Hennessey aims to make impression
Former first-round Draft pick has sights set on O's rotation
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Fire away. Brad Hennessey will get a chance to make a good first impression Wednesday, when he starts the Orioles' first Spring Training game and kicks off the derby for two remaining rotation slots.
Hennessey, a former first-round Draft pick of the Giants, signed with the Orioles in the offseason as a Minor League free agent and has been consistently hyped as a favorite to break camp in the rotation. Baltimore manager Dave Trembley confirmed that perception Monday, when he said Hennessey is someone he wants to watch closely.
"The guys that we need to take a look at are guys that you're going to see early in camp and pitch early in games," said Trembley. "When they signed here, [club president of baseball operations] Andy MacPhail made a commitment to those guys that they would get an opportunity to make the club. I'm fulfilling the promise that has been made to those guys. We will see ourselves through it. I think that's how keep your credibility and your integrity."
Hennessey, who has never made more than 20 starts at the big league level, slots in as a pitcher needing a change of scenery and a fresh start. The right-hander jumped between roles with San Francisco, beginning in the low Minors as a starting pitcher and gradually gravitating toward a relief job over the past few seasons.
Now he finds himself in a Spring Training camp that lacks definition. Baltimore has just two surefire rotation slots filled -- those belonging to Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara -- and a third with a clear favorite (Rich Hill). The final two slots are wide open, and the Orioles plan on giving Hennessey every opportunity to win it.
"Right now, I think I have an idea of what it's going to be," said pitching coach Rick Kranitz. "But that's just right now. That could change, obviously. ... You look for surprises and guys that can come out and show you they want the position. I think we have to make smart decisions. We're certainly going to see these guys a lot."
Hennessey, who has a 17-23 career record with a 4.69 ERA, will get even more chances because of Guthrie's participation in the World Baseball Classic. Baltimore had originally planned to let Guthrie start the spring opener vs. the Mets at 1:05 p.m. ET, but he'll pitch two innings in a simulated game Tuesday and give ground to Hennessey on Wednesday instead.
Kranitz, who has just seen Hennessey on the side thus far, is looking forward to a game setting.
"The first look is that he's a strike-thrower," said Kranitz. "I'd like to see what his secondary pitches do. And for me, now, I want to see what the hitters' reactions are. When he throws a pitch, I want to see how they react -- especially with some better hitters. He's going to start that game on Wednesday. He's definitely an interesting guy."
Hennessey, who pitched at Youngstown State in college, worked exclusively as a starter for the first six seasons of his professional career. The Giants converted him to a swingman role in 2006, and he had his most successful big league season as a reliever in '07.
Last year, however, was more or less a disaster for Hennessey. The 29-year-old posted a 12.94 ERA before the All-Star break and rebounded modestly in the second half. He found himself without a role in San Francisco, though, and knows he needs to make a good impression with his new team.
"I feel like it is a new start, another chance to get a new set of eyes on you," Hennessey said. "You don't want to try and potentially overdo it. You just want to take it cool and not rush yourself to be Opening Day ready already. You just want to take the spring for what it's worth, get ready and take that natural progression."
Kranitz openly stated that he needs to see his new arms in a game before he can make any grand judgments, but he took the time Monday to compare Hennessey to fellow rotation candidate David Pauley.
"Pauley seems to have a little better sink, and Pauley is more of a bigger curveball guy," Kranitz said. "Hennessey is more of the slider/changeup [variety]. That's why I need to see him in games, because I don't know a lot about him. I don't have a lot of history with him."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.