Thursday Thoughts: Stop the Position-Player-Pitching Madness

This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. A couple years back, I cut it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl Weaver/€“Brooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. (Today we have a Billy Ripken version) – A.S.

1. No one should be surprised at the demotion this week of Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins. Neither fans, nor coaches or even Mullins himself can fret at the fact that he was sent to Norfolk after an abysmal start to the season. If it hadn’t been for Chris Davis’ historically bad start to the season, everyone would’ve been focused on Mullins instead.

Now that the cloud has lifted on Davis, the rain started falling on the 24-year-old outfielder. The switch-hitter had just six hits in his 74 plate appearances and wasn’t getting it done from either side of the dish. There was a lot of hope that Mullins could be a “guy” after he came up last year and started playing in center, pushing Adam Jones into right field. That hope remained this spring, when he was virtually one of only three or four players who were locks to have a starting spot on the team breaking camp.

Despite this demotion, there should still be some hope. But there shouldn’t be any kind of reliance on Mullins. That’s where we start getting into dangerous territory with what the Orioles are doing. They can’t be relying on any of these players to be “guys” once this ship gets turned in the right direction. Mullins, in fact, could be the earliest reminder that this is going to take a while.

Cedric Mullins in the batter's box.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

It’s important to remember that NONE of the holdover players in this organization were brought in by Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal. It will take a while for them to get who they want in certain spots. Until then, much of what we’ll see is players hopefully building some kind of value to become a trade chip for another team.

2. Speaking of trade chips, here’s one I never expected – Mike Wright. The 29-year-old was traded yesterday to the Seattle Mariners for infielder Ryne Ogren, who went to Single-A Delmarva. The fact that the O’s were able to fetch something for Wright seems implausible to many. The right-hander’s ERA ballooned up to 9.45 in 13.1 innings this season, giving him a career 5.95 ERA in his career with the O’s. It never quite worked right for him in Baltimore, and now he gets a fresh start elsewhere as he tries to restart his career.

Ogren is just 22, and likely isn’t a big leaguer. But the fact that the Orioles aren’t hanging on to players like Wright and are flipping them for youth is at least encouraging. Getting anything back for Wright, who many would view as a lost cause, is just fine. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s fine.

At the very least, fans won’t have to bother with him coming out in long relief any more.

3. Outside of Trey Mancini, the most enjoyable part about watching the Orioles over the first month of this season has been the play of Dwight Smith Jr. I have to fully admit that about ten days before spring training was over, I had no clue who Smith Jr. even was. The O’s had acquired him from the Blue Jays while down in Sarasota in a very under-the-radar deal for international bonus money.

In what’s expected to be a lost season for the Orioles, Smith has the potential to be a bright spot. I doubt he’ll be part of the plans once (if) the Orioles get good again. At 26, he’s still young enough to be a contributor somewhere, but it’s a big mystery if that place will be Baltimore. Regardless, if Smith Jr. happens to stick around for the entire season, he’ll be fun to watch on a bad team.

Even bad teams need those types of players, and it’s a nice treat for the fans to get to see.

4. The Orioles have used position players to pitch three times this season. Prepare yourself for the “zig when everyone else is zagging take,” but I don’t like it. It’s fun to see at times when a catcher or infielder gets on the mound and starts throwing it past players at 75 MPH. But overall, it’s a bad look for a team and for the league as a whole. These players aren’t trained to pitch, even if it’s just for one inning. The potential for injury is much greater when they are doing something like that.

I’m not in favor of banning something like this from happening, but I do think teams should be discouraged from making a habit of it. It was almost necessary when Chris Davis took the mound in the 17th inning of a 2012 win at Fenway Park. There were no other pitchers left available. But when it’s been done because the bullpen is worn down, it’s another problem.

The Orioles are bad enough this season that they should have plenty of players with options and should be able to utilize the Norfolk shuttle quite a bit. Heck, they should even utilize the Bowie shuttle if need be. The Birds won’t be able to rely on getting length from their starting pitching this season. They don’t have enough good starting pitchers to do that. And as it turns out, if they end up with any good starting pitchers, they’re probably going to trade them. But they should do their best to try to avoid putting position players on the mound.

While it may be fun to watch for fans, it probably means the good guys are losing by a lot, and it’s simply not good for anyone.

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