By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
6:00 AM EDT, May 26, 2013
OK, so the Orioles go into this afternoon's series finale in Toronto having won four of their last five games and you might be asking yourself -- how is that possible?
Over the past three games here in Toronto, no Orioles starter has gone more than five innings. The bullpen's ERA is 9.00 in that span.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter didn’t want to use Darren O’Day in the eighth inning Saturday but he was forced to bring him in to hold a one-run lead.
Steve Johnson, who arrived in Toronto at 8:30 a.m. after barely sleeping, was charged with two runs over 2 2/3 relief innings, but struck out five of the 12 batters he faced.
The bats are hot. They’ve scored 28 runs in the past four games. But that can’t keep up, right?
Well, just think back to last season, when Showalter pieced together a patchwork rotation successfully. The difference this season is that the bullpen seems taxed. Jim Johnson is still working his way back from a tough stretch of three straight blown saves.
And now Pedro Strop has landed on the disabled list. Look for Showalter to mix different relievers to pick up his role, with Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz maybe getting some expanded late-inning opportunities.
And while Freddy Garcia was far from spectacular Saturday, allowing a season-high nine hits, he got the job done. And as long as Garcia doesn’t hurt himself by walking guys, I think Showalter will have faith in him.
Nick Markakis is on a 10-game hitting streak. He reached base in his first four plate appearances from the leadoff spot Friday. And hitting in the No. 3 hole Saturday, he drew a first-inning walk and scored and then singled in the fourth.
It’s easy to take Markakis for granted, but his adaptability and steadiness are such an important part of this team’s offensive success.
The best news is that J.J. Hardy seems to have found his groove. He’s hit safely in 18 of his last 20 games and has driven in multiple runs over the past two games -- three Friday hitting from the No. 3 spot and two Saturday hitting sixth.
Hardy now has 31 RBIs this season. He didn’t get his 31stRBI last season until June 28.
I think the biggest concern has to be the bullpen. The roster flexibility that existed last year with the bullpen doesn’t exist this season.
So in order to add an extra bullpen arm Saturday (Steve Johnson), the team had to place Strop on the DL. The team was pondering two or three DL moves, which indicates none of them were critical but more necessary to create roster flexibility.
But placing Strop on the DL now allows the team to send him to the minors by sending him on a rehab assignment. That might be the best thing for Strop. His confidence seems to be wavering and sometimes mowing down hitters in Triple-A does the trick, especially when you have the stuff that Strop does.
And before you ask, no, I won’t tell him to straighten his cap.
Now that they replaced one reliever with another, the Orioles will likely be able to go into interleague play in Washington with a full bench, which will be important playing in a National League park.
Speaking of the bench, it has suddenly become a strength. Chris Dickerson, Danny Valencia and Alexi Casilla have all stood out over the past few days.
I guess that’s the depth Dan Duquette was talking about.
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