BALTIMORE—Since joining the Orioles on April 30, Shawn Armstrong has been an indispensable part of the bullpen. While other relievers have been inconsistent, Armstrong has been outstanding with a 1.69 ERA in 15 appearances.
In 16 innings, Armstrong has a 1.000 WHIP, allowing just nine hits.
“I think what we’re doing right now with the bullpen as far as scouting reports and working collectively, I don’t want to say easier because this game is hard as it is,” Armstrong said. “It definitely helps who we’re going in to face and ways to attack the guy.”
Armstrong has been particularly tough on left-handers, who are batting just .121 (4-for-33) against him.
He likes the bullpen camaraderie.
“When you watch us play catch and guys are doing their bullpens, all the relievers are out there watching,” Armstrong said. “It says a lot about us. We don’t just care about us. We care about what everybody else is doing to. Once we’re able to rely on one another and trust one another, that makes coming into our outings easier.”
Armstrong had to recover from an oblique injury this spring. After he had a 14.23 ERA in four early-season appearances with Seattle, they waived him, and the Orioles claimed him.
“It’s not an excuse for the way I started off,” Armstrong said about the oblique. “It was a blessing in disguise. I got here with the Orioles. I love the pitching coaches. I love the pitching staff, just trying to go out there and pitch with confidence.”
Last season, Armstrong had a 1.23 ERA in 14 outings with the Mariners. He’s repeating that success with the Orioles.
“I think it has to do with making the most of every opportunity,” Armstrong said. “Whenever you’re getting reps after reps after reps, obviously you get into a groove a little easier. You’ve also got to earn those reps, too.”
While the strikeouts have been there, so have the walks. In those 16 innings, he’s walked seven, which has been an issue for the bullpen.
“I hate walking people,” Armstrong said. “No pitcher likes to do that, but I think if you go in there attacking hitters with what you have, then you’re going to have more success, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Going into Wednesday night’s game against Toronto, the Orioles’ bullpen had shown improvement since its 12-11 escape against Texas on June 4, when it allowed six runs in the ninth. Oriole relievers had given up four runs on 10 hits in 20 1/3 innings. On Tuesday, Armstrong pitched two perfect innings. In four innings, the bullpen allowed a run on a hit.
Manager Brandon Hyde has used his relievers in more defined roles.
“I think I’m using certain guys in higher-leverage situations,” Hyde said. “I think when guys start having success, it becomes a lot easier. Guys start being consistent out on the mound and start getting outs out of the ‘pen, then things start to solidify. Up until fairly recently, we haven’t had a ton of success.”
“Our record is not that great as a collective group,” Armstrong said. “We keep it loose Our record’s not that great, but we’ve been in a lot of baseball games since I’ve been here. One swing of the bat goes one way or the other, and we win the ballgame.
“We were in every game versus two competitive Texas teams last week. It says a lot about us, too. If we just keep … working together, trusting ourselves, we’re going to win more games than we lose towards the end of the season.”
Raptor fans: The NBA’s Toronto Raptors are a game away from Canada’s first major sports championship since the Blue Jays won their second straight World Series in 1993.
There are many Blue Jays rooting for the Raptors, who play the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 Thursday night. Pitchers Marcus Stroman and Ken Giles had the team wearing “We the North” T-shirts on their previous road trip.
Stroman said that reliever Thomas Pannone had the idea for the shirts. Pannone, who is from Rhode Island, is a Boston Celtics fan, but he’s converted.
“We’d like to see them take down the Warriors,” Pannone said. “I think the city of Toronto and the whole country would really like it.”
Another reliever, Tim Mayza, is a diehard Philadelphia 76ers rooter, but he switched after the Sixers lost to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“I’m pulling for them,” Mayza said. “Now that they’ve eliminated the Sixers, I’ve jumped on that bandwagon. You look at the city, and see how they’ve responded to the Raptors’ success. It’s outstanding and really puts a spark into the city. There’s a fire in the city now that the Raptors are doing well.”
Still another reliever, Joe Biagini, begs to differ. He’s from Silicon Valley, just south of San Francisco, and he’s still cheering on his hometown team, the Golden State Warriors.
“Being in Toronto at this time with this team, you have a little bit of excitement for that,” Biagini said. “I’m definitely a Warriors fan, loud and proud—well, not loud. I keep it pretty quiet, especially in here.”
Shorebirds win: Low-A Delmarva clinched the South Atlantic League Northern Division first-half championship on Tuesday night. It’s the Shorebirds’ first playoff birth since 2005. Delmarva’s record is 46-18.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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