As Darren O’Day spoke to the media on Monday about his new two-year deal, Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair and bullpen coach Bill Castro beamed from the back row.
Coaches aren’t ones to sit in on news conferences often, but it showed how coveted the Orioles' sidearm reliever has become.
The Orioles are making a $5.8 million investment in O’Day. He was the team’s most consistent relief pitcher last season, able to work his way out of a jam, as well as hold a lead. He could come in for one batter or pitch two innings.
In late and close situations -- which are defined as in the seventh inning or later when the team is ahead by one run, tied or the tying run is at least on deck -- O'Day held opponents to a .163 batting average. In tied games, that average went down to .121.
In a lot of ways, he was the perfect example of what Orioles manager Buck Showalter created in his bullpen: a confident group of pitchers willing to answer any call in any situation.
And for a player like O’Day, who at the age of 30 finally has some job security, it’s what he always wanted.
"I think every player has thought about it and hoped for it,” O’Day said Monday. “For a guy who's bounced around and been on a few different teams in a somewhat short career, it's what you hope for. But I felt like last year was a good year and that I did some things on and off the field that helped us win. Just being a part of this team and these guys means a lot to me, and we try to do little things to help each other. I think they recognize that and want me to be a part of that.”
It’s easy to lose the value of a non-closer relief pitcher, but without O’Day, who was 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 2012, the Orioles wouldn’t have won 16 straight extra-inning games. They wouldn’t have won 29 one-run games.
The Orioles, especially Showalter, know O’Day is the kind of player this team wants to invest in for other reasons. He’s a solid clubhouse presence. He keeps the atmosphere light-hearted, but shows toughness on the mound.
He spent most of last season riding a SoloWheel -- a sort of pedal-less unicycle -- around the Orioles clubhouse. The unicycle started becoming scarce when the SoloWheel was the focus of Showalter's ire on a prank he pulled on O’Day for MLB FanCave.
As FanFest last month, O’Day ribbed closer Jim Johnson to the crowd. During a Q&A session with fans that featured the relievers, he joked about Johnson being absent (Johnson did a separate session with fellow all-stars Adam Jones and Matt Wieters), telling the crowd that maybe one day Johnson “would grace them with his presence.”
O’Day and Johnson have their lockers right next to each other this spring, which is fitting because at the end of the season, they were the eighth- and ninth-inning key to victory.
If that continues, the investment in O’Day will be well worth it.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times