In Orioles manager Brandon Hyde’s ideal bullpen, he would have a closer. He’d have a couple setup men, a left-handed specialist and maybe even a pair of long relievers, one lefty and one righty.
But Hyde understands that as of now, only one of his relief pitchers carries a designated role, and it’s not one defined by the inning right-hander Mychal Givens pitches. Although Givens’ past four outings have ended in saves, three of them of at least four outs, Hyde has emphasized this week that Givens’ responsibility is not the ninth inning, but the game’s biggest outs.
“I'm not managing for a save statistic,” Hyde said. “I'm trying to win the game, and I want Mike to pitch in the biggest spot, and it's worked out where he has those last four saves have been in big spots against the meat of the order of the other team, and he's done a great job."
In Monday’s series opener against the Boston Red Sox, Givens entered with a runner on second and two outs in the eighth inning to face the top of Boston’s lineup. After striking out Mookie Betts to end the inning, he sat down Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Michael Chavis to record his third save of more than one inning, the most in the American League and only one behind Milwaukee Brewers left-hander Josh Hader for the most in baseball.
Givens has gotten at least four outs in seven of his 12 appearances, posting a 4.09 ERA in those outings. In the other five, his ERA is 1.93. Last season, he pitched more than an inning 19 times with a 4.43 ERA, compared with a 3.81 ERA when pitching an inning or less.
Still, he is clearly Hyde’s best reliever available and is used as such, whether that means pitching out of a seventh-inning jam or closing a game in the ninth. Givens said he came to embrace the importance of the innings before the ninth from watching former Orioles relievers Andrew Miller, Zack Britton, Darren O’Day and Brad Brach excel in non-closing roles.
“I think pitching in the back of the bullpen is all valuable,” Givens said. “There's sometimes a key point pitching in the sixth inning, bases loaded, men on second and third, no outs, two outs, whatever, and getting that key out is valuable, as well. We put a lot of strong emphasis on the ninth inning. It's a very important inning, too, but looking at these past three or four years, how in the World Series, what it took to win games, it can be from the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth. I've just been thankful being around a great group of guys in the bullpen, understanding the value of what a bullpen is.”
The group presently around Givens lacks the experience and formidability of past Orioles bullpen regimes, with Hyde often testing his relievers in innings and roles they’re not yet accustomed to.
“The role right now is, when I give you the ball, I'd love you to go get somebody out,” Hyde said. “We're so inexperienced. We have guys that our pitching in different parts of the game that everybody's getting an opportunity. I would love to have defined roles, to be honest with you. … I would love to have that laid out. It's just not the club we are right now, and if that forms over the course of the season, phenomenal, fantastic, but right now, we're still feeling our way a lot.”
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Givens is the exception.
“I just want to put our best matchups out there, and for me, with our club right now, he's the best matchup in the bullpen against the best hitters on the opposing team,” Hyde said. “When it's the biggest spot in the game, I'm gonna live with Mike in the game.”
Givens hasn’t pitched in back-to-back games since March 30 and 31, while he’s had at least two games between outings eight times. Hyde said he has occasionally told Givens he would pitch in that night’s game no matter what because of those long layoffs, often the result of a rebuilding team not having a lead to hand to their top pitcher. Givens, who said he still gets plenty of preparatory work between outings, expressed no qualms with how he’s been used to this point in the season.
“It doesn't matter where you're at in the bullpen,” he said. “I'm a valuable piece because I can go get those outs."
Bleier to pitch Friday with Bowie
Left-hander Richard Bleier, on the injured list with left shoulder fatigue, is set to make a second rehabilitation appearance Friday with Double-A Bowie after allowing a run in an inning for High-A Frederick on Tuesday.
Bleier, 32, had a 14.54 ERA in four appearances with the Orioles before going on the IL and said that although his health in rehab outings is important, the results still matter.
“I think both are important, in my opinion,” he said. “Obviously, the health is the main issue, but I want results, and I want to throw pitches that I think are going to work in the big leagues. I wanna get activated with confidence that it's not gonna be the same as last time."