OAKLAND, CALIF. — Twice in his three appearances before Saturday, Orioles reliever Brad Brach entered games earlier than he has in years — and much earlier than an All-Star reliever who entered 2018 as the team's presumptive closer typically would.
He entered Saturday's game with two outs and two on in the fifth inning, his first time entering before the sixth inning since April 10, 2016, before he elevated himself from a useful middle reliever into one of the game's best out of the bullpen.
At this point, Brach is hoping that any time on the mound, regardless of the situation, is enough to get him back on track after a rocky end to April.
"Honestly, right now, it's just pitching well," Brach said. "It doesn't matter when I come in. I haven't really put myself in the position to deserve to be out there in the seventh, eighth, ninth. At this point, I've just got to get back to pitching, making good pitches and getting outs."
Manager Buck Showalter said the early assignments — he's entered in the sixth and the fifth inning in two of his past three appearances — are more out of necessity than strategy.
"Both of them were because he was the guy who had the most rest," Showalter said. "He was the only guy down there with two days off, available to finish and inning and pitch another. He pitched well in both those situations there. Where we are with some of our starts, the roles change. They all know that. I think Brad, more than anything, wanted to get back out there."
Brach's season started in a frustrating way, and of late, has continue that way. He allowed a pair of runs on two walks and two hits — including a chopper that first baseman Chris Davis lost in the lights — and blew a save on Opening Day. Brach rebounded with seven straight scoreless outings and converted all his three save chances after Opening Day, before his workload evaporated and his results turned.
He allowed three runs in the ninth inning to turn a one-run margin into a four-run deficit on April 22, allowed two runs on three hits with four strikeouts on April 29, and took the loss Tuesday after allowing one run on three hits in the ninth against the Los Angeles Angels.
He allowed just an unearned run on two hits with a pair of strikeouts in Friday's 6-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics, an outing he feels was a step in the right direction.
"I made good pitches," Brach said. "[Jonathan] Lucroy obviously hit the double, but I thought it still was a pretty decent pitch. I made a pitch to [Jed] Lowrie and right now, it just seems how it's going. Everything's finding a hole. But it's just baseball. Hopefully everything turns around. I've got to keep living down in the zone and get back to being the kind of pitcher that I am."
"He got some big outs for us, kept us in that game," Showalter said.
Batters loom for Britton
After another day of pitchers' fielding practice on the field in Oakland for rehabilitating closer Zach Britton (Achilles), Showalter said the left-hander was progressing to facing batters.
"We'll see how he recovers there," Showalter said. "I think the next step, at some point, is to start facing hitters in BP. I don't think we're quite there yet. He had another good day. ... He did well. Just watching him run, cover first and get off the mound, he's starting to do it without thinking about it. That's good to see. It's remarkable how far along he is. They've done a great job with the rehab."
Schoop goes to Norfolk
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop had his rehab assignment on his way back from an oblique strain transferred from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday to allow him to play his final two rehab games without the threat of inclement weather.
Schoop batted second in the Tides lineup, with his brother, Sharlon, batting eighth and playing third base. According to the Tides, it's the fourth time brothers have played together there.
Schoop struck out in his first two at-bats Saturday after going 0-for-2 with a strikeout Friday in Bowie. Showalter is still targeting a Tuesday return for Schoop.
Around the horn
Showalter said outfielder Colby Rasmus (hip) is progressing into more baseball activities in Sarasota, Fla., though there's "nothing imminent" on his return. "I'm hoping that he comes back and is healthy and starts contributing like we know he's capable of," Showalter said. "It'll be a good asset to get back to us." … Infielder Tim Beckham (groin) is progressing well in the early stages of his rehab, Showalter said. … Right-hander Chris Tillman will be available in the bullpen Sunday, Showalter said. He threw just 47 pitches Thursday.