A year ago, assigning the Orioles bullpen five innings wouldn’t have been a winning recipe for manager Brandon Hyde.
Friday’s 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays showed that’s not as difficult a proposition for him and the Orioles to face, with five innings of one-run ball from five different relievers who helped the Orioles improve to 3-3.
“I thought we did a pretty nice job,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
“Last year we were really inconsistent out of the pen. I was trying to find guys that were hot to pitch in big spots. It seemed like it was tough. We’d have a good outing, have a bad outing. I’m just looking for some consistency and guys who are getting people out they’re going to pitch in big spots. Bottom line. That’s the nature of the game.”
A week into this season, plenty of candidates are emerging with outings like they had Friday.
The visiting Rays had several long innings against Orioles starter Alex Cobb, who allowed two runs in four innings before handing the ball off to the bullpen with a 3-2 lead.
That lead disappeared on a home run by Brandon Lowe (Maryland) on Paul Fry’s second pitch. But the Orioles grabbed the lead right back on a single by Anthony Santander in the fifth inning and never looked back.
Fry got a key double play in the sixth inning before passing things off to Shawn Armstrong, who struck out a pair before bequeathing a runner on second base to left-hander Tanner Scott.
Scott, too, started auspiciously when he hit low with a pitch. No matter. He struck out the next two batters to keep the Orioles’ narrow lead, and by the time Mychal Givens came on for the eighth, the Orioles had given themselves a two-run cushion.
Givens worked around a walk in a scoreless eighth inning before Cole Sulser, one night after serving up a three-run home run to Aaron Judge that cost the Orioles against the Yankees, struck out two in a 1-2-3 ninth.
With expanded rosters giving the Orioles more bullpen options, Hyde has been able to deploy them in better spots than previous years. The results have been better, at least since Opening Day.
Then, Cody Carroll, David Hess and Travis Lakins Sr. combined to allow nine runs. The group has allowed nine runs in five games since, two more of which belonged to Carroll.
The rest are allowing Hyde to deploy them with much less trepidation than he would have in dealing with the same bullpen a year ago.
When the Orioles got fewer than four innings from their starter in 2019 on days when they didn’t use an opener, they were just 5-36. For at least one night, they showed things were different.
“Last year we had a lot of really good arms but we weren’t aggressive enough in the zone,” Cobb said. “This year it seems like guys are coming in and throwing strikes. They all have the ability. It’s what they do with it and how they’re able to compete in the zone. We’ve seen that this year.”
Without José Iglesias (quadriceps) and with Chris Davis not in the starting lineup, the middle of the Orioles lineup still packed plenty of punch.
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Hanser Alberto led the way with a three-hit day, including a ninth-inning home run, and Anthony Santander and Pedro Severino hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning to chase Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell. Santander also had three hits, while Rio Ruiz and Renato Núñez added two apiece.