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Breaking down the good and bad of the Orioles bullpen

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The core of the Orioles lineup isn’t soon going to change. Neither, with a rotation full of pitchers with ERAs over 5.00 at Triple-A Norfolk, will the starting rotation.

Even the bullpen, where the Orioles have made considerable financial investment and is the one thing they've been able to count on in the past, has let them down. Either because of injuries or ineffectiveness from their best relievers, add the bullpen to the list of the Orioles' problems.

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Twice on the road this past week, manager Buck Showalter left a tiring starter in with the bases loaded for a sixth-inning jam that cost them the game.

Through 65 games, here's the good and the bad of the Orioles bullpen.  

Good: After early overuse, Brad Brach and Mychal Givens are back in form

As the Orioles were trying to first cope with life without closer Zach Britton, they simply relied on Brach and Givens too much. By mid-May, it showed. But each has rested a good bit recently and gotten the unwelcome respite that comes for high-leverage relievers in losing spells.

Brach has held opponents to a .165 batting average with 29 strikeouts and nine walks in 28 1/3 innings for a 2.86 ERA. Givens has opponents batting .228 with 32 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings with a 2.76 ERA. It's a shame Showalter has to hold them out for potential winning situations, because the Orioles bullpen was at its best when he could deploy them in those hairy middle-inning situations and have a real shot to get out of a jam.

Bad: Injuries to Zach Britton and Darren O'Day are tough to overcome

Instead of four eminently reliable bullpen arms to deploy on a near-daily basis, the Orioles have two now. Even if Brach and Givens are filling in well in the back of the bullpen, there's still the issue of back-filling for them.

Because the team has needed to cover so many short starts and is using pretty much everyone for as many innings as they can, no one has been able to emerge in the way Brach or Givens has in the last few years. The list of those who haven't held that chance is long.

Good: The Orioles might have something in Miguel Castro

Perhaps they might find out eventually why two teams saw a live arm that throws up to 98 mph and decided they were done with him, but until then, the Orioles should keep Castro around and see what they've got.

He's now made four appearances and allowed a run on three hits with four walks and three strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. Absent a better option, Castro seems to have done enough to warrant sticking around.

Bad: Ubaldo Jiménez complicates things

It's hard to have any amount of projects in your bullpen to learn on the job when one of the seven people you do have there is Jiménez. A lifelong starter who is essentially still on a starting pitching schedule but works out of the bullpen, he really makes things difficult on the days he isn't able to pitch.

Save for putting him back in the rotation or eating the rest of his contract, neither of which seem possible at this point, it's unclear what the solution is. But on those days when one or two of his other relievers aren't able to pitch and Showalter knows he can't use Jiménez either, that makes for a tough game to manage.

Good: Richard Bleier seems to be sticking

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Executive vice president Dan Duquette made great efforts to bolster the left-handed pitching depth this offseason, bringing in Bleier, Vidal Nuño, and Andrew Faulkner in the spring to supplement the crew already in place.

Bleier seems to be fitting in better at the old T.J. McFarland role of left-handed long-man than McFarland did. He's posted a 1.83 ERA in 19 1/3 innings, the fourth-most of any reliever out of the Orioles pen this year.

Bad: Donnie Hart hasn't replicated last year's success

Bleier was never supposed to be the pen's only left-hander, though. Donnie Hart, who stormed onto the scene last year as a left-handed specialist and allowed one earned run all year, was expected to help.

Things haven't progressed as well for Hart this year, who wasn't getting left-handers out when he was sent down with a 4.32 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP on the year. He'll be back, perhaps soon given next week's visit of the lefty-heavy Cleveland Indians, but he was considered a lock for a bullpen role all year entering the season and has to pitch himself back into that mix.

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