BALTIMORE—The Orioles’ bullpen had no place to go but up. Through eight games in 2020, it’s an area of strength.
In 2019, Oriole relievers had baseball’s worst ERA at a 5.79. It’s at 4.58 so far and, if you remove Cody Carroll’s 162.00 ERA, it drops all the way to 3.16.
In 2019, Oriole starters had a 5.57 ERA. This year, it’s almost the same, 5.55. The 5-3 record reflects a number of solid starts, even though the ERA doesn’t show it, and an effective bullpen overall.
With a 30-player roster, manager Brandon Hyde has had an abundance of arms. Ten of those are relievers, including Travis Lakins and Cole Sulser.
One or both might not have made the club had the season started on time. Hunter Harvey’s arm injury opened another spot.
Lakins, who has allowed two runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings, has struck out seven without walking a batter.
The 26-year-old right-hander made his major league debut last year, as did Sulser. Lakins had a 3.86 ERA in 16 games with the Boston Red Sox. He allowed just one home run in 23 1/3 innings.
Lakins pitched in four games against the Orioles last season, allowing an earned run in 5 1/3 innings.
On January 21st, the Red Sox traded Lakins to the Chicago Cubs. Ten days later, the Orioles selected him on waivers.
He stayed with the club through spring training but, with the team set to carry eight relievers on a 13-man staff, his chances were iffy.
“It’s hard to describe the circumstances,” Lakins said. “I never thought I’d be in this situation or any of us would be in this situation with all the Covid going on.”
On Saturday night, Lakins won his first major league game, pitching a scoreless 11th inning against Tampa Bay. After Pat Valaika’s game-winning single, there was a socially distanced celebration.
“I think just how different it was,” Lakins said. “How different the celebration was, how different it was in the clubhouse after it. I think that’s what I’ll remember most. I know it’s like a dream of mine, but it was a crazy experience. Pat had the walk-off, we celebrated with Pat, a little celebration in the locker room, and it was just a wild experience.”
Sulser, a 30-year-old right-hander, is a Dartmouth graduate who was drafted in the 25th round by the Cleveland Indians in 2013 and was traded to Tampa Bay in December 2018.
After seven scoreless appearances for the Rays last September, Sulser found himself on the outs in their organization and was claimed on waivers by the Orioles after the season ended.
After allowing a three-run home run in the ninth inning on Thursday night to the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge to blow a 6-5 Oriole lead, Sulser recorded his second and third saves on Friday and Sunday against Tampa Bay.
On Sunday, Sulser retired all six batters he faced.
“They’re going to continue to pitch in big spots,” Hyde said of his relievers. “I just want to see them deal with adversity, be able to bounce back. We’re going to continue to give these guys experience and, so far, they’ve done a nice job.”
Judge’s home run accounts for all three runs Sulser has given up. He has struck out four in six innings.
“He does have that strikeout threat,” Hyde said. “He can punch guys out.”
Hyde hasn’t designated a closer but has turned to Sulser four times.
“I’m not going to say necessarily this is what I expected for my role,” Sulser said. “I was hoping to just come in here and earn a spot but, at the same time, I feel like I can pitch in leveraged situations, and I’m super happy to get that opportunity.
“As far as the team goes, I’ve been impressed since Day One with the way guys have handled themselves, all playing to win and playing as a team. I think they continued to do that throughout summer camp, and it’s good to see everyone get off to such a good start.”
Not many Ivy League pitchers or 25th-round draft choices make it to the major leagues.
“You obviously have to have some talent to get to the big leagues, but things have to work out, too, in terms of opportunity,” he said
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get an opportunity with the first organization I was with, but I was very thankful to get one last year with the Tampa Bay Rays, and super thankful I got another one this year with the Baltimore Orioles. If you keep playing and going for it, you just hope one of those opportunities will work out. For some guys, it’s a little quicker than others.”
Notes: John Means will start against the Miami Marlins Tuesday at 7:35 p.m. Alex Cobb and Asher Wojciechowski are scheduled to start for the Orioles in a doubleheader that begins at 5:05 p.m. on Wednesday. Both games are seven innings. Hyde hasn’t decided who will pitch first. Wade LeBlanc will pitch Thursday at 7:35 p.m. The Marlins, who had as many as 18 players test positive for the coronavirus and have made wholesale roster changes as a result will feature newly acquired left-hander Richard Bleier … Miami will serve as the home team for Game 2 of Wednesday’s doubleheader and Thursday’s game … Right-handed pitcher Kyle Bradish, left-hander Bruce Zimmermann and outfielder Ryan McKenna were added to the 60-man player pool, which is at 57. Bradish was one of one of four pitchers obtained by the Orioles from the Los Angeles Angels in the Dylan Bundy trade.