Starters have ended the bullpen's effectiveness

So, about that rotation ...

Zach Britton didn't record an out in the fifth inning last night. Chris Tillman didn't get out of the first inning on Monday. Miguel Gonzalez couldn't get the final out in the sixth on Sunday.

Now it's Tommy Hunter's turn - because the Orioles don't have a whole lot of choices.

Hunter is working on normal rest. He's on the 40-man roster. He's got a pulse.

Advantage, Hunter.

The bullpen is completely out of whack. Manager Buck Showalter has done a masterful job with it, but the rotation is ruining his work.

Luis Ayala entered last night's game in the fifth inning with the bases loaded, and the Twins scored three runs while Britton leaned on the dugout railing. Ayala isn't supposed to be pitching in the fifth, and he's definitely not supposed to be logging 2 2/3 innings.

Strop Throws White wide.jpgPedro Strop replaced Ayala in the seventh last night. Remember when he didn't pitch until the eighth? Remember when he was the set-up man and the bridge to closer Jim Johnson, who wasn't entering games with the Orioles losing 14-5?

(A side note: Really wish Strop would stop throwing sliders and speeding up the hitters' bats.)

Showalter keeps insisting that relievers don't have roles on this team. They warm up when the phone rings, and they're expected to get outs. Well, he's not kidding. Guys are being used in all sorts of situations.

The starters aren't shortening the games, they're shortening the life span of the bullpen.

Orioles relievers were carrying the lowest ERA in the American League for most of the season, but not anymore. They rank sixth now at 3.18, which is 10th in the majors. Like the team itself, they're headed in the wrong direction.

(Don't look now, but the Orioles are in third place in the American League East, a half-game ahead of the Red Sox.)

Kevin Gregg stood in the outfield during batting practice a few days ago and told Showalter that he was willing to start if the club needed him. It was a nice gesture. Showalter didn't bite, but he appreciated the thought.

I might have taken him up on it, but I'm weak.

Hunter has registered a 4.66 ERA in three starts at Triple-A Norfolk. He's allowed nine runs and 14 hits in his last two starts covering 12 1/3 innings. Doesn't exactly scream "promotion," but he's back.

If you're looking for encouragement, all four runs off Hunter in his last start scored in one inning. He worked 7 1/3 innings, so he was mostly good.

Hunter is 2-1 with a 3.20 ERA in three career starts against the Twins, but he's 0-3 with an 8.07 ERA in six road starts this season.

Showalter would be tickled if Hunter could turn in a quality start tonight, but at this point, he'd probably settle for the innings. Just pitch deep into the game. Spare the bullpen.

The reliever you save may be your own.

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