Add another key injury, and suddenly the Orioles' solid bullpen is on shaky ground - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

Add another key injury, and suddenly the Orioles’ solid bullpen is on shaky ground

On Friday, we chatted in Connolly’s Tap Room about which Oriole is the most indispensable in 2017.

A few hours later, veteran reliever Darren O’Day was placed on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to Wednesday, with a right shoulder strain.

O’Day wasn’t necessarily a popular answer in the Tap Room, but closer Zach Britton, who has been on the shelf for much of the season with a left forearm strain, was mentioned often.

Britton’s still out – probably until at least early July. And now O’Day is unavailable for at least a week and maybe more considering his shoulder has been barking off and on for a while.

Therefore, this bullpen for the next month or so is a real concern.

Brad Brach is fine in the interim closer’s role. He’s not Britton, but he’ll do the job.

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Mychal Givens has an electric arm and shows flashes of brilliance. But he’s still inexperienced when it comes to continually pitching in high-leverage situations, which will be the norm now that O’Day is temporarily shelved. Can he do it? Sure. But there’s no guarantee.

And then what?

Lefty Donnie Hart, who was so good last year, is back in the minors after stumbling some in 2017. Richard Bleier, the only left-hander currently in the bullpen, has been primarily effective, but the jury is out on exactly what the team has in him.

Mike Wright’s stuff has always screamed one-inning reliever to me, and the Orioles look willing to keep him in the big-league bullpen instead of in the Triple-A rotation for now. And I applaud that decision. But there’s going to be a learning curve for Wright, which the club may not be able to afford with the current staff makeup.

Ubaldo Jimenez is in the bullpen because he can’t be trusted in the rotation. But he’s had little success as a reliever in his career, partially because he’s had so much trouble in the first innings of outings in recent years.

Edwin Jackson (pictured above) was called up to be Vance Worley 2.0, but has been less than effective in his first two outings. On Friday in an 8-2 loss at Yankee Stadium, Jackson tossed away a  one-run game — first by making a throwing error and then by allowing a two-run homer, a walk and a run-scoring double.

Stefan Crichton, called up Friday to replace O’Day on the roster, picked up an out in the seventh to rescue Jackson, but allowed the first five batters in the eighth to reach base. He hasn’t been able to transfer his Triple-A success this year to the majors, and likely will be on the move again.

The problem is Jackson and Jimenez are both without minor-league options (and Jimenez is still owed millions), so that pumps the brakes a little on the fairly successful Norfolk shuttle. That would be OK if Jackson proves he can be effective and Jimenez shows he can be trusted. But we’re not there yet.

So, what was the team’s biggest strength – the bullpen – is now a serious question mark with injuries and ineffectiveness shuffling roles.

If the rotation pitches deep each night – at least six innings like Dylan Bundy did Friday – that should alleviate some of the pressure on the bullpen. But, outside of Bundy, no starter has consistently absorbed innings this season. So, obviously, you can’t expect that.

And, suddenly, you can’t count on the Orioles bullpen to be shutdown, either.

That’s not a recipe for success. Either guys are going to step up – Wright, Bleier, maybe Jackson – or the Orioles are going to dig a serious hole until O’Day and Britton return.

Not a lot of gray area in between.

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