Orioles hope to be 'back on our feet' with bullpen after tumultuous two weeks

The answer is a simple one to give, but the solution is much more complicated.

Asked Wednesday whether it was easier to manage a bullpen with injured closer Zach Britton available or without him, Orioles manager Buck Showalter's answer was clear that it's easier with him.


But with Britton out at least two months with a ruptured Achilles tendon, the group has struggled to find its footing because of personnel issues, overwork and short starts.

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Showalter, though, said the group can handle whatever is asked of it, and feels things have stabilized after three quality starts leading into Thursday's day off.

"Fortunately, we have a lot of people down in our bullpen who aren't walking around with egos who need to be anointed this or that," Showalter said. "I'm not going to have those guys in the league leaders [in appearances]. We're very proud those guys aren't in the league leaders every year, but they're also effective and they're healthy.

"So, Zach allows you to attack the eight innings a certain way. We don't ever take for granted the ninth inning, but he makes everybody else better as far as the consistency. When Zach is here, the phone rings and nobody has to answer it. They know the situation, we talk to them about their rest, who's pitching, who's not pitching. They don't even have to answer the phone. But with Zach not here, they've got to answer the phone and see what's up."

With 55 innings of relief in 13 games, the Orioles entered Thursday ranked fifth in the majors in relief innings pitched, and despite Showalter's claim, both Richard Bleier and Brad Brach were tied for the second-most appearances in baseball with seven. Those two, along with Darren O'Day, who has pitched six times, represent the three best relievers the team has had this year.

Brach (2.70 ERA) allowed two runs in a blown save on Opening Day but none since, converting three saves. Bleier (0.93 ERA) has allowed one run in 9 2/3 innings, and O'Day (1.35 ERA) had only one blemish when he allowed the go-ahead home run to Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Curtis Granderson on Tuesday.

The fourth member of the Orioles late-inning group, Mychal Givens (7.04 ERA), hasn't really gotten going. Three of the six runs he has allowed came in Monday on a grand slam and bases-loaded walk surrendered by Rule 5 draft pick Nestor Cortes Jr. But Givens had pitched five times in the first eight games before that, and had allowed runs in two appearances.

Cortes also allowed three runs belonging to fellow Rule 5 pick Pedro Araujo on a grand slam in Houston on April 3. Cortes was designated for assignment Tuesday. Araujo has only allowed a run in one other game, striking out 11 in 7 2/3 innings overall.

The sixth permanent member of the bullpen, Miguel Castro, has featured stuff as good as ever but allowed a run in each of his past five outings, though the run charged to him Tuesday was unearned.

With one-and-done relief outings for Jimmy Yacabonis and Tanner Scott factored in, the bullpen has a 4.42 ERA, which ranked 11th in the American League after Wednesday's game, with a 1.42 WHIP that ranked 13th. It was clear they wouldn't have the flexibility to maneuver for relief coverage as much as they did last year.

And through two weeks, four of the eight pitchers who began the season on the 40-man roster but not on the major league roster have been called up. Before Friday's game, the Orioles will likely add a left-handed reliever from the pool of Donnie Hart, Josh Edgin, Joely Rodríguez and Andrew Faulkner to supplement the bullpen against a heavily left-handed Boston Red Sox lineup.

Even as the Orioles have to add right-hander Alex Cobb this weekend, they could send out Engelb Vielma instead of a pitcher such as Mike Wright Jr. or Miguel Castro, keeping the bullpen at eight for a road trip that features the wrinkle of four day games, which makes it complicated to bring in pitching at a moment's notice.

"Especially with an off-day tomorrow, we're back on our feet," Showalter said.


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