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Orioles’ league-worst bullpen plagued by long innings

After Wednesday’s loss to the San Diego Padres, one in which his pitching staff allowed five home runs for the record 10th time, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said his pitchers have allowed “1,400 homers.” Friday, he upped that hyperbolic estimation to a million.

In reality, they entered play Friday night against the Cleveland Indians having surrendered a major-league most 165 longballs, with 71 coming off a bullpen that ranks last in the majority of categories. Although statistics such as home runs — 10 more than any other team — and a 6.34 ERA — topped by only the Washington Nationals’ 6.35 — are the result of their problems, others reflect what got them there.

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Hyde has used a reliever on back-to-back days 29 times, the fewest of any manager. It’s not necessarily a choice of trying to shield young arms, but rather because those inexperienced relievers often throw long innings that cause them to be unusable the next day and likely the next inning. That means another pitcher must be used in a game the Orioles are likely already trailing; no team has used a new reliever when behind more often and when leading less often. Baltimore’s 24 pitches per relief outing are the most in the majors.

“Our bullpen guys have had issues this year of, one, getting through innings; two, getting through innings with a pitch count where they’re able to either go back out the next inning or be available the next day,” Hyde said. “We’re just navigating through this the best we can.”

Further complicating matters is that even with that many pitches, few are converted to outs. The Orioles’ bullpen leads baseball in outings of fewer than three outs. That requires Hyde to extend other relievers, causing the Orioles to also hold the lead in most relief outings spanning multiple innings.

“Especially the last couple of weeks, we've thrown so many pitches, and our bullpen has thrown so many pitches for a variety of reasons,” Hyde said. “Maybe out of the starter not giving us length to them having long innings. We have so many 25-plus pitch innings out of the bullpen that it's hard.”

The ineffectiveness of various relievers often complicates the jobs of their bullpen mates, as well. No group of relievers has entered with runners on base more times, while no group has taken the mound with the bases empty as little as the Orioles have. They not only lead baseball in runners inherited, but have also allowed a higher percentage of them to score than any other team.

In a bullpen lacking depth, the consistent unavailability of a handful of pitchers each night is exacerbated when the Orioles’ starters struggle to get deep into games. They are one of five rotations that have averaged fewer than five innings per start.

It certainly doesn’t help that left-hander Josh Rogers, who had been recently providing length out of the bullpen, will visit Dr. Keith Meister on Tuesday in Arlington, Texas, to get a second medical opinion on an elbow injury that could lead to his second Tommy John surgery.

When the Orioles placed Rogers on the injured list Wednesday, they recalled left-handed reliever Paul Fry, their leader in games pitched on back-to-back days with eight. Beyond Miguel Castro and his seven, no other Oriole has been used on zero days rest more than three times.

Fry’s frequency in a back-to-back role has a lot to do with often being used to face a left-handed batter and no more in a brief outing. The most pitches he has thrown in the first appearance of a back-to-back pairing was 15, though he threw 16 in the second of a string of three straight days pitching. The most he has thrown in a second outing was 36, though it followed an eight-pitch appearance the day before.

“I know on the second day, they’re not gonna run me out there and try to kill me,” Fry said. “It just depends on how I feel.”

Fry said the day after pitching, he’ll test his arm while playing catch. If he’s able to rear back and throw without issues, he’ll let Hyde and pitching coach Doug Brocail know he’s available if needed.

“If I’m good, then I’m good, and if not, then I’ll say, ‘Hey, I might be emergency today only,’ then go from there,” Fry said.

In the first of back-to-back appearances, Fry has allowed one earned run in 5 1/3 innings, but the subsequent outings haven’t gone as well, with eight earned runs scored in seven innings.

Five of those runs came in one outing, where Fry entered with the bases empty, got a groundout from the first batter he faced, then allowed five straight men to reach, two via walks. The free bases have been a large factor in the long innings, as well. Only one bullpen has issued more walks than the Orioles.

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Hyde sees it as a case of inexperienced pitchers failing to capitalize on the chances afforded them in Baltimore.

“You’d hope guys would step up and that guys are gonna take this rare opportunity – let’s be honest, there are 29 other teams out there and a lot of teams aren’t going through this,” Hyde said. “They’re getting the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues, which they might not in a lot of other places, so you wish that they would run with it.

“This is what this year is about, finding out about who guys that we’re going to move forward with, guys that we feel are going to establish themselves as major league players. We’re taking our lumps along the way because of it, and it is what it is.”

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