Orioles' bullpen implosion Sunday was inevitable - starters must pitch deeper - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

Orioles’ bullpen implosion Sunday was inevitable — starters must pitch deeper

This was going to happen, at some point. The Orioles bullpen was going to break.

First, these guys are human. They don’t always have great control; they can’t always be perfect.

And, frankly, the relievers can’t be averaging four innings per game as a group and be expected to always produce. That’s the real problem here.

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As Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, “you’re going to pay that piper.”

Consider that piper rewarded handsomely after the Orioles’ 7-3 loss to the New York Yankees on Sunday afternoon that snapped the club’s four-game winning streak to begin the 2017 season.

The concerning thing is that Sunday’s implosion is going to happen more often if the starters don’t pitch deep into games – a problem last year and a concern again.

Dylan Bundy’s seven-inning start Wednesday was the gold standard; Kevin Gausman lasted 5 1/3 and 4 2/3 in his two games; Ubaldo Jimenez, 4 1/3; and Wade Miley, somehow, made it through five Sunday.

Yes, it’s early, and starters are still increasing their pitch counts. But five innings and change is not acceptable. The starters understand that concept. It’s making it happen that’s difficult.

“I looked up in the third and saw 70 pitches and I was like, ‘Man, I’ve gotta (go deeper).’ Our bullpen has been, I don’t want to say overused, but they’ve just been throwing (a lot) over the last four games. And I said, ‘I’ve gotta figure out a way to get into the fifth inning.’ I was shooting for the sixth, but it didn’t work out,” Miley said. “I have to take some responsibility for that because my job is to kind of to recognize (that) and give them a break and try to get deep into the game. And I wasn’t able to do that. But those guys are going to be fine.”

The Orioles’ bullpen had thrown 16 2/3 scoreless innings in four games heading into Sunday. They made it 17 1/3 before Tyler Wilson allowed a two-run triple to Ronald Torreyes in the sixth. Mychal Givens surrendered the game-tying run in the eighth on an Aaron Judge homer and Darren O’Day was tagged with the loss by giving up four runs, muddied by three walks, in the ninth.

“He’s struggling a little bit to find his step early on. He had that flu and set him back. He’ll work his way through it. He’ll be fine,” Showalter said about O’Day. “Just barely missing, and a guy with his approach and repertoire depends on that, and getting some counts in his favor, and expanding the zone. I was talking to some of the guys with the video … He was barely missing.”

No question that home plate umpire Brian Gorman didn’t give O’Day a couple strike calls early on. But O’Day has been around this game a long time. He needs to adjust and didn’t. It happens.

“I threw some good pitches early in the outing, and they were just pitcher’s pitches and I couldn’t make the adjustment to get back into the zone to get strikes called,” he said. “Over-adjusted on some pitches. And you put three guys on base, bad things are usually going to happen. I gave up a couple of hits, they got some runs. It just wasn’t a good outing. It was pretty bad.”

I’m not worried about O’Day at this point. He was sapped of his energy by a nasty virus last week. He’s still getting back to full strength.

The problem, once it was obvious O’Day was struggling, was that Brad Brach and Zach Britton weren’t available. They had pitched in each of the first four games of the season.

That’s not Showalter’s fault. He’s trying to win these games. And no one handles a bullpen better. No one protects his relievers more carefully.

What it comes down to is that the starters have to pitch deeper. It’s early. Maybe they will.

But, in an otherwise excellent first week for the Orioles, that’s the major concern that I see.

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