Taking a look at Tommy Hunter, the Orioles' bullpen and Caleb Joseph's debut

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Orioles enter Thursday remaining in a virtual first-place tie with the New York Yankees atop the American League East standings.

If they can win tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays, they will be four games above .500 for the first time this year.


For closer Tommy Hunter, it has been an adventure. On Wednesday, he converted his 10th save in 11 opportunities but needed to escape runners at first and third with one out in a one-run game.

Hunter has had four clean appearances, but he has yet to record a clean inning when he enters the game to open the ninth.

"J.J. [Hardy] just said it good in there," Hunter said after Wednesday's game. "He said, 'Hey, man you did your job.'  ... I would like to do it better, yes. I'd like to have a clean frame and make it nice and easy for everybody at home, but that's not the way it's going right now. You have to continue to make adjustments and keep pitching because we're winning. ... We're going to be back there again and hopefully get a 1-2-3 inning next time."

Like Hunter said, he's getting the job done in the ninth, but he'd still like to make his outings a little easier. His past three saves – all one-inning outings – averaged 23 pitches.

"You continually want to get better," Hunter said. "A 1-2-3 inning kind of relaxes everybody. It's been exciting. I've gotten excited a couple times, and we've gotten out of it. We win ballgames, and as long as you're winning, at the end of the day, nothing else matters. That's the think you have to kind of hang your hat on."

Left-hander Zach Britton set the table for Hunter with a perfect eighth inning, his sixth straight scoreless outing. Right-hander Ryan Webb's outing -- he retired all four batters he faced -- was also big, as he formed an important bridge between the sixth and eighth innings.

The structure of the Orioles bullpen is unique, as they currently has four left-handed relievers. As one of the three right-handers in the bullpen, Webb's role has become more important. On Wednesday, manager Buck Showalter said he had to steer away from using both of his noncloser righties -- Webb and Darren O'Day -- back-to-back in that situation.

"He did a nice job for us," Showalter said of Webb's outing. "He got some counts away from him but made some pitches. I can't sit there and use Darren. ... With only three right-handers in the 'pen, I can't use both of them every night because it presents some issues for us. But we did what we had to do to win tonight's game. We'll see when the smoke clears who's available tomorrow."

As a side note, catcher Caleb Joseph received passing marks in his major league debut Wednesday behind the plate.

"Caleb was really good, very quiet, very calm," Showalter said. "You know there were a lot of squirrels running around that hamster cage, boy. He had a quick tutorial on the other team.

"The one common thing is, I talk to a lot of players who play with guys, and they all like throwing to him. He takes a lot of pride in calling a game. He's a smart guy who reads swings well. Pitchers like throwing to him because he's sincere about what's important. The thing that [catchers coach] John Russell has really beat on these guys is, if you defend, you're going to play up here. If you don't, we're going to have a hard time getting to you."