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Given how many no-names were in the Baltimore Orioles’ bullpen, I would have pegged the group to regularly give up runs when they were needed to shut the door.
That hasn’t been the case this season, though the Orioles’ weekend series vs. the Yankees exposed some of the O’s relievers.
The bullpen’s struggles came into clear view on Friday and Saturday, as the ‘pen combined to allow six runs. Cole Sulser and Travis Lakins were tagged for three runs on Friday, spoiling a solid outing from Dean Kremer than spanned five innings. And on Saturday, prospect Keegan Akin failed to stop the bleeding after Jorge Lopez was sent to the showers early, allowing three runs over 3.1 innings.
On Sunday, two other bullpen regulars struggled. Manager Brandon Hyde turned to former starter Adam Plutko as the team’s opener against the Yankees, only for him to make it through just the first inning with four earned runs to his name.
And while Bruce Zimmermann returned from Triple-A Norfolk to gift the Orioles 5.2 innings of one-run ball in relief, closer Cesar Valdez allowed three hits and one run in the ninth inning to properly scare Orioles fans into the heart wing of their local hospital.
Statistically speaking, the Orioles’ bullpen is still one of the best in the majors. The club ranks sixth in bullpen ERA at 3.44, a number that was better before the weekend.
But this weekend series with the Yankees showed how fragile the O’s bullpen success is. This is still largely an unproven unit of relievers — even veterans like Valdez, Plutko and Paul Fry have had stretches of shaky performances.
Monday’s off-day comes at a great time. Excluding Zimmermann and including Plutko, Orioles’ relievers threw 14.1 innings in this series with the Yankees. Monday also happens to be the last off-day for the O’s until June 3, meaning the club will go more than two weeks without a day of rest. And that trip includes a Midwest swing in Minnesota and Chicago.
Hyde has done a fantastic job managing the bullpen this season. He’s pushed the right buttons — most of the time — and has utilized the 40-man roster to keep his arms fresh. His starters aren’t going deep into games consistently, meaning the bullpen is being asked to eat a lot of innings. They’ve thrown 159.2 innings already this season — fifth most in the major leagues.
They’ll likely be asked to throw even more as the season goes on. Hyde will need to continue to keep these guys as fresh as possible, while also hoping some of his unproven pitchers keep surprising folks on a nightly basis.