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Day off ‘much needed’ for taxed Orioles bullpen after back-to-back losses

Baltimore Orioles Opening Day sights and sounds as they take on the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun video)

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde didn’t even need to hear the end of the question to know the answer.

Within seconds of being asked about the value of the Orioles’ day off Friday after Thursday’s 8-4 loss to the New York Yankees in his team’s home opener, Hyde responded with, “Need it,” and a laugh.

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After Thursday’s defeat, one in which the bullpen allowed a pair of three-run home runs and 10 base runners in 3 1/3 innings, the Orioles entered Friday tied for the second-most relief innings (31 1/3) in baseball. Only the Oakland Athletics, who played three more games than Baltimore through Thursday, had more (38 1/3).

“Big time, we need it,” Hyde said Thursday. “It’s been a grind week. Our bullpen guys have thrown a ton of high-stress innings. Everybody’s thrown a lot, so tomorrow is key. Today, I was trying to stay away from a few guys; I did, but [the day off] is much needed.”

The Orioles’ 31 1/3 relief innings through their first seven games do not include right-hander Nate Karns’ four frames as an “opener” in two games pitched entirely by the bullpen. Even including Karns’ innings, in which he did not allow an earned run, the Orioles’ relievers have a collective 5.60 ERA, the highest among American League bullpens with at least 20 innings pitched.

“It’s gonna be a big day for the bullpen,” catcher Jesús Sucre said. “Those guys have been working really hard. I hope they enjoy the off-day ’cause they’re gonna need it.”

Hyde has repeatedly tasked relievers with pitching multiple innings. Including Karns, Orioles relief pitchers have made 13 outings of more than one inning thus far. In those appearances, they have a 3.04 ERA.

It’s been the shorter outings, then, that have done the most damage. That was the case Thursday, when Mike Wright entered in relief of Alex Cobb with two outs and a two-run lead in the sixth. Wright allowed four consecutive two-strike hits, including a three-run home run to Gleyber Torres that snatched the Baltimore lead away, before Hyde removed him from the game without getting an out.

Last season, Wright, the only reliever on the Orioles’ 25-man roster who has yet to pitch a multi-inning outing this year, posted a 5.30 ERA as a reliever. He has a 5.34 career ERA in the role, but a 6.42 ERA as a starter.

“It just seems like the same song and dance even though it’s a different year, a different vibe,” Wright said. “Obviously, I feel way better. Just one pitch makes it seem like it’s the same old Mike Wright, but I still feel confident. I still feel good. I’m excited about this team. Definitely excited to move forward.”

In the ninth Thursday, Miguel Castro came on with two inherited runners from Mychal Givens, and New York’s Luke Voit promptly unloaded his own three-run home run to push the Yankees’ lead to four.

Friday’s off-day, the Orioles’ last for nearly three weeks, takes on great significance for a team whose next 12 games come against opponents who won at least 90 games in 2018. Wright is hopeful the Orioles can replicate what happened after their previous day off, when after an Opening Day loss to the Yankees, the rest day allowed a pitching staff reset. Baltimore won its final two games in New York before winning the first two games of a road series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Orioles relievers, including Karns, covered 20 of 36 innings during the four-game winning streak.

“Obviously, you want to kind of take it the same way we did that first New York series,” Wright said. “Lose the first one, then win the next two.”

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