In an early season of surprises, no one has been a more pleasant revelation or a bigger key to the Orioles’ success than Jason Hammel.

The big right-hander allowed two runs or fewer in his first seven starts. He didn’t lose a game until April 30. Not bad for a guy that entered the season with a career 34-45 record and a 4.99 ERA.

So there definitely was some concern when earlier this month Hammel’s start was pushed back several days because he was having soreness in his right knee. Honestly, the concern remains because Hammel is obviously struggling with the injury as he goes deeper into games.

His last two starts – including last night’s win against the Washington Nationals – haven’t gone as smoothly as his first month. He lasted five innings and gave up four earned runs against the New York Yankees on May 14. And then Saturday night, he allowed just one hit through four innings, but ended up getting charged with four runs through 5 1/3 innings.

Afterward, he admitted that he stopped being able to put so much pressure on his right leg as it tired as the game progressed.

“It’s same as last time, my leg. I get to a certain point now where it’s almost like I am pitching on one leg and transfer everything to the arm. I got one out further than last time, I guess, so that’s good. We just’ve got to get the leg stronger, but I’m definitely hitting the fatigue stage.”

He has no plans on resting it for a prolonged period – not the way he has been pitching and the first-place Orioles have been playing.

“Any innings out of me, I think can help,” he said. “Obviously, an outstanding job by the [bullpen] tonight to fill in for me again. Once I can get this thing strong, I hope to not let [the relievers] work anymore.”

That, right now, may be the biggest concern. The Orioles’ bullpen has been outstanding, leading the league in relievers’ ERA and innings pitched. But with all the extra-inning games the Orioles have encountered, a few consecutive short outings by the starters could really adversely affect the team.

Right now, though, Orioles manager Buck Showalter believes his bullpen is handling the continual work well.

“Because we've got a lot of people performing at a high level, we're able to pass it around,” Showalter said. “If you look back through the history of it, I think we've been pretty diligent about passing the load around.”