can beat you up. When you don’t have the major league experience and confidence or something to go to where you can look back and say, ‘This is how I dealt with it.’ There’s a lot of pressure you put on yourself that you want to succeed, so sometimes it’s the best thing to do for players like that.”
Meanwhile, the other young players go about their business always aware that tomorrow is promised to none of them.
And how could they not be? The Orioles ran the “Norfolk Shuttle” so frequently during the Dan Duquette-Buck Showalter era that it often didn’t matter how a player actually performed. The nonstop roster shuffle was based as much on the day-to-day needs of the team as the day-to-day performance of the players.
“It’s just something that you try to keep out of your head,” said left-handed reliever Paul Fry, “because if it gets into your head while you’re out there, it doesn’t go well for your outing or the way you pitch. Keeping that out of your head is crucial. Control what you can control.”
Fry doesn’t have a lot to be worried about. He has been one of the more dependable arms in the bullpen since he was called up last year at the end of July, but he knows what it feels like to have your dream job hanging by a thread.
“There were times when I first came up last year and I was the long guy that day, so I figured there could be a chance that I could be sent down after for a fresh arm,” Fry said. “Nowadays, you’ve got to do what you can out there and force them to keep you here. Every outing is not going to go your way, but as long as you can throw strikes and do your job that day — control what you can control — other things are not on you at that point.”
Right-hander Nate Karns has been in the big leagues for parts of six seasons, but he knows what the young pitchers are going through and believes the uncertainty can breed a general sense of apprehension in the clubhouse when things are not going well.
“I think it can if the older guys in the clubhouse don’t reassure them that it is not because of their play,” Karns said. “Think about it. If we have a series and we use a lot of pitching, it just kind of goes through a pecking order where maybe we feel the opposing lineup in the next series makes it better to go with all righties in the ’pen. It’s just understanding how the game works up here and it goes to what is the greater good of the team.
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“I remember when I was a rookie, you kind of look over your shoulder at times, but you have to go through experiences like that. My first two years, I was up and down, but that’s just part of it.”