DENVER — From the first weekend of the season in New York, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde made clear while wins weren't expected in 2019, he'd empty his bullpen and make every move necessary to hang on to a lead when the opportunity is there.
That's what makes the last week-plus so frustrating — an 11-game span in which they've lost 10 of 11 and seven straight, including three losses in which they led by at least four runs early . Friday's 8-6, walk-off loss to the Colorado Rockies was one of those.
And whether these late-and-close situations are born from early Orioles leads disappearing or comebacks from an offense that seems immune to what happens in the other halves of innings, they're happening frequently.
The problem isn’t so much that the Orioles are pushing all the chips into the middle every time they’re dealt a possible winning hand. It’s just how short the stack gets when the cards don’t go your way.
"It's concerning," Hyde said. "I don't want to overuse guys, and I don't want to abuse guys, but we have an eight-man pen. We've got to do a better job. … We're just throwing a lot of pitches, every single night. We're having a tough time putting people away. We're having a tough time getting early-contact outs. It seems like we're just not getting guys out in a timely fashion, where they can go back out the next inning. It's just a little bit of a rough patch, for sure, with our bullpen."
The last time the Orioles won, on May 17 at the Cleveland Indians, Hyde lined up Branden Kline, Shawn Armstrong and Mychal Givens for 3 1/3 innings. They allowed one base runner. Those three, plus left-hander Paul Fry, are Hyde's go-to arms in big spots at this point. Left-hander Richard Bleier is earning that trust still, his season only really just starting.
So when all of those players pitch for the Orioles, it means something a little bit more. It would be the same circumstances on a team with the expectation to contend, but it's still true with the Orioles that pitching in such spots carries weight. It’s not because a loss might mean missing the playoffs in four months. It’s because a loss on a night when a win is possible is something a team that loses twice as much as it wins shouldn't flirt with.
"I would hope that they want to be in those situations," Hyde said. "I think they do. They want to be in those types of games and those situations. We're in a lot of really close games, which is awesome. It's a lot of fun, and I hope that we continue to play that way. I would love to see us start extending leads a little bit more and be able to give our bullpen a breather. I'd love to see our starters go a little bit deeper."
That goes for Fry, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning for his third straight day of work, and Hyde badly wanted to avoid using him Friday. Perhaps Armstrong, too, who came out of roster limbo with the Seattle Mariners after starting the season late because of an oblique strain. He has now made nine appearances since debuting with the Orioles on May 1.
But the spotlight goes to Givens. He ended Game No. 51 having pitched 22 1/3 innings in 18 appearances. He got to that point in the 42nd game of 2018. But six appearances this year have included at least 30 pitches. He made seven such appearances all of last season, nine in 2017 and five in 2016.
"His fastball velo is good, slider is sharp at times," Hyde said. "I don't see any drop in stuff. Yesterday, he was erratic after the two strikeouts, and tonight, it didn't [seem] like he was able to locate. Saw some arm-side misses. So obviously, I've got to give him some time off. Paul Fry, I've got to give time off. Because we're in all these games, and I just want to take care of these guys. Because we're not getting blown out, we're in a lot of baseball games, so you try to use your guys when you're in games, and just haven't gotten it done the last couple of days."
The last part is the key — it all looks different after a loss. When he was wearing out a path to the mound in the first week and the Orioles were holding on to win, it was probably unsustainable. However, it was also the unquestioned high-water mark of the season and might be for the rest of this decade.
That it's not working lately seems to be clawing at Hyde. He trailed off mid-thought after Friday's game while addressing the bullpen's problems, before seemingly getting back to the priority for that group as they press forward. That priority doesn't seem like it will be to use everyone they have to try to get their 16th win Saturday.
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"I don't know," Hyde said. "I've got to start taking care of some of these guys."