Baltimore Orioles

Despite added September arms, Orioles bullpen still needs dependable middle-inning help

Every team plays by the same rules come September, when major league rosters expand and clubs can bring up a bevy of young arms to supplement their bullpens.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter bemoaned the dynamic after his team's 7-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday, a game when Toronto starter Marcus Stroman was forced from the game in the in the second inning, forcing the Blue Jays bullpen to fill 7 1/3 innings.


Right-hander Luis Santos provided 3 1/3 valuable innings for the Blue Jays in his major league debut, his only blemish a Seth Smith solo homer in the eighth.

"I thought Santos, we knew when we came in today, [he has] good stuff," Showalter said. "A guy they're very high on and I think he has six or seven days off since his last start, so we knew he was going to be available. He's a good young prospect for them, but those type of guys – even though he's a crossfire guy – you can talk about it all you want and look at film and everything, but it's a different look in the box and by the time you start to make an adjustment, he's out of there."


The Orioles managed just two runs off a group of relievers that included three rookies – lefty Matt Dermody, Santos and lefty Tim Mayza.

Meanwhile, the Orioles couldn't capitalize on a strong six-inning, two-run start from left-hander Wade Miley and a two-run game turned into a five-run game after right-hander Richard Rodriguez allowed a three-run homer to Josh Donaldson on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the seventh. It was Rodriguez's major league debut.

Right-hander Alec Asher then allowed a two-run homer to Darwin Barney in the eighth, making it a seven-run game.

While the Orioles have added four fresh arms since rosters expanded Friday, including Asher and left-hander Donnie Hart on Saturday, they still face their bullpen challenges, and that was evident in Saturday's loss.

The bullpen was still limited with Brad Brach, Zach Britton and Miguel Castro each tossing two scoreless innings in Monday's 1-0 13-inning win over the Blue Jays.

Castro, who threw 5 1/3 scoreless over a three-day span and has led all major league relievers with 36 2/3 innings since the All-Star break, has been immensely valuable. As much as that's obvious when he pitches, it might be more so when he's not available because the Orioles don't have another middle-inning reliever with a track record of keeping games close.

When the Orioles were trying to keep the game close once Miley was through, Showalter turned to Rodriguez in the seventh. Even though Rodriguez was one strike away from pitching a scoreless inning in his debut, he was given a quick lesson that one pitch can ruin a promising performance when he left a full-count fastball up and over the plate to Donaldson.

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"I think he has a chance to be a good relief pitcher here in the major leagues," Showalter said of Rodriguez. "I really do. He's got a good presentation, calm demeanor. … He'll only get better."


The addition of the new arms to the Orioles bullpen should in theory allow some of the team's later-inning relievers to slot back into their original roles after being thrust into games earlier with a six-man bullpen.

But still, the Orioles are going to have to solve how to bridge the middle-inning gaps, because starts like the one Miley provided Saturday are ones teams in the playoff hunt must take advantage of, especially since one win can be the difference between a postseason berth and being a spectator in October.

The Orioles need middle-inning relief performances that keep games close, and it wasn't long ago when the Orioles struggled with that, which led to several lopsided losses earlier this season. Right-hander Mike Wright could offer that, but he is not eligible to return until Thursday.

As was the case Friday — when Brach, Britton, Castro and rookie Jimmy Yacabonis threw seven innings of scoreless baseball after Kevin Gausman's six scoreless innings — there will be low-scoring, closely-contested games that the Orioles will have to win without outslugging their opponents to remain in the race.