ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — The Orioles’ pitching staff has enjoyed few stretches of relative success throughout a 2019 season that includes the major league record for home runs allowed and the league’s highest ERA. But the club’s relievers are in the middle of one now.
Baltimore entered Tuesday’s doubleheader with the third-best bullpen ERA in baseball since Aug. 20, and the relief corps improved on that mark with 5 2/3 shutout innings across the two games with the Tampa Bay Rays. In a 14-game span since Aug. 20, Orioles relievers have allowed 11 earned runs in 44 innings, a 2.25 ERA.
That includes four scoreless innings in Tuesday’s opener, with relievers Shawn Armstrong and Mychal Givens stranding the tying run in scoring position in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings before Richard Bleier pitched a perfect ninth.
“They were outstanding,” starting pitcher Ty Blach said. “Just to be able to see Armstrong come in, two strong innings, and then what Givens did there in the eighth, that was big time. And then Bleier shutting it down in the ninth. Those guys did a great job.”
That victory ended a three-game streak in which an Orioles reliever suffered the loss, but the unit as a whole has been effective.
The top performer has been Givens, who has been dominant since a blown save Aug. 11 against the Houston Astros. In that outing, he got the final out of the eighth inning, returned for the ninth and surrendered three runs without getting an out, a continuation of a season-long struggle when he pitches multiple innings.
Since, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has deployed him exclusively in one frame at a time, and the results speak for themselves. In his past eight outings, all one inning each, Givens hasn’t allowed a run or walk, giving up only three hits while striking out 12.
Part of the reason Hyde can afford to limit Givens is the emergence of rookie reliever Hunter Harvey. The hard-throwing right-hander has given up only one run in his six appearances, though it came on a game-tying home run in an eventual Orioles loss. Although Hyde has said he would prefer not to use Harvey on consecutive days as the organization tries to manage his innings, it’s clear Hyde’s bullpen usage becomes more manageable when Harvey is available.
With two outs in the eighth inning of Monday’s game with the score tied at 4, Hyde called on Harvey for the final out rather than asking Givens to do it and come back out for the ninth, a formula that has been problematic. Harvey struck out the only batter he faced and has 10 strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings with the Orioles.
Miguel Castro has also greatly improved after some early season struggles. In 28 appearances since mid-June, including Tuesday’s latter contest when he left the bases loaded without allowing a run, Castro has a 2.40 ERA. Left-hander Richard Bleier, statistically one of the best relievers in baseball the first three years of his career, seems to be trending upward, as well. Dismissing a three-run, third-of-an-inning blip against the Washington Nationals during this past road trip, Bleier has a 3.00 ERA since Independence Day.
The Orioles have gone 7-7 in those 14 games, and outside of making their remaining contests more consistently competitive, it’s too late for this bullpen turnaround to benefit the Orioles in 2019. But the fact that there’s improvement bodes well for the future.