It’s been a rough month of August for the Baltimore Orioles. A four game sweep of the Oakland Athletics was followed by a six-game losing streak that mercifully ended last night with an 8-5 win over the Kansas City Royals (shocking, I know). Through the losing streak, the Orioles found new and often very creative ways to lose games. The bullpen coughed up three late game leads to the Minnesota Twins in a row, but one pitcher from the relief corps cannot shoulder any of the blame — Mychal Givens.
Givens is a 25-year-old rookie right-hander, who converted to pitcher from middle infield just three years ago. The former second round pick made the switch after struggling with injuries early in his career. Prior to the 2015 season, he had pitched in only 64 games in the minors and logged barely more than 100 innings. Givens struggled with his control early in his pitching career, as you would expect from a converted position player with little to no previous pitching experience. He walked 6.0 per nine in 2014, but the control issues that plagued him early in his career as a pitcher disappeared this season. The results have been impressive.
Armed with a 95 mph fastball that he throws from a very low arm slot — sidearm at times — and an improving slider and changeup, Givens blew away the Eastern League with the Bowie Baysox. In 57.1 innings in the minors this season, Givens struck out 79 while walking only 16. That success has continued to the Major Leagues.
The Orioles called Givens up briefly in June, but he did not stick. Then, at the Trade Deadline, Tommy Hunter was dealt to the Chicago Cubs. That opened a door for Givens with the big club, and he’s been very impressive. In 10 games with the Orioles, Givens has allowed only two earned runs in 14.1 innings. He’s struck out 18 and walked only two in the process. Opponents are batting just .122 against him, and Givens has allowed none of the runners he’s inherited to score. He’s thrown strikes, attacked hitters, and showed none of the nerves that rookie relievers often show in crucial situations.
Kudos to the Orioles for realizing that Givens’ time had come and getting something for Hunter, a pending free agent. The Orioles’ bullpen has been up-and-down all season, and one of the missing elements has been the late-inning power arm. Andrew Miller provided that last year, but the Orioles could not match the New York Yankees. Givens might not match the 15.3 K/9 delivered by Miller down the stretch last year, but he could come close. Armed with great velocity, command, and a difficult delivery for hitters, Givens has been dominant for the Orioles, and should continue to be so.