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Orioles' overhaul of pitching staff with young arms the ‘backbone’ of recent resurgence

Imagine Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, who spent most of his first season in charge pleading with his pitchers to stop walking batters and giving up home runs at record rates, saying the following as his team charges to steal a playoff spot from the New York Yankees in September — and actually meaning it.

“We’ve really, really pitched well — that’s really the backbone of our success here lately,” Hyde said.

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After the Orioles' 11-2 win Tuesday over the New York Mets gave them four straight wins and six in eight games, part of the reason Hyde said that is that so many of the pitchers who frustrated him over the past year-plus aren’t on the team for one reason or another.

In their place, the Orioles have tapped into their high-minors pitching depth — one of the strengths that former top executive Dan Duquette left his successor Mike Elias. The Orioles have a staff full of pitchers who either truly learned from last year’s mess and improved or were wholly unburdened by it.

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“We’ve had some success these last couple weeks, the games that we’ve won is because we really have pitched,” Hyde said. “Adding [Keegan] Akin and [Dean] Kremer, Jorge López, they’ve really done a nice job in our rotation to allow us to give a chance to win games. You saw that Yankees series, we really pitched well.

"We lost [Anthony] Santander, we’ve been pretty banged up offensively. It hasn’t been the greatest stretch for us offensively, but our pitching has really kept us in games and given us a chance to win. A lot of that is from our young guys that we brought here. That’s very exciting, and good for the future.”

The Orioles began the season with 16 pitchers on their expanded 28-man roster. Two-thirds of the way into the season, just five of those pitchers remain active, and some in different roles.

Asher Wojciechowski remains on the team but not as a starter, joining full-timers Paul Fry, Tanner Scott, Cole Sulser and Travis Lakins Sr. in the bullpen.

Four pitchers — relievers Richard Bleier, Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro, plus Opening Day starter Tommy Milone — were traded in August. Three from the Opening Day roster are on the injured list: starters Alex Cobb and Wade LeBlanc, plus reliever Shawn Armstrong.

Cody Carroll, Evan Phillips and David Hess are all at the secondary camp at Bowie, and starter Kohl Stewart opted out of the season because of COVID-19 concerns.

In their place are three young pitchers who were injured to start the season — All-Star John Means, Hunter Harvey and Dillon Tate — plus prospects Kremer and Akin, swingmen César Valdez and Thomas Eshelman and waiver claims López and Carson Fulmer.

As presently constructed, those 14 pitchers have a 3.88 ERA in an Orioles uniform, which is nearly a half-run better than all those not currently on the roster. The returns of Cobb, who is on the injured list created for players dealing with COVID-19 related absences, and Armstrong, who has a back injury, will only make the team deeper.

The current staff has something that last year’s group, and even this season’s Opening Day unit, lacked much of: upside. No game started for a rebuilding club by LeBlanc or Milone, veteran free agents who signed minor league contracts, does much for anyone in the long run. Akin and Kremer are not only helping the team now, but building toward a long-term future with the Orioles.

Of the three relievers traded, only Bleier, when healthy, was truly equipped for a late-inning role. Givens was one of the best set-up men in the league early in his career. But none of the three was going to pitch at the back end of the bullpen for the Orioles when they expect to compete again.

Scott, Harvey and Tate all have the chance to do that. Fry has been as good as he’s ever been this season, and at the very least the rest of the current relievers will come to the mound with far less baggage than the alternatives.

The general inexperience means consistency is likely a long way away. But the Orioles are on a path to it, at least, and to say that about their pitching is a testament to the moves made to bring in new faces and the work done by every member of the staff.

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“But starting pitching wins in this league, a back-end bullpen that can get both sided hitters out wins in this league, and it allows your hitters to — you can kind of manufacture runs and homers are nice and those type of things,” Hyde said. “But to really win consistently in this league, you’ve got to have pitching.”

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