Andrew Stetka: O’s pitching staff bound to be tested

Things look pretty rosy at the moment for the Orioles, having taken three of four from the Blue Jays in Toronto and sitting atop the American League East at 8-3. The Birds even enjoyed the spoils of four straight strong performances from starting pitchers over the weekend in Canada. Though if the front office’s recent actions are any indication, big tests are ahead for this pitching staff.

In the past month or so, the O’s have acquired a bunch of pitchers you’ve never heard of. They’ve also grabbed a few you have heard of or maybe are just getting to know. It’s all part of a familiar pattern from Dan Duquette to dip into the so-called “bargain bin” and find arms. It’s worked in the past with players like Joe Saunders, who won the 2012 AL Wild Card Game over the Rangers in Texas. But this recent string of acquisitions has some questioning not whether they have the depth to compete, but rather the talent.

Earlier this month the O’s acquired left-hander Andrew Faulkner from the Rangers, a player who has totaled just over 16 big league innings over the last two years. They also signed veteran starter Edwin Jackson, who hasn’t totaled more than 150 innings in a season since 2013 with the Cubs. Jackson is a journeyman who brings a career 4.65 ERA to the table, as well as a June 1 opt-out date. The Birds also brought on right-hander Miguel Castro in a trade with the Rockies in the last few weeks. Castro has an ERA north of 6.00 in just over 32 career MLB innings over two seasons.

In just the last few days, the Orioles have made a pair of pitching acquisitions in exchange for an international bonus slot. They picked up righty Damien Magnifico from the Brewers and lefty Paul Fry from the Mariners in that way. It’s the same way they acquired prospect Chris Lee from the Astros two years ago. Giving up on the international market has drawn harsh criticism from many experts, but the Orioles simply don’t seem to care about all of that. The front office continues to basically be a non-factor when it comes to international signings, and instead has continued to build depth with journeymen and what many refer to as 4-A players. Gabriel Ynoa and Jayson Aquino are two other examples of cheap acquisitions who will at some point this season likely see time on the big-league roster. I haven’t even brought up the most recent example of this, Alec Asher, who made an impressive debut with the team on Saturday. The 25-year-old’s 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball may not earn him another start immediately, but it will certainly help the team have confidence in him once he does take the mound again.

All of this depth, while not eye-popping, will become important for the Orioles over the weeks and months to come. The fact that closer Zach Britton has landed on the disabled list with a forearm injury only compounds the problems the O’s may face. A bullpen that has a very strong back end with Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart will only be tested further now without Britton for some time. Chris Tillman’s injury means the O’s are also still working with just four starters, and there’s really only serious confidence in two of them (despite Wade Miley’s recent strong start).

Like many of the experts and fans alike, I question the Orioles and their approach to building pitching depth. It’s unconventional and seems like a sure way to get mediocre talent onto the roster. Fans would love to see two or three young, highly-rated, pitching prospects ready to jump into the mix and provide depth. I’m sure the front office would like that as well. But once you get past Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, neither of which can be considered prospects any more, the cupboard is bare. The Orioles have a consensus bottom-five farm system, with little pitching on the horizon. So for now, these Birds will continue to be forced to get by on outings like Saturday’s by Asher. They’ll have to rely on that occasional impressive start from Miley and hope that Bundy and Gausman continue to flourish and grow. They’ll have to also lean on a bullpen without its top weapon for some time. It’s come down to hoping that many of these newly-acquired “bargain bin” arms can hold down opponents enough for the offense’s home runs to hold up.

Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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