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With improved velocity, DL Hall ready to contribute out of Orioles’ bullpen: ‘Just happy to be here’

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The number of the radar gun has been a major focus of DL Hall’s season.

The Orioles’ top pitching prospect didn’t have a normal offseason, unable to lift weights or run because of a back injury that also stunted his spring training. When he returned to the mound and built up as a starter in Triple-A Norfolk, the 2017 first-round pick was throwing about 2 to 4 mph slower than normal.

He’s back in Baltimore now, recalled Saturday for the injured Félix Bautista, and the high 90s numbers on the radar gun Saturday night in the Orioles’ 5-4 win over the Colorado Rockies were no fluke.

“Nah, I think that’s about where I’m at right now,” Hall said Sunday morning in his first time talking with media since rejoining the team. “That was something I’ve kind of been trying to get back all year, trying to get healthy and stronger again and finally getting to where I want to be.”

Hall’s up-and-down season — and career — isn’t the way he would have drawn it up, but he’s just glad to join the American League’s best team after watching them from afar all year.

“Obviously an unreal feeling just to be back up here and be with this awesome team — a great group of guys,” Hall said. “It’s been a long year for me. Just happy to be here, trying to help this team.”

After throwing 92 to 94 mph with the Tides, the organization began a monthslong process aimed at improving his velocity. The 24-year-old left-hander started throwing shorter outings once a week in Norfolk and then was sent to the club’s complex in Sarasota, Florida, to focus on strength training and throw less.

Following six weeks in Sarasota and a shift to a relief role, the process worked. Hall returned to Triple-A with his usual velocity, averaging 96 to 98 mph and striking out 60% of batters he faced in his first six relief appearances. All six of his fastballs Saturday were harder than 96 mph, with his hardest at 98.9 mph.

Hall said losing his velocity was “one of the tougher things I’ve ever dealt with,” but now he feels “a ton” stronger.”

“It’s a huge difference,” Hall said. “Just feeling my body under me. The beginning of the year was definitely a struggle. I’ve always been a power guy that likes to lift weights and do things like that. To not be able to do that definitely took a lot away from me. But it was nice to feel it again.”

His scoreless inning Saturday, which kept the Orioles in the lead to bridge the game to Yennier Cano in the ninth, wasn’t Hall’s first major league appearance. He spent the end of the 2022 season in the majors, starting one game and pitching effectively out of the bullpen. Hall also pitched three innings of relief for the Orioles in late April as the club’s 27th man for a doubleheader in Detroit.

Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Saturday the organization still views Hall, its seventh-best prospect, as a starting pitcher moving forward but said the move to the bullpen for the stretch run was a “no-brainer.”

Hall said he told manager Brandon Hyde he’s ready for any role, whether that’s short relief outings late in games or long ones in the middle innings. He also said his experience as a reliever last season, during which he posted a 3.60 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 10 innings, has prepared him for that role now.

With Bautista out with an injury to the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, Hyde said he was unsure how his bullpen would shake out moving forward. How he deployed it Saturday could be a hint that Hall is in line for high-leverage duty. Rather than pitch left-hander Cionel Pérez with a runner on second in the eighth, Hyde brought in Hall, who came through for his skipper.

“Hopefully he can be a big part of our pen or really just fit in, honestly,” Hyde said Saturday. “He has a special arm; we saw that at the end of last year in September. We want him to fit in, compete, throw a bunch of strikes and let his stuff work.”

Hall said he feels “super blessed” to be with the Orioles as the club pushes for its first playoff appearance since 2016. He’s also glad to rejoin his friends and former prospects — Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Grayson Rodriguez and Jordan Westburg — he played with in the minors.

“Everybody here that I’ve kind of came up with — Gunnar, Westy, all those guys — it’s incredible to see that we’re all up here together,” Hall said. “Sharing a clubhouse with Grayson, you know we’re close, so it’s been awesome.”

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