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Orioles express interest in pair of free-agent relief pitchers

The Orioles bullpen is one of the team's biggest strengths heading into this offseason, but 2016 was a perfect example that you can't have too much relief pitching.

And the club has expressed interest in a pair of free-agent right-handers who could help improve its bullpen.

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The Orioles have inquired about veteran right-handers Kevin Jepsen and Anthony Bass, according to an industry source. Both pitchers have received interest from several clubs, according to the source, and while the Orioles' level of interest is unknown at this point, there likely won't be much movement with either pitcher until next month's winter meetings in Washington, D.C.

Bass, who previously pitched in the majors with the Padres, Astros and Texas, spent this past season pitching with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League. The 29-year-old went 8-8 with a 3.65 ERA in 37 games, including 14 starts, for a team that won its league championship.

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Bass is an intriguing fit because he could offer the Orioles an option to pitch in both relief and a starting role. He announced this week that he intends to return to the major leagues in 2017.

Monday's deadline for free agents to accept or decline qualifying offers from their previous teams set the majority of the offseason market, giving teams a clear idea of who they could potentially target and what it might cost to do so.

Jepsen, 32, owns a career 3.92 ERA over nine major league seasons and has worked in a variety of relief roles, including closing stints the previous two seasons. But Jepsen is looking to rebound from one of his worst seasons, going 2-6 with a 5.98 ERA in 58 appearances between the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays in 2016.

He started well after signing with the Rays at the break, his second stint with Tampa Bay, allowing just one earned run in his first 12 appearances with the Rays. He posted a 3.38 ERA in his first 20 outings with Tampa Bay, but struggled in September and finished with a 5.68 ERA.

Finding bullpen help isn't one of the Orioles' top offseason priorities – upgrading the corner outfield spots and shoring the catching situation are the team's biggest challenges -- but they still head into the offseason looking to improve in that area.

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Last season, the Orioles shored up their bullpen by signing set-up man Darren O'Day to a four-year, $31 million contract, but O'Day made just 34 appearances in an injury-plagued season.

Other relievers stepped up, specifically right-handers Brad Brach and Mychal Givens. Brach emerged as an All-Star set-up man, but a heavy first-half workload seemed to affect him in the second half. Givens, a rookie who entered last season with just 30 major league innings under his belt, overcame his early struggles against left-handed hitters and became a valuable late-inning bridge.

Still, the Orioles' bullpen had many moving parts, especially because both Brach and closer Zach Britton were used heavily in the first half. After releasing Brian Matusz in May, the Orioles' search for a left-handed reliever didn't hit until rookie Donnie Hart earned that spot in mid-August.

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