Bullpen’s production has been a huge relief

The Orioles began last night’s game against the Pirates with the lowest bullpen ERA in the majors at 2.40. Darren O’Day gave them a scoreless seventh inning, retiring the side in order. Dana Eveland allowed a run in two innings, which the Orioles didn’t mind conceding in a 12-6 victory.

Tommy Hunter collected his first win since April 24 because the Orioles showered him with runs and the ‘pen protected his lead.

The unit hasn’t fallen out of step without Matt Lindstrom, who posted a 1.29 ERA in 13 appearances before going on the disabled list May 11 with a slightly torn ligament in his right middle finger. His absence in the late innings didn’t leave a gaping hole.

“The depth is something that we attacked in the offseason,” said manager Buck Showalter. “We’ve got a couple guys down there (in the minors) that you haven’t seen that are pitching real well, too, without naming any names. (Stu) Pomeranz came in and helped us. That was a little kick in the pants. We thought he had a chance to be good and to add some length. We had to 60-day him. That’s how bad that (oblique) injury really was.”

Without checking any minor league stats, I’m guessing that Showalter was referring to Double-A Bowie’s Greg Burke and perhaps Triple-A Norfolk’s J.C. Romero, just to name two relievers we haven’t seen pitch up here.

oday-set-sidebar.jpgAnyway, let’s not give all the credit to the non-starters. Showalter has done a masterful job with the bullpen, and that includes laying off Kevin Gregg for prolonged stretches and getting a 1.32 ERA from him in a span of 12 appearances.

“I think it’s being able to spread the load around,” Showalter said yesterday afternoon. “I’ve talked about it. Pedro (Strop) had three days off before last night. Darren’s got three going into tonight. Louie (Ayala) had two off before he pitched the day before yesterday, which allowed him to pitch an inning-plus. Troy (Patton) had two days off before yesterday.

“There’s a fine line there when you’re managing a bullpen. Every guy to me has got a day that you need to pitch him. Every guy’s different. If you pitch him this much, you need to back off him. And at the same time, like with Pedro, I don’t want him to sit more than three days. He loses a little touch and feel there with the strike zone, so last night he was pitching, regardless.

“You kind of look at each pitcher. Rick (Adair) and I sit down every day and say, ‘This guy needs to pitch. We need to stay away from this guy if we can, unless we absolutely have to.’ Unfortunately, some of our extra-inning games and some of the other things, those have been some situations where we had to. So far, we’ve been able to pass the load around, and that’s been key.”

Showalter made sure that Eveland warmed up Wednesday night, even though he wasn’t going to use the left-hander in a 7-1 victory over the Pirates. He wanted Eveland to “get a little touch and feel situation” in case he was needed last night.

There’s a lot more to managing a bullpen than meets the eye. Since I started covering the Orioles full-time in 1997, I’ve seen guys excel at it and others burn out the entire unit by the middle of the summer. Showalter scores high marks.

I have to pass along this note before closing my morning entry. Triple-A Norfolk resumes its series against Toledo tonight with 49-year-old Jamie Moyer opposing 21-year-old Jacob Turner.

No matter who wins, Moyer has promised Turner ice cream after the game.

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