On the roster move, Gregg, the young arms & accountability
*Quick Roster move: Chris Tillman was sent back to Triple-A Norfolk tonight, with right-handed reliever Willie Eyre expected to take his place. The 33-year-old Eyre will have his contract purchased from Triple-A Norfolk prior to Friday’s game.
*Also, top pitching prospect Dan Klein will see noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lewis Yocum on Monday. He continues to have shoulder discomfort after attempting to throw this week.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter talked the other day about how the team’s middle relief has fared well, although he prefaced that by saying that it’s not exactly an area you want to see a lot of work.
Still, it was good to see Brad Bergesen come in Thursday night and restore some order, throwing 4 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Tillman, who was charged with six runs over 3 2/3 to start the game and handed a one-way ticket to Norfolk after the 6-3 loss.
Bergesen did what last night’s starter Tommy Hunter did: he consistently worked ahead.
Bergesen threw 48 pitches and 33 were strikes, helping him work quickly and give the Orioles offense a chance to try to get back in the game. The 25-year-old Bergesen has had a rocky season, like pretty much all of the Orioles young arms, but he has been working hard with pitching coach Rick Adair and making strides as a result.
I bring this up because it reminded me of a talk I had recently with closer Kevin Gregg, who is one of the most no-nonsense guys in the Orioles clubhouse. Gregg, who sat and talked with Zach Britton for two hours following his Yankee Stadium first-inning meltdown, has quickly earned a reputation for being brutally honest and receptive to guys who want to learn and don’t want to be coddled.
I’ve seen him go over video with Jason Berken after a bad outing and before starter Jake Arrieta left for California he made it a point to seek out Gregg and thank him for all of his help this season.
“I hope they don’t have that sense of entitlement anymore,” Gregg said of the Orioles young pitchers, who have all taken their lumps this season.
“You can do that when you are young but before you know it you are going to be 26, 27 and in this game you are not considered young anymore. It’s ‘figure it out or get out.’ But, luckily we’ve got young guys who are really trying to make that adjustment, really trying to go in the right direction to move forward there.
I think Bergesen has done an outstanding job with that. Where he was at, at the beginning of the year was not somebody who was going to stay in the big leagues. But as he’s progressed and learned and put a lot of time and effort into things, he’s putting himself in a better spot to be able to stay here. And if you make those adjustments, you are going to see better results in your outings.”
As for his interest in video, Gregg said it started in Anaheim when bench coach Joe Maddon (who is now the Rays manager) had his little area set up in the team’s video room. Maddon, who is well-known to be a deep thinker, analytical type guy, would sit for hours and go over video with Gregg and former Major Leaguer Aaron Sele, who is now a pitching coach in the Dodgers Minor Leagues.
“I was just trying to learn the game,” Gregg said. “Learn reactions of hitters, learn reactions of pitches, what’s causing what when your pitch does a certain thing is part of it. It’s part of making adjustments as you go through each year. I can’t sneak up on anybody, everybody knows what I do. So there’s an execution, a game plan, I have to decide what the hitter is trying to do at the plate in the moment.
That’s kind of what helps. Recognizing, these younger guys need to recognize what’s going on. Not just better sequences, but how to pitch. It’s going to make them more successful.”
On the flip side of that was what Tillman did on Thursday, as the 23-year-old didn’t pitch inside enough and left the White Sox hitters practically skipping to the plate.
“When you are throwing the ball on the outer half of the plate it looks middle to them because I’m not throwing in enough,” Tillman said. “It doesn’t work out in your favor very often when that happens.”
Coming off a great seven-inning start his last time out, Tillman has been maddeningly inconsistent and has struggled to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities he’s had to be a permanent fixture in the Orioles’ rotation.
“Having to go to the bullpen in the third, fourth fifth inning, ain’t going to cut it,” Tillman said. “No excuses here. I got to get better. That’s the bottom line. I know I can pitch here, but what happened tonight wasn’t enough.”
Tillman is far from the only Oriole starter who has struggled this year, as Britton recorded just one out in New York, Bergesen has been back-and-forth between Triple-A and Brian Matusz has been in the Minors for over a month. The quartet –along with Jake Arrieta, who is having season-ending surgery Friday morning — were all deemed as the Orioles answer to all this losing. As Showalter likes to say, they were “run up the flag pole” somewhat prematurely and are all having trouble –in varying degrees — of dealing with failure.
There have been multiple times this year Showalter has singled out Gregg’s contributions in the clubhouse and how the veteran has provided some sage advice in a trying year for the Orioles budding young talent.
“The hard part for these guys is they’ve never failed,” said Gregg. “You are not going to dominate [in the Majors Leagues] all the way through, even the good ones have gone through struggles. But it’s how you react, the confidence you have in yourself, in your plan. And I’m really trying to establish that with some of these younger guys and try to teach them to come up with that game plan.
I think they have been so broad in just trying to get to the big leagues, their goal wasn’t really to stay in the big leagues. Now they’ve got to figure out how to stay.”
When asked what his conversation with Britton entailed, Gregg said it was pretty to the point: he told the young lefty how terrible his pair of starts –in which he didn’t get out of the first inning — truly were.
“I’m very blunt when it comes to a lot of things,” Gregg added. “To me, there’s no reason to beat around the bush with an answer, if somebody sucks. I’m going to say, you suck. I’m not going to come up and say, you’re ok, that was alright. No, it wasn’t…They need to know when they are doing something wrong and what it is. It’s time be held accountable for it.”
I know people have varying opinions on Gregg and his role on this team. But I do think his presence in the clubhouse and the bulldog-type mentality in the players the Orioles are slowly acquiring (Jim Johnson and Tommy Hunter spring to mind as other examples) is something that desperately needs to continue if the organization is going to ever turn things around.