What will make this team a legitimate contender – above everything else – is if the bullpen is allowed to be as good as it can be.
You knew it was good. Everyone did.
But with closer Zach Britton out, the roles have been shifted some. And it appears to be even better than we thought – at least potentially.
Mychal Givens roared through the seventh and eighth on Saturday night, facing six and retiring six. Lefty Donnie Hart is starting to show he can face righties, too.
And Darren O’Day got a one-pitch save filling in for Brad Brach, who has been filling in for Britton.
Those five are above-average pitchers. And if the Orioles can keep them healthy and find one consistent long guy while keeping the Norfolk shuttle rolling along at the other spot, this bullpen can be better than it has ever been under manager Buck Showalter, the bullpen whisperer.
That’s saying something.
“It’s been good. Having Donnie doing his job has been good,” Givens said. “With Zach down, it’s like we just want to take care of business, and we hope he gets back as soon as possible. Everything’s going good, and I’m happy where everything’s at.”
Obviously, the starting rotation is always key. But if the starters can keep throwing six solid innings like they have, and not burn out the relievers, that stout bullpen will do its job. It’s almost become a guarantee.
Tillman makes second start
The final results weren’t particularly encouraging, but that still doesn’t matter at this point. Orioles starter Chris Tillman (right shoulder discomfort) made his second injury rehabilitation start for the Double-A Bowie Baysox on Saturday.
Tillman lasted 3 2/3 innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits while walking none and striking out three batters. He allowed a solo homer to Nationals’ minor leaguer Zach Collier and was tagged for the loss in the Senators’ 3-1 victory. He threw 58 pitches, 37 for strikes.
And, Showalter said, Tillman felt great afterward, best he’s felt in a while.
Tillman was supposed to pitch Saturday at home for High-A Frederick, so he could stay near Baltimore, but rain in the forecast in Frederick (the Keys ultimately were postponed) pushed Tillman up Interstate 83 into Pennsylvania.
In his two outings for the Baysox, Tillman now has a 5.68 ERA, but the Orioles are much more concerned that Tillman feels fine after each outing. This is basically spring training for the club’s top starter.
Showalter is still hoping that Tillman can be available May 2, the next time the Orioles need a fifth starter, but it’s more likely his return will be a little later in the month.
Roster crunch is coming
Showalter said Joey Rickard (finger) is participating in soft-toss hitting drills and is getting closer to returning to action. Britton (forearm soreness) will be examined by a hand specialist Monday and, if that goes well, will start throwing again. He’ll go through one or two minor league rehab outings and then will return to his closer’s role.
With Tillman back perhaps within two weeks, the Orioles will have some roster decisions to make relatively soon. A lot of times, the decisions make themselves – like Rickard going on the DL when a spot was needed previously.
But, if not, the bench and bullpen depth that has been a welcomed change for Showalter will likely take a hit. Two relievers (since Tillman will fill out what was a four-man rotation) and a bench player will have to go if everything remains the same.
Again, though, lots can happen in two weeks.
All relatively quiet in division rivalry
There were no extracurricular shenanigans between the Orioles and Red Sox on Saturday night, a day after Boston star Dustin Pedroia was forced out in the eighth inning after Manny Machado spiked Pedroia’s left calf on a slide.
There were no hit-by-pitches or close calls in a tight contest through seven innings, though Machado’s best buddy, Jonathan Schoop, was plunked in the left thigh in the eighth by Robbie Ross. But, given the game situation, I can’t imagine that was anything more than a bad pitch.
Hart then hit Marco Hernandez with a pitch in the right arm with two outs in the top of the ninth. Again, no chance that was intentional. It stopped Hart from getting his first career big league save.
Showalter said he was “confident,” that neither was a purpose pitch.
If the Red Sox really want retaliation, doing it Saturday didn’t make sense. That’s way too soon. Way too obvious. These teams play 14 more times this season after Sunday. If the Red Sox want to send a message – and I have no clue if they do — they have plenty of time, and games remaining, to send it.