PT TOMORROW: AL East — In BAL bullpen, an Armstrong but few strong arms

Baltimore Orioles

With the worst record in the major leagues, the Orioles have not been providing many save opportunities, period, but those that do arise in the near future will not be going to Mychal Givens (RHP, BAL).

On May 27, manager Brandon Hyde said Givens would be used in lower-leverage situations in an attempt to help him right the ship. Two days later, Givens yielded his sixth home run of the season in 23.2 IP. Givens only surrendered four home runs in 73.2 IP a year ago.

While his 29% HR/F is sure to regress, Givens has also seen his control leave him in May, and a 56% FpK offers less hope of a turnaround on that front.

When asked who might close out games, Hyde responded “whoever,” and it is hard not to sense his frustration, if not feel sympathy pains.

Hyde’s first choice May 27 was Shawn Armstrong (RHP, BAL), and surprisingly enough he worked around a walk to nail down a win. Armstrong, who was claimed off of waivers from Seattle in late April, did show some decent skills in 14.2 IP last season (15/3 K/BB).

This year has been a different story, however. Control has been an issue for Armstrong, which his FpK had been signaling as a concern even last year. His fly ball tilt has also helped fuel a spike in his home run rate.

Beyond Armstrong, Hyde also mentioned Branden Kline (RHP, BAL), whose skills have been slightly better, though he gave up a game-winning home run to Brandon Dixon (1B, DET) on May 29. Kline does have some closing experience, however, having saved 15 games at AA-Bowie in 2018, and looks the part with a better-than-advertised average fastball of 96.3 mph.

Multi-inning reliever Josh Lucas (RHP, BAL) has posted the best skills of the bunch and even has a save, though it was of the unconventional, three-inning variety. A 52% FpK urges caution about his control, and little else in his pedigree screams “closer.” However, given the available options, Hyde may find some comfort in Lucas’ strong ground ball rate and let him stay in games — perhaps until the very end — if he is otherwise cruising.

One way-off-the-radar possibility is Cody Carroll (RHP, BAL), who had a rough time in his first major league action last season. But Carroll had a strong spring (7 IP, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 3 Sv) and is now reportedly close to leaving extended spring training and joining a minor league affiliate after conquering some back soreness.

 

Boston Red Sox

After holding his own through his first four appearances of 2019, Ryan Weber (RHP, BOS) crashed back to earth May 29. Weber was rocked by the Indians of 7 ER in 4 IP, a PQS-0, as the Red Sox continue to try to fill the void left by Nathan Eovaldi (RHP, BOS).

Eovaldi was expected to throw a simulated game May 31 but is likely still weeks away from being activated in a best-case scenario.

Meanwhile, swingman Hector Velazquez (RHP, BOS) joined Eovaldi on the injured list with a lower back strain, taking him out of the mix for spot starts, duty for which Weber had leapfrogged him after Velazquez strung together three straight PQS-DIS starts between May 7 and May 18.

Brian Johnson (LHP, BOS) is 7.2 IP into a rehabilitation stint and has been very hittable (9 ER, 14 H, 4 BB, 8 K, .389 OBA). He has previously proven to be a mediocre starting option at best but right now looks to be not even that.

Darwinzon Hernandez (LHP, BOS), who has made some brief cameos with the Red Sox, has been struggling with his control at AA-Portland (28 BB in 32.2 IP) and looks to need further polish before being able to contribute to a major league rotation.

A name to watch in this mix may be Kyle Hart (LHP, BOS). Hart excelled at AA-Portland (2.91 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 60/17 K/BB), earning a promotion to AAA-Pawtucket. The 2016 19th-round pick out of Indiana then sailed through his first start for Pawtucket May 30, hurling a 108-pitch complete-game shutout (5 H, 0 BB, 8 K).

Hart may not convince the team to promote him before Eovaldi is ready to return to action but could be an option the next time an opportunity arises.

 

New York Yankees

Didi Gregorius (SS, NYY) homered in his second rehabilitation game for AAA-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre May 26, and manager Aaron Boone has said that Gregorius will “probably return” to the Yankees at some point during next week’s road trip.

Gregorius’ return to New York’s infield mix will present the team with an interesting dilemma, insofar as Giovanny Urshela (3B, NYY) has made the most of his playing time opportunity. While Urshela’s 39% hit rate is elevated, he has continued to hit the ball hard and on a line.

Gregorius will probably hit the bench against left-handed pitching (career .669 OPS), but Urshela, Gleyber Torres (SS, NYY), DJ LeMahieu (2B, NYY) and Luke Voit (1B, NYY) are all right-handed hitters, otherwise limiting platoon opportunities. The power that Torres and Voit supply may keep them in the lineup more often than not, but all may see at least occasional days off.

At least in the short term, the DH spot can be utilized to keep all of the above quintet active, which is potentially bad news for Kendrys Morales (DH, NYY). While Morales has been hurt by a 21% hit rate, he has shown little since being acquired from the A’s. Morales is making plenty of hard contact, but a high ground ball rate and a possibly age-related decline in his power skills have rendered him something of a liability for the Yankees and fantasy owners alike.

If not by Gregorius’ return — Thairo Estrada (2B, NYY) has remaining minor league options — Morales’ roster spot could be threatened as Giancarlo Stanton (DH, NYY) and Aaron Judge (OF, NYY) return to the fold, especially now that Clint Frazier (OF, NYY) seems to have snapped out of his early May funk.

Accurately reading what seems to be the writing on the wall, Troy Tulowitzki (SS, NYY) recently announced that he is willing to play different positions whenever he is able to return. Tulowitzki has yet to begin appearing in rehabilitation games as he recovers from yet another lower-leg injury (calf), and as illustrated above the Yankees have little reason to rush him back.

 

Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa manager Kevin Cash put on a brave face, saying he “has no concerns whatsoever” with Jose Alvarado (LHP, TAM) after one of the late-inning reliever’s recent stumbles. Nonetheless, it’s hard to avoid the fact that Alvarado is struggling mightily at the moment. In his last six appearances, covering a mere 4.2 IP, Alvarado has walked seven and given up six earned runs and nine hits, while recording only four strikeouts.

Further evidence that Alvarado is fighting it can be seen in his FpK, which has dipped to a ghastly 41% over the last month.

As a result, Diego Castillo (RHP, TAM) may see a few more save opportunities until Alvarado can right himself. Castillo has continued to chug along with skills good enough to get the job done in the ninth.

It’s also mildly surprising that Emilio Pagan (RHP, TAM) has not recorded a save since closing out games in three straight appearances April 22-27. Pagan’s skills have been even stronger than Castillo’s, a bump in velocity perhaps helping to explain the improvement in his SwK and strikeout rates.

Cash’s expression of faith aside, it would hardly be shocking to see Castillo and Pagan closing games for the Rays in some order until Alvarado demonstrates better command and consistency.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Now that Toronto seems to have found a left fielder — unless the current torrid stretch of Lourdes Gurriel (OF, TOR) proves as fleeting as last July’s — the Blue Jays may need to turn their attention to center field.

Randal Grichuk (OF, TOR) has been slumping over the last few weeks, going 14-for-76 (.184) with 25 strikeouts since May 7. Striking out in approximately one-third of his at-bats is nothing new for Grichuk, for whom contact has been a career-long struggle. But thus far this season, the subpar contact has been accompanied by less power and hard contact, dragging Grichuk’s xBA down to a career-low .220.

While Jonathan Davis (OF, TOR) hit his first home run on May 27, he has otherwise shown little at the plate that would warrant expanding his playing time.

This situation may be setting up to give another chance to Anthony Alford (OF, TOR) — one that had seemed to be arriving early in the season when the Jays traded Kevin Pillar (OF, SF). Instead, Alford appeared in just one game, and he proceeded to have a miserable April at AAA-Buffalo: 9-for-65 (.138), 30 strikeouts.

But once the calendar flipped to May, Alford’s production turned a corner a bit, going 19-for-69 (.290/.371/.452), though he still struck out in a third of his at-bats. On the plus side, Alford has shown some willingness to take a walk (10 BB in 105 PA), providing some additional opportunities to tap into his speed skills.

The same cannot be said of the plate patience of Socrates Brito (OF, TOR), who has just two walks in 46 PA at AAA-Buffalo, but he has swung the bat reasonably well (12-for-44, 2 HR, 4 2B) since being designated for assignment and then reassigned after going unclaimed after a miserable stretch for the Blue Jays.

The return of Alford or Brito would not necessarily bury Grichuk, but he would be forced into a battle with Brandon Drury (OF, TOR) for playing time in right field. Drury continues to plod along with occasional flashes of power but a contact rate similar to Grichuk’s. Unlike Grichuk, however, Drury has demonstrated better contact skills in the past, albeit with less power.

 


Click here to subscribe

  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.