Orioles manager Buck Showalter stands on the mound alongside first baseman Chris Davis and catcher Caleb Joseph after relieving Darren O'Day on Monday.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter stands on the mound alongside first baseman Chris Davis and catcher Caleb Joseph after relieving Darren O'Day on Monday. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

I always say it's difficult to analyze a major league team until Memorial Day, when the season is roughly a quarter over. That's when you have a better idea of where a team is headed.

So the Orioles' 5-4 start against three American League East rivals means little.


Last year's club was 1-4 to begin the year, 4-6 through the season's first 10 games and 10-10 through 20. And it ultimately won 96 and captured the division crown by 12 games.

This isn't football. There are 162 games, not 16. In NFL terms, the Orioles are in the fourth quarter of their first game. Any real analysis at this point is premature.

That said, trends are trends, and the club's bullpen has given up a run in all nine games, which is troubling. When that fact was brought up to right-hander Tommy Hunter after Monday's 6-5 loss to the New York Yankees, he said he was really surprised.

On Wednesday, Hunter was still talking about it, saying the group was too talented for that streak to continue. And maybe he's right.

But right now, only left-hander Brian Matusz has made it through the first week-plus of the season without surrendering a run. As a unit, the bullpen's ERA is 5.23 (19 earned runs in 32 2/3 innings), more than a run higher than the starters' ERA (4.18 in 47 1/3 innings).

What's also disturbing is that that the rotation is averaging just over five innings per start, meaning a lot is being asked of the relievers.

Privately, Orioles officials were a little concerned about the bullpen heading into the season. Zach Britton seems to be fine in the closer's role, but there is no true left-handed setup man. Matusz will assume that role, but he'll also be used in various situations throughout the game when there's a need for a lefty-versus-lefty matchup.

With T.J. McFarland starting in Triple-A Norfolk and Wesley Wright on the disabled list with a trapezius strain, Matusz and Britton are the unit's only left-handers.

Another concern is that the need to go to the bullpen early could lead to an over-reliance on Brad Brach, Darren O'Day and Hunter, who have made a combined 13 appearances in nine games (Brach has five; the others have four each).

Part of the reason for that heavy use is the inclusion of Rule 5 draft pick and right-hander Jason Garcia in the bullpen. Garcia has a lightning arm but never has pitched above Low-A ball. So Orioles manager Buck Showalter has to pick his spots with the 22-year-old, which can hamstring his ability to make moves later in games. Hence the reliance on Brach, Hunter and O'Day.

Showalter's other relief option is converted starter Kevin Gausman, who could be a big weapon in short spurts, but he's still learning the nuances of the role. It's likely to be temporary anyway, as Gausman is ticketed to be a future starter.

Again, nine games is a small sample size. But under Showalter, we're used to seeing tight and dependable bullpens. One of Showalter's greatest strengths, in fact, is how he handles his relievers. He has been brilliant in keeping them healthy and rested.

If this trend continues, though, Showalter's bullpen mastery could be challenged.

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