The Orioles bullpen will add yet another pitcher this weekend as David Hernandez will be bumped from the rotation. As a starter he had a 5.31 ERA, more walks (28) than strikeouts (27), and averaged just a little over five innings a game. I believe he can be an effective reliever facing batters once a game, since he appeared to have trouble the second and third time through the opposing lineup. But the walks need to come down. It is expected that Chris Tillman, the 22-year-old right-hander will take Hernandez’s spot in the rotation. Tillman had a 3.12 ERA in Norfolk including a no hitter, and has struck out 47 batters and only walked 12 in 57.2 innings pitched. I think Tillman needs to be facing major league hitting, and I don’t believe Hernandez can be a starter at the major league level.
Adding Hernandez is just the latest in a string of moves to affect the O’s bullpen. It started with the O’s new closer going to the disabled list with a strained shoulder after two blown saves and an 18.00 ERA.
Let’s review the corresponding moves:
4/15—Mike Gonzalez to DL, Kam Mickolio up
4/20—Brad Bergesen down, Alberto Castillo up (part I)
4/27—Mickolio down, Alfredo Simon up
5/1—Jim Johnson to DL, Bergesen up
5/6 —Castillo down, Koji Uehara activated from DL
5/16—Rhyne Hughes down, Castillo up (part deux)
5/21—Castillo down, Scott Moore up
5/25—Simon to DL, Uehara to DL; Frank Mata up, Castillo up (hat trick)
To recap, the top two relievers coming into the season both get hurt. Two relievers that are pitching well, Simon (2.92 ERA and six saves in seven opportunities) and Uehara (1.80 ERA, although only five innings) both get hurt. Additionally, a top bullpen prospect in Luis Lebron had Tommy John surgery on May 11.
While I didn’t think the bullpen was going to be great, I had confidence in Johnson/Gonzalez and believed the team would win most games when leading in the eighth inning. But before June, closer one (Gonzalez) injured. Closer two (Johnson) injured. Closer three (Simon) injured. Potential closer Uehara joins Simon on the disabled list the same day.
Even with the injuries the O’s relievers are pitching better than last year when the club had the worst bullpen in the majors, allowing 5.41 runs per game. Still not good at 4.89 runs per game, but closer to the league average of 4.47 and half a run lower than last year. Injures happen to every team, but when healthy the O’s bullpen could be about average. A bullpen of Gonzalez, Johnson, Uehara, and Simon along with Jason Berken (1.52 ERA), Will Ohman (0.00 ERA), and Hendrickson or any other left handed reliever doesn’t look too bad. As for reality, four of those pitchers are on the disabled list, and another is pitching to a pretty bad 4.81 ERA (Hendrickson).
I hope moving Hernandez to the bullpen and calling up Tillman will solve some of the Orioles problems by giving them a good young pen arm and a pitcher who has the potential to be a number two or even number one starter. So far this year has brought plenty problems, and not many solutions.