Orioles' bullpen shows wear and tear as team struggles; Rivalry with Nationals fizzles - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles’ bullpen shows wear and tear as team struggles; Rivalry with Nationals fizzles

Not long ago, the Orioles’ bullpen was a point of pride. Now, it’s an area to be concerned about.

After two straight meltdowns against the Tampa Bay Rays, the bullpen’s ERA is at 4.04. Manager Brandon Hyde put it succinctly after Thursday’s 10-1 loss: “Our pitching is really beat up right now.”

On Wednesday night, starter John Means left the game with one out in the seventh and a 6-3 lead. Adam Plutko allowed an inherited runner to score and a two-run homer. Paul Fry gave up three runs, and the Orioles lost to the Rays, 9-7, after jumping out to a 5-0 lead.

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On Thursday, the bullpen gave up six earned runs in six innings.

“We have to get some length out of our starters,” Hyde said. “We’re running on fumes right now—May 20th.”

In the ninth, Hyde resorted to using Stevie Wilkerson, who last pitched in a major league game on August 10, 2019 when the Orioles lost to the Houston Astros, 23-2. He gave up the final Tampa Bay run on a homer.

It’s never a good sign when a manager uses a position player to pitch, and it was the second time in 11 days that Hyde called on one. On May 9th, Pat Valaika pitched for the first time in his professional career and managed a scoreless inning against Boston.

For years, former manager Buck Showalter said he would never use a position player to pitch in a hopeless game. Then, he needed Chris Davis to win a game, and he threw two scoreless innings in a 17-inning win against Boston on May 6, 2012.

Showalter later used Ryan Flaherty, Jace Peterson and Danny Valencia to close out hopeless games. Peterson’s pitching debut came in John Means’ professional debut in Boston on September 26, 2018.

Hyde has used Davis, Hanser Alberto, Bryan Holaday, Jesús Sucre, Valencia and Wilkerson, who became the avatar for position players when he became the first one to earn a save in a 16-inning game on July 25, 2019.

As Hyde said, the Orioles’ bullpen is beaten up. The team could use some fresh arms. Relievers Mac Sceroler and Dillon Tate are on the 10-day injured list and not ready to return. Hunter Harvey, who’s on the 60-day injured list, could be back during the Orioles’ next homestand, which begins May 31st.

There are only two healthy relievers on the 40-man roster — right-hander Isaac Mattson, who pitched once this month, and left-hander Brandon Waddell, who might get a shot in the near future.

The Orioles could add a pitcher to their 40-man roster. Once Harvey is activated, a player will have to be dropped.

Hyde didn’t want to use Travis Lakins to pitch on Thursday, but he did and threw 39 pitches in an unsightly seventh inning when he allowed three runs. Lakins, who has an option remaining, saw his ERA rise to 7.36.

Shawn Armstrong, who has been a go-to guy for Hyde since he came to the club in May 2019, has had a horrible year and has an 8.59 ERA. Armstrong has allowed 13.5 hits per nine innings. Without options, he could find himself off the 40-man roster when the Orioles need to add someone.

Hyde also expressed frustration with the team after Thursday’s loss in which Tampa Bay outhit the Orioles, 18-2. “We have not played well the past couple of weeks,” he said. “We just have to get a lot better from an approach standpoint offensively. We go in and out with that and we have to be more consistent with that.”

Orioles-Nationals: During the Showalter years, there was talk about a rivalry between the Orioles and Nationals. From 2012-2016, each team made the postseason three times; the Orioles made it to the American League Championship Series in 2014.

The Nationals didn’t qualify for the National League Championship Series until 2019, the year they won the World Series.

When both teams were good, games between the area’s two franchises were fun. Adam Jones and Bryce Harper were among those who made those games must-watch viewing.

Then came the Orioles’ collapse and the Nationals’ breakthrough.

After their 2019 World Series win, the Nationals had a challenging 2020 and finished 26-34 in the pandemic-shortened season, a game better than the Orioles.

This year, the Nationals are 17-23, and the Orioles are 17-26.

During their good years, the Nationals were lauded for drafting and signing well, but they’ve traded away a number of prospects for veterans, signed free agents and lost draft picks as compensation. Because of their success, they have had selections late in the first round while the Orioles have been choosing early in the first round.

In the MLB Pipeline rankings, the Orioles have the fifth-rated farm system, and the Nationals are 30th. Washington’s minor league teams haven’t been performing well, either. Their Triple-A team in Rochester is tied for last in High-A East, and their Low-A East team in Fredericksburg, which lost six straight games to Delmarva last week, has begun the season 0-15.

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