DETROIT — An important distinction is necessary when discussing the Orioles bullpen in its current state, which it's fair to assume won't be much longer.
Manager Buck Showalter teased both before and after the game that a seventh reliever would soon join the team, and eight innings of relief Tuesday night only makes that more necessary.
But with six men out there every night, and none of them All-Star Zach Britton, let's be clear that the Orioles don't have a bullpen full of bad relievers. They just don't have enough of them, and all the important ones are going through a tough patch right now.
Tuesday's wild 13-inning win over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park was easier for the visitors to stomach because they won, and with that perspective came some reasonable insight.
From first baseman Chris Davis, who homered the Orioles to two extra-inning leads, including the one that stuck: "We understand that we're not going to have a lights-out, shutdown bullpen every night. And we know some guys have had to throw back-to-back days and they've had to throw a lot of innings."
From left-hander Richard Bleier, who got the game's last five outs as the last man left in the bullpen (before Ubaldo Jiménez, Wednesday night's starter, went out as a possibility): "Our bullpen is so good, you just figured they were going to lock it down. Things didn't work out that way unfortunately. I'm glad I was able to pick them up."
It's an understanding that any team would have — no one is going to bury his own teammates — but it rings particularly true for the Orioles. The Britton-sized hole created by his absence caused by forearm soreness not only jumbled roles and assignments, but also created a further jumbled bullpen group as a whole.
Brad Brach, who stepped in as closer, has allowed home runs in his past two outings after giving up a grand slam to J.D. Martinez on Tuesday. But he was an All-Star last year and was dominant again this year before Britton went out and Showalter had to go to him more often.
The other former All-Star left in the Orioles bullpen, Darren O'Day, returned from a week without pitching on Tuesday with a scoreless eighth inning, and was done after 15 pitches even when the game was tied in the top of the ninth.
The two pitchers the Orioles are counting on as the next wave — Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart — also had problems Tuesday and have in other outings of late. Three of the four runs on Martinez's grand slam were on Givens' account after he walked three batters in his second inning. He's usually a strikeout pitcher with good control, but he has as many walks as strikeouts this month (six).
Hart allowed three runs on five hits in the 12th inning after wriggling out of a bases-loaded jam in the 11th. His past seven outings have spanned six innings, over which he has has allowed six runs, a hard regression from the one run he allowed in his first 26 innings over 34 games.
The other two spots in the bullpen have been filled admirably by the likes of Bleier and Alec Asher, who had 2 2/3 scoreless innings Tuesday, plus Logan Verrett, Gabriel Ynoa, Vidal Nuño, Tyler Wilson and Stefan Crichton, among others.
But for weeks, the fact that those pieces are all able to be optioned covered some things up for the Orioles. They'll likely add an extra pitcher for one of their extra catchers Wednesday, and the bullpen will be back to full size.
Combine the fact that they're dealing with both the weight of filling in for Britton, that the Orioles starting rotation is struggling to get six innings every night and that there are only six of them, and you get an unnecessarily stressful few weeks for the relievers.
Before Tuesday's game, O'Day said it best.
"Anytime you don't have an extra guy, it's one less arm to throw out there," O'Day said. "They've done a good job of covering us with the transactions. It's unfortunate when guys come up and do a good job and still get sent out. It's tough on them. I've actually been a member of a six-man bullpen before, 2008 in Anaheim, and it worked pretty well. But everything has to be running smoothly. It can be done, but it would be a great asset to have an extra bullpen arm."