Pitching coach Rick Adair on handling the majors’ best bullpen

After last night’s loss, the Orioles now have an even run differential. Their record is nine games over .500 at 41-32 but they have scored 310 runs this year and given up the same number.

Their are eight American League teams with a better run differential than the Orioles but just two with a better record (the Rangers and Yankees).

Winning close games has clearly been big for the club this year and the Orioles are 25-12 in games decided by two runs or less and 9-2 in extra-inning games.

A bullpen that continues to lead the majors with a 2.33 ERA has been a huge factor for the team in those close wins. The Orioles’ bullpen leads the American League with 15 wins and 26 saves. The next closest AL team in ERA is New York at 2.60.

The Orioles ‘pen has pitched the third-most relief innings in the AL thanks, in part, to 11 extra-inning games. Four of the top 20 relievers’ ERAs in the AL belong to Orioles: Jim Johnson (1.10), Pedro Strop (1.32), Darren O’Day (1.67) and Luis Ayala (1.84).

But while the Orioles have managed to pitch a lot of innings as a bullpen, it seems no individual pitcher has been overused and several are very close to each other in the amount of innings pitched:

34.1 - Ayala
34 - Troy Patton and Strop
32.2 - Johnson
32.1 - O’Day

Pitching coach Rick Adair credits skipper Buck Showalter for his handling of the bullpen.

“Well, Buck has been known to be very good at managing a bullpen,” Adair said. “He’s real strict on the number of pitches guys throw, so that they are available to come back. Almost any one of our guys could pitch in the sixth, seventh or eighth and matchup, and Buck does a great job of putting them in good situations where they match up well even if the other club pinch hits. That’s managing.”

That doesn’t happen by good luck, he said, but rather by good planning and preparation.

“We pretty much go through every game how we’ll do things, even before situations arise,” Adair said. “A real good manager will go, ‘If we have two outs in the sixth and they pinch hit here, who do we go to?’ even before the game. What if it’s a tie game? You play these things out in your head and he’s done it a few times, too.”

Showalter and Adair have also been careful to not get pitchers warming up too often without getting them in the game and also about not letting a pitcher go too many days without getting an inning to stay sharp.

“The old rule of thumb is, if you get a guy up three times (to warm up during a game), he’s either down or he’s in the game. But very, very seldom do we get guys up more than once,” he said.

The bullpen pitchers have made Buck’s moves look good with how well they have pitched but they’ve pitched well also because of how they’ve been used. It all has been a big key to the club’s good record this year.

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