Orioles closer Zach Britton talks about the teams, 10-7 loss to in San Diego Padres at Camden Yards. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Orioles manager Buck Showalter always promises that protecting his bullpen is one of his most paramount priorities, that he’s going to do everything possible to keep his relievers out of harm’s way.
He has done a remarkable job over the years, keeping his relief arms performing well and away from injury. But he had a challenge on his hands in Tuesday’s 10-7 loss to the San Diego Padres.
Already without setup man Darren O’Day, currently on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Showalter steered away from using right-hander Brad Brach, who pitched three times in four days before getting Monday off. The bullpen was already short with left-hander Brian Duensing nursing an elbow injury that could land him on the disabled list.
“It’s tougher if they’re not available for three months,” Showalter said. “You just don’t have a guy have three ups and one day off. I think [Brach’s] leading our club in appearances. It’s like getting drunk with success and forgetting about why they’re successful.”
And when those who remain struggle, it can make for a messy night. And that was the case Tuesday as the Orioles bullpen coughed up seven runs (five earned) in three innings after relieving starter Tyler Wilson, who posted a quality start by allowing three runs over six innings.
“It happens,” closer Zach Britton said. “We just didn’t execute pitches down there. For me especially, trying to keep that game close right there, a one-run game. Especially with our offense, we know that they can put some runs on the board. Just a frustrating performance, but we’ll come out ready to go tomorrow.”
Right-hander Mychal Givens, who has inherited some of O’Day’s late-inning opportunities, faced five hitters and failed to get an out, ultimately charged with four runs on three hits and two walks.
After posting a 1.80 ERA in his first 24 appearances this season, Givens has allowed eight runs over his past four outings spanning 3 1/3 innings
“Command,” Showalter said when asked about Givens’ outing. “Early on, he's being a little reactive instead of proactive with his outings some. It's one of those things that young pitchers learn from. Try to keep in mind he hasn't been pitching more than two or three years. It's a learning experience for him. We've got a lot of guys learning the job without much major league experience.”
Although he’s gotten better, Givens has struggled containing left-handed hitting. Left-handers are hitting .460 against Givens, and he let both left-handed hitters he faced Tuesday reach base. His outing began allowing hits to the first three hitters he faced -- a double and two singles -- before he issued walks to the next two batters before being yanked.
The saving grace was right-hander Oliver Drake, called up from Triple-A Norfolk before the game. Drake allowed just one base runner over two scoreless innings
But then Britton struggled for his second straight appearance, allowing three runs -- although two were unearned -- for the first time in 79 appearances dating to May 16, 2015. It was a nonsave situation, so Britton’s streak of converting 21 saves in 21 opportunities is still alive, but both of his past two outings were messy.
“Zach’s one of the best in the business,” Showalter said. “You are going to have those times, he had them last year. He’s good. He gets a lot of rope. He’s as good as there is. One of the good things about him, it doesn’t affect him, the situations that he’s pitching in. He’s so competitive and so on. Actually, I thought it’d be kind of good for him to get out there and get back on the horse a little bit. I hope we get an opportunity to use him tomorrow, but that’s the least of my concern. But they are going to have those moments, everybody is. It’s hard for anybody to be as close to perfect as he’s been for seven or eight months, like I said, seven days a week. Nobody is in any job.”
Britton also struggled with his command, and a one-out fielding error by third baseman Ryan Flaherty opened the door for San Diego. Britton then allowed back-to-back singles and a sacrifice bunt before coming out of the game after 23 pitches so he might be able to pitch Wednesday.
The Orioles arrived home in Baltimore from their makeup game in Texas at about 4:30 a.m., making for a challenging game against the Padres on Tuesday, but Britton made sure he didn’t use being weary as an excuse.
“That’s an easy excuse, but baseball’s a tough grind,” Britton said. “Our schedule’s tough. That was a decision we made, what, a few months ago. We knew it was going to be tough going there. But offensively, I think we played well. Pitching-wise, we just didn’t keep it close enough to where they could get us back in the game and give us a win. That’s the biggest thing, especially coming from the bullpen, just trying to make pitches and get outs and get our offense going."