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After first half of turmoil, Orioles bullpen has remained stable for full month

Since the Orioles added closer Zach Britton back to the major league bullpen on July 5, it's been an almost unprecedented stretch of stability among their relief corps.

Saturday marked a full month since they last added a reliever from off the roster, a spell technically broken by Chris Tillman's move out of the starting rotation but still a testament to the reliability and the versatility of the seven men who have remained standing.

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Even with days like Thursday, when six innings of relief are required from Miguel Castro alone and seven are asked of the bullpen overall, no moves were made. There have been plenty of short starts that in the past would require the Orioles to swap out a reliever or two in the bullpen, as they did earlier this season, but no one has given the team a reason to get rid of them of late.

If it seems unprecedented, that's because it is. When Britton was activated from the disabled list on July 5, they'd added a relief pitcher to the roster 34 different times. Just six came in April, when they used a six-man bullpen that was made possible by their many days off. Once the built-in rest days disappeared, so did the stability.

May and June featured 24 relievers added, nearly one every other day, and it seemed no one really made a compelling case to stay.

Once left-hander Richard Bleier was added a second time, however, he did. Bleier and Castro have provided the kind of length manager Buck Showalter has craved in his bullpen, and the diversification of left-hander Donnie Hart from a left-handed specialist to a long man has also helped. That all allows late-inning relievers Brad Brach, Darren O'Day and Mychal Givens to stay fresh and effective.

Showalter said some deeper starts have helped that as well.

"Starters have gotten more consistent into games, but the job that Miguel and Richard have done has been the big difference, too," Showalter said. "It's one thing to say this guy is a long reliever, but when they can't get people out in that role, you're not a long reliever. They've come in and been able to do the job for us."

In the span of no bullpen turnover, Orioles relievers has had to absorb six starts of fewer than five innings, though they've been fortunately timed. Kevin Gausman's short start on July 7 came after a run of deep starts, and when Gausman, Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jiménez all failed to get through the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs in the first series of the second half, a bullpen that was well-rested from the All-Star break covered it easily. Since then, only Tillman's two most recent starts have failed to last five innings.

Tillman being bumped back to the bullpen creates a possible end to this run of stability, as Showalter still would ideally like to get back to four bench players and stop carrying the extra pitcher.

Without wanting to jinx the fact that they've all been around for so long, the Orioles relievers are happy with their newfound stability and believe it's the best group they've had in a while. No one has pitched his way out of the bullpen, and since Britton returned the overall relief corps ERA is 3.05, which ranks eighth in the game in that span. Overall, the bullpen ERA was 3.99 entering Saturday.

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