The Orioles began their most recent homestand with a bullpen that ranked among baseball’s most effective, while their starters pitched deep enough into games to keep those relievers fresh.
The latter didn’t happen as Baltimore went 1-5 against the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays over the past week at Camden Yards, and as a result, the former didn’t keep up either. Not including position player Stevie Wilkerson’s return to the mound in the ninth inning of Thursday’s loss, relievers were tasked with handling 34 innings on the homestand and surrendered 25 earned runs. An Orioles bullpen that came home with the seventh-best relief ERA in the sport left having jumped beyond 4.00, ranking in the dozen worst relief corps.
“We need some length out of our starters,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We’re running on fumes a little bit right now and [it’s] May 20.”
Only twice did an Orioles starter pitch into the fourth inning during those six games, and the bullpen blew leads in both. The relievers’ best performance came in the only win — and perhaps worst start — combining for eight innings of two-run ball against the Yankees on Sunday after opener Adam Plutko gave up four runs in an inning.
Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann pitched strongly in bulk relief that day and will rejoin the Orioles’ rotation Saturday against the Washington Nationals, starting their fifth of 16 straight games without a day off. This stretch will add to the need for length from starters.
Entering Thursday, the Orioles had received the second-fewest innings of any team from their starters in May, and that was before rookie right-hander Dean Kremer lasted only three frames in a sweep-completing defeat to Tampa Bay. While All-Star John Means has pitched at least five innings in eight of his nine starts this season, the Orioles have gotten only 13 such outings in their other 34 games, including Zimmermann’s lengthy relief outing.
After lasting only two innings in Tuesday’s start against the Rays, veteran right-hander Matt Harvey called early exits “completely unacceptable” for a starter. Kremer echoed that point Thursday.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” Kremer said. “I know I can speak for Harvey and myself this series specifically. Anytime you get taken out at least before five or six, you feel like you’re letting the team down and definitely letting the bullpen down.”
The relievers themselves are not without blame. In Plutko’s first outing since that start, he needed only three pitches to blow the lead Means left the mound with Wednesday. Keegan Akin and Travis Lakins Sr. both worked inefficiently in combining to allow five runs in four innings Thursday as the Rays scored 10 runs and left another 16 on base.
The circumstances prompted Hyde to use closer César Valdez down eight runs in the eighth inning. The Orioles have lost 10 of 12, so Valdez hasn’t been needed much in his typical role of late and was perhaps the only rested reliever remaining before Wilkerson handled the ninth.
“I just had no other arms to throw,” Hyde said. “Those appearances and innings pile up. We just have to do a better job, all around, pitching-wise. We haven’t pitched well these past couple weeks except for Meansy. We just need to improve, and we’re facing really good teams, so there’s no let-up. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. We’ve got to pitch better.”