Can the Orioles bullpen repeat late-inning success?

The Orioles, like just about any team, have question marks. Can some of their starting pitchers repeat last year’s success? Can Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts stay healthy?

There are others, but one area of the team that looks very strong again is the bullpen - and particularly the back end of the ‘pen.

The Orioles, on many nights, can send out Pedro Strop to pitch the seventh, Darren O’Day in the eighth and Jim Johnson in the ninth. And that is without even mentioning the lefty matchup possibilities with Brian Matusz and Troy Patton.

But consider these numbers from last year for the trio that is expected to man the late innings again:

* Strop was 5-2 with a 2.44 ERA and had scoreless streaks of 13 and 17 games. He is the baby of the trio at 27. Right-handed batters hit just .184 against Strop, who allowed a batting average of just .197 when pitching with runners in scoring position. When he pitched on zero or just one day of rest in 2012, he had an ERA of 0.59. He is a pitcher that needs regular work.

* O’Day went 7-1 with an ERA of 2.28. He allowed just six of 43 inherited runners to score and that 86 percent rate was third-best in the American League. His stats against the AL East were amazing, with a 4-0 record and 1.10 ERA along with a .135 batting average against. O’Day gets out left-handed batters (.207) and right-handed batters (.200) about equally well.

* Johnson went 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA, setting a club record with 51 saves, which led all of Najor League Baseball. He went 2-0 with a 0.80 ERA and OPS against of just .419 against the AL East. He pitched to an ERA of 0.36 over his final 26 games and he finished seventh in the AL Cy Young voting.

A strong threesome? Yeah, very strong.

The Orioles were 74-0 last season when leading after seven innings. Every other AL club had at least two losses. The Orioles led the league, going 75-1 when leading after eight. They went 14-2 (.875) when tied after eight innings, the best record in the AL in those games, with Kansas City second at 9-4 (.692).

O’Day is quite aware that bullpen pitchers and their effectiveness can vary greatly from season to season. But he is very confident this group is in for another strong year.

“Historically, there is some volatility in bullpens,” he said. “I can understand why people say that, but I see no indication as to why our performance would slack at all. There is going to be some deviation, just based on the way stats work. But we’ve got the same cast of characters back and I don’t see any reason why we can’t be as good as we were last year.”

O’Day said he used spring training this year to get his work in early and work on specific things late.

“I’m working on some little things,” he said. “Just pitches I want to be able to execute more frequently,” he said recently. “No new pitches, other than a knuckleball.”

He was joking about that, of course. He’s got enough of an arsenal to get plenty of hitters out, as do Strop and Johnson.

The O’s bullpen should be a real team strength again this year and they seem to have a decent chance to be dominant out of the ‘pen in the late innings once again.

Take time to read this: This is totally unrelated to what I wrote about today, but it’s worth your time. As we are about to start another season how lucky we are that many us will get to go to Camden Yards this year. Some fans may not be able to go to a park to see their favorite team. Baseball is more than a game and it means a lot to many of us, including this fan - and here is his story.

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