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

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

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.

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.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB



  1. Orioles20

    May 21, 2021 at 8:30 am

    Obviously the bullpen is showing wear and tear but I think a lot of it is how and when there used. Fry shouldn’t have been used to throw thirty one pitches the other night. Lakins is being used in situations with runners on in the sixth. Any manager would be able to tell that that is not his strong suit and find other situations to use him. Valdez is not a closer and when he faces teams that have seen him he struggles. If you look at teams that win the manager puts the players in the best situations to succeed. The Astros and the rays are examples of this. The Astros have a terrible bullpen for a contender but dusty baker finds a way to use his pitchers in the best situation and Kevin cash does the same. Also Hyde has to let pitchers pitch through jams. You can’t bring in a reliever in at the first sight of trouble for starters. How are the young guys supposed to learn if there being pulled when they get in a jam.

  2. Orial

    May 21, 2021 at 8:51 am

    This whole conversation(poor/burnt out bullpen) has been going on for the last 4 years and you know what—nobody cares. There’s no pressure on Hyde,Elias was brought here to build the farm system,the 2 Sons are pre-occupued with a multitude of problems,the feeling of apathy in Baltimore is worrisome—who cares? But there is one day of hope—we’re on the road!!

    • Bhoffman1

      May 21, 2021 at 10:04 am

      What problems are the two born in the lucky sperm club sons facing besides the performance of this team year in year out.

      • Orial

        May 21, 2021 at 10:25 am

        Where do I begin? MASN dispute,commissioner Manfred not recognizing them,massive financial hits,Stadium lease,potential sale/keeping the team in Baltimore,lack of interest from it’s own fan base,a dilapidated downtown.

    • Icterus fan

      May 21, 2021 at 10:58 am

      I agree. Baltimore has systemic long standing social issues, and the palpable feel of systemic gloom is real.
      Islands of gentrification within the city don’t reflect the overall issues, and the Orioles struggles just add to the general apathy.
      Add to that the fact that we never really anticipated that we would be competitive this year, and it gets even more exasperating.
      We continue to look to the future.

    • CalsPals

      May 21, 2021 at 11:43 am

      & the future & the future, sighhh…go O’s…

    • Bhoffman1

      May 21, 2021 at 12:08 pm

      The commissioner doesn’t recognize them as owners? I didn’t realize that downtown was dilapidated I thought there had been a renovation years ago. As for their economic problems they are sons of a extremely wealthy man and I’m
      sure 99.9 per cent of America would welcome their financial problems

      • Phil770

        May 21, 2021 at 12:33 pm

        Orioles are owned by a partnership group, with PA being the controlling shareholder. MLB recognizes John A as the point man for the group. As for Baltimore, since the Freddie Gray riots, there has been a reluctance to hold conventions in Baltimore, attend Orioles games, frequent any surrounding establishments. The Inner Harbor owners are having financial difficulties, the shops there were becoming a bit shabby and vacancies were up…even before the pandemic. As for any one of us wanting their financial problems, I think not. Financial problems are financial problems. Accountants, lawyers, creditors and the risk of losing everything are stresses people do not want. We all deal with what we must in life. PA made his money as a Tort lawyer, and if you are not a practicing lawyer, then the revenue stream dries up. If PA invested well, there may be other assets that generate enough cash to make it through hard times. That also usually means that you cut your cash burn to the bare minimum to stay afloat; nearly impossible to cut costs enough to be successful, in any business. The O’s are no exception.

  3. Bman

    May 21, 2021 at 9:14 am

    Is it too early to start trading fir some more pieces? Maybe June…

  4. Nellie

    May 21, 2021 at 9:25 am

    I believe their Triple A Team is in Rochester. Maybe not.

    • Rich Dubroff

      May 21, 2021 at 11:30 am

      Yes, Nellie you are correct. Had been in Syracuse at one point.

  5. ZantiGM

    May 21, 2021 at 11:35 am

    O’s will tweak bullpen soon adding Jannis and Watkins and DFA Armstrong and Lakins and moving Lopez to BP and Akin to rotation

  6. Bhoffman1

    May 21, 2021 at 1:43 pm

    Phil if things are so bad for the Angelos family which I don’t in any sense believe Peter is a extremely wealthy man let them sell they team. That would benefit them and every fan. I knew after the Gray riots there was terrible inner city poverty but I didn’t know Harborside was on the decline

    • dlgruber1

      May 21, 2021 at 2:12 pm

      My cousin works for Southwest and tells me the Inner Harbor area has gotten really bad over the last few years. Of course, when you had a mayor that told everyone to let the rioters have their space that sort of thing happens. I remember when they had the game with no fans it was against the White Sox. I said the Sox players must’ve thought “what’s the big deal, this is a typical weekend in Chicago.”

    • Phil770

      May 21, 2021 at 3:11 pm

      Bruce, I think that is the conundrum; PA is alive, but not necessarily capable of making decisions. Even without such complications, valuing the team with the MASN issue unresolved and impacting value of the sale are issues; there also could be other restrictive covenants associated with any debt documents and partnership agreements. Sadly, I think the O’s options, financially, improve if PA were to pass away. Not a great option for any family to deal with. There are family farms, especially in the Mid-West that have a similar dilemma. I have no real inside knowledge, just what I have pieced together from various reading and observations from ownership challenges of other family businesses.

    • Icterus fan

      May 21, 2021 at 4:47 pm

      Phil, thanks for contributing such well written and thoughtful posts.

  7. willmiranda

    May 21, 2021 at 2:00 pm

    It is refreshing to read that diverse people have come to a consensus about the performance of the O’s, or at least their secondary pitchers, without having to resort to any advanced metrics. The eye-test lives!

    • 900E-33rdSt

      May 21, 2021 at 2:54 pm

      Oh no! Please no scary advanced metrics or data or statistics!!! Too scary, make them go away!!!

    • CalsPals

      May 21, 2021 at 3:01 pm

      I’m with you will, eye test lives…go O’s…

    • dlgruber1

      May 21, 2021 at 4:36 pm

      The eye test will live on long after any sabermetrics or anything else that comes along is long gone. The reason being that the eye test is also an IQ test-baseball IQ that is. Sure, guys are bigger, stronger, faster and have better facilities to practice and stay in shape year round yet look around, I’ve never seen worse overall pitching or hitting in my 61 years. I’m wondering how many guys who could REALLY play the game aren’t given an opportunity now because they don’t fall into the preferred specifications put on today’s scouts to find “talent”.

    • Icterus fan

      May 21, 2021 at 4:52 pm

      Collecting statistics and analyzing data to predict or interpret outcomes is as old as baseball itself, just the format and emphasis has changed, and considerably.
      The eye test and observational baseball acumen ain’t goin’ away, nor should it.

    • BarstoolSleeper

      May 21, 2021 at 11:15 pm

      There have been 6 no hitters already in MLB. The record for a season is 8. Batting average is near .240 or so for league average, so I’d say overall pitching is solid in the league. In fact pitching is so good right now that manfred and his goons are experimenting with moving the mound back. Yet another clown move by this commissioner.

  8. Bdub

    May 21, 2021 at 8:29 pm

    I’m confused, the point of AAA is to help the O’s win games ultimately correct? Why wouldn’t we send our most consistent pitcher if the big clubs bullpen is tired? At this point it’s Konner Wade.

    • CalsPals

      May 22, 2021 at 7:44 am

      Because the “ANALitics” don’t tell them to, but it makes sense, go figure….go O’s…

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