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Despite being one man short, Orioles bullpen excelling as it carries extra load

Even though his team had a day off Monday, Orioles manager Buck Showalter knew keeping his bullpen fresh this week would be a challenge.

Optioning left-hander Cesar Cabral before Tuesday's game to make 25-man roster space for outfielder Nolan Reimold left the bullpen one man short. Left-hander Brian Matusz is serving an eight-game suspension for allegedly having a foreign substance on his right forearm.

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Since then, neither Orioles starter has lasted more than five innings, placing an added load on the relievers. That's not necessarily a recipe for winning. But despite being short, the Orioles bullpen allowed just one hit over 8 2/3 innings the past two nights in wins over the Boston Red Sox.

In Wednesday's 5-2 win, the bullpen accounted for four perfect relief innings, with Tommy Hunter and Darren O'Day each tossing two perfect innings. An inherited runner did score with Hunter on the mound in the sixth even though he induced a double-play ball that should have gotten the Orioles out of the inning

Wednesday's performance came after three relievers -- T.J. McFarland, Chaz Roe and closer Zach Britton -- combined to cover 4 2/3 shutout innings in Tuesday's 1-0 win, each reliever pitching more than one inning.

On Tuesday, Britton threw a season-high 28 pitches while recording a rare five-out save, his second in six days.

"Yeah, Zach did some heavy lifting as did the other guys last night," O'Day said. "We're short a man, so we're all going to be extended a little bit. Guys love to pitch. We've all gone multiple innings before. We've done it many times, so we're capable of doing it and Buck's doing a good job of managing us.

"It's absolutely a challenge. You saw what Britton had to do last night. I had to pick us up in the eighth inning and he threw a lot of pitches against a tough lineup in a one-run game. So that's not easy to do. The starters have been good. We've kind of recovered, had a nice off day and everybody's ready to go and do what we're getting paid to do."

O'Day, whose six-out save on Wednesday was the longest of his career, struck out the side in the ninth -- getting Hanley Ramirez, Mike Napoli and Xander Bogaerts all swinging -- and his four strikeouts tied the most by an Orioles reliever this season.

"It's fun," O'Day said. "It was a good atmosphere tonight. It's always nice to pitch well. Strikeouts are fun, but not necessary. It was a good night. It was just nice to continue the good work that the other guys have done."

In recent years, Showalter has been able to rely of numerous relievers for multiple innings. This year's bullpen isn't necessarily bulit like that. There are relievers who can provide length -- McFarland, Brad Brach and occasionally Hunter. Seven of Roe's eight appearances have been longer than one inning.

"It kind of reminded me of the old days, when you had a six-man bullpen," Showalter said. "You had to have multiple-inning guys and you had to have two or three guys who could go multiple innings on a given night or an optionable bullpen."

Since five of his six relievers have gone multiple innings over the past two games, Showalter still expects to make a roster move before Thursday's series finale, but as far as results go, he couldn't have expected better from his bullpen.

"When you pitch that many innings out of those two games, you know how good your pitching [is] and still be on your feet the next day," Showalter said. "I think we're leaning toward making a move tomorrow just to cover ourselves. But something could change between here and there."

If the Orioles place Miguel Gonzalez on the disabled list, Showalter could recall Cabral to add a left-handed arm. Normally, Cabral would have to stay in the minors for at least 10 days, but the O's can bring him up earlier if it is part of a DL move.

eencina@baltsun.com
twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

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