Six-man starting rotation working well for Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

Six-man starting rotation working well for Orioles

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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After three weeks of a six-man starting rotation with just a seven-pitcher bullpen, the Orioles get to add an eighth reliever for Friday’s game in Arizona. That addition should take the pressure off the bullpen, and make it easier for the Orioles to use six starters for the final 29 games of the regular season.

Since beginning the six-man rotation, they’re 13-8.

Three of the Oriole starters — Jack Flaherty, Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin — have pitched in full major league seasons. The other three — Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer and Grayson Rodriguez — have not.

With the Orioles overwhelming favorites to play in the postseason for the first time since 2016, manager Brandon Hyde has been counting innings for his starters, and with Kremer at 150 innings and Bradish at 133 2/3 with a Saturday night start in Arizona looming, those are big numbers.

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“I think it was the right thing to do from where we are with all those guys right now,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We’re planning on playing an extra month. To do that, we’ve got to get that first. To stretch these guys into positions where they’ve never been before, we thought the right thing to do was to help them out from a health standpoint.”

Kremer has perhaps four more starts, and if he averages six innings per start, which is just slightly above his season average, he’ll have 174 innings heading into the postseason. Depending on how far the Orioles go in October, Kremer could get another five starts, which could bring him north of 200 innings.

“It’s definitely big at this point in the season,” Kremer said. “August is usually the dog days, so getting that extra 24 hours or 48 hours is huge for all of us and for myself personally, I feel like there was a little bit of a hump to get over through like 110-130 innings. I feel like I might have surpassed that, but too early to tell.”

Bradish, who missed time in early April when a line drive in Texas bruised his foot, has become the Orioles’ most accomplished starter in the second half of the season. In his last three starts, Bradish has allowed four runs on 13 hits in 18 innings and his earned-run average has fallen to 3.03, sparking talk that he could be a Cy Young Award contender.

With the Orioles having three offdays in the three weeks they’ve been using a six-man rotation, it’s allowed the starters to work once a week, and take two days off from throwing during the week.

“Those add up, especially towards the end of the season,” Bradish said. “With having [Bradish, Kremer and Rodriguez] in the rotation right now, I think it gives a little more leeway come playoffs. That’s kind of the biggest thing I think why they did it, give everybody a bit of a break without having to do a bunch of other stuff.”

Rodriguez has thrown 93 innings with the Orioles in addition to 41 1/3 at Triple-A Norfolk, far more than he’s thrown in any professional season, and he’s had the most experience being an extra starter.

“A six-man rotation is something I’ve been accustomed to since I was drafted,” he said. “The first time I was up here in the big leagues is really the true time I’ve had a taste of a five-man rotation. Coming up in the minor leagues, always been on a six-man, and it’s normal for me.”

Irvin, who began the season as the Orioles’ third starter but was sent to Norfolk after just three uneven starts, is happy to be that extra man.

“You give yourself a little bit more time to prepare,” Irvin said. “You get s little bit more time to give yourself some rest if it’s needed. All in all, as much as I like a five-man rotation, this is what we’re doing.”

It seems to be working, and even with the crushing injury to closer Félix Bautista, the bullpen hasn’t been overworked because Oriole starters have been pitching at least six innings regularly.

Kyle Gibson, who labored through 4 1/3 innings on Wednesday, had worked eight innings in his previous start on August 24th against Toronto. He has thrown 162 2/3 innings, more than anyone on the staff with three seasons with more than 180 innings.

On Wednesday, Gibson thought he was heading for one of his better starts this season after he warmed up with catcher James McCann, but gave up seven runs to the Chicago White Sox.

“I don’t think it’s been a factor. I think it’s good for everybody, keeping us fresh,” Gibson said.

The additional rest hasn’t hurt him.

“Body and arm felt good. I think some of it was just pitch execution. I wouldn’t say the six-man rotation has anything to do with it,” Gibson said.

Rodriguez knows he has to be held back at times.

“As a competitor, you want to get out there as much as possible, but really that’s not what it’s about. It’s about your body, staying healthy,” he said.

“Honestly, I prefer the five-man rotation,” Irvin said. “I think that’s just the way this game is because you get that extra bullpen arm, but we’ve done a pretty good job so far of making sure we’re getting deep into games and not taxing our bullpen all that much. It’s been so far, so good.”

While Hyde liberally uses his bullpen, the Orioles have brought in fresh bullpen arms during the season. Not a single member of the bullpen has been on the 26-man roster throughout the year.

“Whenever you go into a six-man rotation, you’re super worried about bullpen,” Hyde said. “When our starters go six or more innings a night, that’s really, really helpful, and they’ve all done a great job.”

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