TORONTO — Some of you are wondering why manager Buck Showalter stuck with closer Jim Johnson in the ninth inning of the Orioles' 6-5 loss to Toronto on Sunday afternoon.
The bottom line it that right now this Orioles bullpen is spent. This game was Johnson's to close or lose, and I think 10 times out of 10, Showalter will like his odds with Johnson against Toronto's No. 9 hitter Munenori Kawasaki.
I've heard Showalter say it many times: He won't compromise the health of the bullpen. He realizes that this Orioles team will go as far as its bullpen will take it, and there's no way he will put his relievers – as he puts it – "in harm's way."
"Buck doesn't ever put you in a situation where you're overtaxed," right-hander Tommy Hunter said. "He separates the innings accordingly and he does a great job with it and we're going to continue to go out there every time he tells us to. We're just going to grind it out and battle. A little stretch here, we did win two out of four, so it's not that bad. Going .500 here is pretty good. We'll be all right. It's not that big a deal."
On days like Sunday – when the bullpen has been overworked the past few days – he has a few relievers he wants to stay away from. On Saturday, he wanted to stay away from Darren O'Day, but was forced to use him to close out the eighth inning of a 6-5 win. He did not want to go to O'Day for a third straight day Sunday.
Make no mistake, the Orioles bullpen is in trouble. Johnson is struggling. Troy Patton is dealing with control issues. Lefties are hitting .333 off O'Day. Pedro Strop was ineffective and is now on the DL with a lower back strain. And now Hunter's status is in question after he caught a comebacker with his bare hand Sunday.
But these are the guys Showalter will stick with. And honestly, what are your options? Are the likes of Jairo Asencio and Adam Russell guys you can anchor a bullpen around? Granted that's not to say you don't see them in Baltimore at some point, but if they have major roles in this bullpen, there are bigger problems.
"I feel like guys have been throwing the ball well," Johnson said of the 'pen after Sunday's loss to the Jays. "We've probably had too many deep counts and throwing too many pitches, but I think overall guys have been making quality pitches. You know, that team over there, they're not a bad team. They're a good team so they're all capable of doing damage and you know, we just need to be a little bit better."
Basically, you've got to hope Johnson figures it out. But one thing we've learned from the Toronto series is that the bullpen has to work in sync. Remember Thursday's game when Patton walked Kawasaki with two outs in the sixth inning and then walked Melky Cabrera? That forced Strop into the game in the sixth inning with runners on base. Not the ideal situation. It threw the whole late-innings approach out of whack.
It also doesn't help when no starter has gone six innings over the past four games. Gonzalez was close – he was pulled to get Brian Matusz in the game for a lefty-vs.-lefty matchup – but his 26-pitch first inning didn't help him.
So Orioles fans, guess you've just got to be patient a little longer and hope the bullpen goes back to its old self.