Rangers castoff Darren O’Day comes up huge for Orioles

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A workhorse submariner who often pitched a couple or three innings at a time, Darren O’Day had a 2.78 ERA in his final three seasons at the University of Florida. And it’s not like he went unnoticed while amassing a 0.87 ERA in 10 1/3 innings before the Gators lost in the finals of the College World Series in 2005.

Still, O’Day wasn’t among the 1,500 or so players chosen in the 2006 draft after wrapping up his collegiate career. He signed with the Angels for next to nothing and then promptly went about working his way up to the majors, pitching at five levels over the next two years before debuting with the Halos in 2008. He wasn’t a huge success, but he hardly embarrassed himself by posting a 4.57 ERA in 43 1/3 innings.

Unfortunately, O’Day was diagnosed with a torn labrum at season’s end. The Angels, thinking he wouldn’t contribute in 2009, dropped him from the 40-man roster. He went unclaimed on waivers, but then the Mets grabbed him in the Rule 5 draft in Dec. 2008. He made the team after rehabbing his shoulder, only to be jettisoned after allowing two unearned runs in three innings.

That’s when the Rangers stepped in and grabbed O’Day off waivers. He gave Texas two great seasons, finishing with a 1.94 ERA in 55 2/3 innings in 2009 and a 2.03 ERA in 62 innings in 2010.

Still, O’Day never stopped being viewed as a fringe talent. After hip and shoulder injuries limited him to 16 appearances in 2011, the Rangers waived him rather than commit $1.2 million-$1.5 million to him for 2012. The Orioles picked him up, signed him for $1.35 million and then watched him amass a 7-1 record and a 2.28 ERA in 67 innings as a middle reliever.

On Friday, he pitched two scoreless innings in the wild card win over Texas. The only hitter to reach against him did so on an infield single.

Because he throws in the mid-80s and relies so much on deception, O’Day may well always be one of those guys who is three bad weeks away from the waiver wire. But at least he doesn’t have to worry about that right now. Barring a late injury here, he’ll probably be brought back for $2 million-$2.5 million next year, easily his biggest payday yet.

So, let’s hear it for O’Day, a guy appreciated by neither scout nor computer after college. Up to this point, he’s had a better career than all but six or seven guys picked in the first round of what was actually a pretty strong draft in 2006, and only next season will his career earnings surpass the signing bonus that No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar got from the Royals that year.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.