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Schmuck: Don't expect Orioles to find an outside fix for deepening pitching struggles

There is no way to sugarcoat what has happened to the Orioles pitching staff this season … and the fact that probably nothing can be done about it.

The club decided to go all in this season on a rotation that lacked sufficient depth to overcome the initial loss of last year's top winner (Chris Tillman) and now finds itself in the awkward position of throttling back on the only starter (Dylan Bundy) who has shown any semblance of consistent production.

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How they got here is easy enough to document. Where they go from here is not.

Baseball operations chief Dan Duquette has all but conceded there will be no help coming from outside the organization at midseason, and there is really no need to articulate that anyway. The addition of a second wild-card playoff berth in each league five years ago dramatically changed the supply and demand equation for quality pitching, leaving the Orioles in poor position to make a deal before the July 31 nonwaiver deadline.

So, what you see is probably going to be what you get for the remainder of the season, which is a scary thought at the moment.

The Orioles entered Wednesday night riding an embarrassing string of 17 straight games in which their opponents had scored at least five runs — the longest such streak in American League history. They went into Wednesday just four more five-plus performances from relieving the 1924 Philadelphia Phillies of a truly dubious historical distinction.

That's the kind of thing that might get a brand-new pitching coach fired — and don't think the subject hasn't been broached in the Warehouse and the Law Offices of Peter Angelos. But it should be obvious to all that Roger McDowell arrived late to this pity party.

Tillman, the 16-game winner who was supposed to be leading this parade, came up with a sore shoulder late last season and suffered a relapse in December that kept him out of the rotation until May 7. And the guy who came back six weeks ago has, so far, borne little resemblance to the pitcher who was so dominant through the first 41/2 months of the 2016 season.

He's 1-5 with an unsightly 8.39 ERA and it would be hard to imagine him getting many more chances to improve on that if the Orioles had a reasonable alternative.

Manager Buck Showalter has acknowledged all that, but Tillman is just one-fifth of a rotation that is in such a deep funk that the chances of the Orioles breaking the aforementioned 93-year-old major league record seem pretty darn good.

The Orioles' chances of returning to the playoffs this year always figured to depend on the performance of the top three pitchers in the rotation. But only Bundy has pitched well and his innings have piled up to the point that Showalter announced a plan Tuesday to cut back his workload temporarily in July.

Meanwhile, the coaching staff continues to try to figure out what's going on with Kevin Gausman, who appeared to be developing into a cornerstone starter at the end of last season. Instead, he has regressed, leaving room to wonder whether his command problems are mechanical or the result of a crisis of confidence. He entered Wednesday night's start against a tough Cleveland Indians lineup with a 6.60 ERA.

No one should have had any illusions about Ubaldo Jiménez. But the Orioles obviously were hoping against hope that the prospect of free agency after this season would somehow transform him into a passable fifth starter. He came back from the bullpen to pitch well his last time out, but after 31/2 rocky seasons in Baltimore, it's hard to project anything but more of the same.

Left-hander Wade Miley, who was acquired at midseason last year, has the second-best numbers in the rotation and recently ranked among the league's top 10 in ERA, yet also has been erratic of late. In his past three starts, he has allowed 15 earned runs over 102/3 innings.

It's tough to sell a stay-the-course message when the club appears to be on the road to pitching ruin, but Showalter doesn't have much choice. He knows that the situation looks bleak, but won't allow himself to ponder the worst-case scenario.

"I don't let that ever enter my mind," he said, "especially when you've got some guys with a track record of pitching better. Gausman has pitched better. Tillman has pitched better. Bundy is doing well. We're trying to be as good as we can every night, put our best foot forward and where it leads won't be from lack of effort or lack of good people."

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Where it's going to lead seems fairly apparent, and it will likely be for lack of adequate pitching depth and organizational foresight.

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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