Darren O’Day making most of opportunity to close

The Baltimore Orioles wrapped up a sweep of the Washington Nationals yesterday afternoon. For the third consecutive day, Darren O’Day came on in the ninth inning to record the final three outs. With Zach Britton dealing with a strained lat muscle, the duties of closer fell upon O’Day, arguably the best relief pitcher in the Orioles’ bullpen to begin with.

O’Day did not disappoint.

Pitching three straight days, O’Day recorded three saves in three innings. He did not allow a hit or a walk while striking out five. The Nationals never even came close to threatening against the All-Star reliever. O’Day has now recorded five saves on the season. The 32-year-old sidearmer has not allowed a run since September 2. He has allowed only five hits and one walk with 15 strikeouts since giving up a home run to Evan Longoria 11 appearances ago.

For O’Day, the opportunity to show his stuff as a closer could not have been timed any better. He will be a free agent at the end of the season, and someone should give him a chance to close. At the very least, he has proven to his current club just how valuable he really is. O’Day is an incredibly durable pitcher. This season, he has made 17 appearances with zero days rest. O’Day has logged 16.1 innings in those 17 appearances and has not allowed a single run. He’s worked longer than an inning ten times, and has allowed only one run when called upon for more than three outs.

The sidearm label may have plagued O’Day earlier in his career, but it should no longer hold him back from closing if that is a role he desires. The only thing that should really give teams reason to pause is his age. O’Day will be 33 by the time the 2016 season rolls around, but did not even reach the Majors until the age of 26. He’s still got plenty of bullets left in his right arm.

For the Orioles, keeping O’Day would have to be a priority. It was in Baltimore that O’Day blossomed into one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. Over the past four years, he has logged 260 innings of sub-2.00 ERA pitching with 23 wins while striking out nearly ten batters per nine. O’Day has been an integral part of the bullpen that helped the Orioles compensate for their mediocre at best, train wreck at worst starting rotation.

A hefty pay raise from the three-year, $9.65 million deal O’Day signed with the Orioles after the 2012 season is much deserved. The Orioles should be willing to make O’Day an offer of at least $15 million over three years. He’s earned it, especially over the past two weeks. An argument could even be made for $18 million over three years. That’s how good O’Day has been the past four years in Baltimore. That he’s proven himself as a capable closer only serves to make him that much more valuable come free agency. O’Day had already proven his value to the Orioles ten times over this season. Three saves in three days against a bitter rival is just icing on the cake.

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