All spring, the Orioles and every other major league team spent a great deal of energy trying to ensure they’d have enough pitching to survive what will be a long season, especially coming off just 60 games in 2020.
The first few weeks of the 2021 season, however, has been quite manageable on that front for the Orioles.
A chilly rainout on what would have been the Orioles’ Opening Day against the Boston Red Sox took away an early day off in their schedule. Since, a pair of rainouts forced two doubleheaders when the Seattle Mariners were in town, so the Orioles have had five days off in three weeks since the season began.
That’s about to change beginning with this weekend’s three-game series against the surging Oakland Athletics, which begins a stretch for the Orioles of 13 games in 13 days — including seven on the West Coast when they visit the A’s and the Mariners during the first week of May.
Manager Brandon Hyde and pitching coach Chris Holt haven’t faced too many issues on the usage front of late when it comes to pitching. In fact, they’ve probably been overcautious in the number of arms they have.
Cole Sulser and Travis Lakins Sr. were both summoned back to the bullpen in the past week-plus as roster spots opened with Rule 5 pick Mac Sceroler going on the injured list with a shoulder problem and rookie starter Dean Kremer optioned to the minors since the Orioles didn’t need a fifth starter for a while.
Their additions have helped deepen the group, though there hasn’t been a lot of work to go around. Rule 5 right-hander Tyler Wells didn’t pitch on the road trip, and veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc appeared in Saturday’s game in Texas but not since.
Every other reliever got into one of the two games against the Miami Marlins, and if there’s a hierarchy in the bullpen, it showed this week.
Hyde used Shawn Armstrong, Adam Plutko, Tanner Scott, Paul Fry and César Valdez to finish out the last 12 outs of a 7-5 win Tuesday, while Lakins, Sulser, and Dillon Tate combined for three scoreless innings on Wednesday.
Armstrong’s struggles and Plutko’s ability to turn a lineup over as a long reliever mean there’s an opportunity for one of Lakins, Sulser or Tate to seize some leverage opportunities as a right-handed reliever, and the stakes for each could be high considering their minor league options.
Unless the Orioles decide to hold Kremer down in the minors and let someone like LeBlanc take the ball when the fifth starter spot comes up on Tuesday, someone will have to come out of the bullpen to make room for Kremer’s return.
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This two-week stretch, however, will be where the Orioles start to get dividends for their 14-man pitching staff and a bevy of optionable pitchers both on the major league roster and preparing to help at the Bowie camp.
Credit where it’s due: It seemed like the Orioles were shorting themselves in other places on the roster to create such a large pitching staff out of spring training, but that hasn’t been the case. They’ve survived with Rio Ruiz as the primary second baseman just fine, and the outfield glut has taken care of itself via injuries.
But there hasn’t been a point at which the pitching staff has been stretched thin by consecutive short starts or too many relievers being needed on a given day. In 18 games, only Kremer on April 6 and April 13 hasn’t at least reached the fifth inning.
Such fortune hasn’t been required with so many days off and so many pitchers, but that math is about to change.
Friday, 7:05 p.m.
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