Needing to make room to activate starting pitcher Kevin Gausman from the disabled list for Monday’s game, the Orioles surprisingly optioned utility infielder Ryan Flaherty to Triple-A Norfolk.
The move leaves Baltimore with a three-man bench, but it’s a reflection of the lack of innings manager Buck Showalter has received from his starting rotation, putting a heavier-than-normal workload on the bullpen through the first three weeks of the season. Most had expected the Orioles to option a relief pitcher such as lefty T.J. McFarland or right-hander Mychal Givens to make room for Gausman.
Despite residing in first place in the AL East, the Orioles entered Monday ranked next to last in the AL in starter ERA and had pitched fewer starter innings than any club in baseball.
While the move leaves Showalter with an eight-man bullpen of Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, Dylan Bundy, Brian Matusz, Vance Worley, Givens, and McFarland, the Orioles are now without a versatile utility infielder on the bench, which could lead to some interesting alignments in the event of an in-game injury. Without Flaherty, the Orioles would still have experienced short-term replacements at every infield position except second base behind starter Jonathan Schoop. An injury to Schoop could lead J.J. Hardy to shift to second, Manny Machado to move to short, Chris Davis to move to third, and either Pedro Alvarez or Mark Trumbo to play first base.
Flaherty was off to a 2-for-10 start with five strikeouts in his 11 plate appearances, but it appears this move was motivated by the concerns with the starting rotation. Of course, how long the Orioles will go with such a roster alignment remains to be seen.