Impact of rotation's shortcomings on Orioles bullpen, and Gibson's record-setting starts

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde kept rookie Grayson Rodriguez on the mound Tuesday for 99 pitches, the right-hander’s highest total in four years dating back to A ball. It wasn’t a test of strength and endurance. It wasn’t intended as a professional life lesson.

The club just needed the length.

“I can’t continue to pull our starters in the fifth inning,” Hyde said afterward.

Rodriguez was gone after walking the bases loaded and retiring only one batter in the fifth, the failure to put away hitters with two strikes coming back to bite him. But the stuff is filthy and the leash is long enough to reach Chicago, where he’ll start again Sunday afternoon.

What happens after that is the mystery, with Kyle Bradish pitching Friday night at Double-A Bowie and lined up for an April 19 return in D.C. if he stays on turn.

There’s no mystery when it comes to the repercussions of shortened outings. Hyde keeps going to his bullpen and risking a stumble that costs his team a game. Risking early burnout and eventually a forced minor league move to freshen the unit.

A reliever might have been recalled by now if not for the early restrictions with pitchers.

Last night began with four teams tied for most innings by their starters with 66 – the Astros, Royals, Twins and Padres. The Orioles ranked 25th with 52 before Dean Kremer’s removal after 4 1/3. The Tigers were last with 45 2/3.

The Orioles bullpen has accumulated 49 1/3 innings in 12 games, which ranked sixth after the final out. The 4.20 ERA ranked 16th, seven spots below where it finished 2022.

It could be worse, except Tyler Wells tossed five scoreless innings in Texas after Jonah Heim’s line drive nailed Bradish on the right foot in the second. Left-hander Danny Coulombe, a surprise pickup from the Twins at the end of spring training, hasn’t allowed a run in five appearances over 4 2/3 innings. Mike Baumann has held opponents to one run in 6 2/3.

Cionel Pérez has surrendered 14 hits in 6 2/3, along with four runs, one walk and seven strikeouts.

If you predicted back in February that Logan Gillaspie would possess the team lead in appearances with seven, I’d need proof of it. And it seems like he’s warming in every game.

High-leverage Logan entered Tuesday night in a calmer setting, with the Orioles ahead 12-7 in the ninth inning. He allowed one run and Félix Bautista began to throw. Gillaspie replaced Pérez last night with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth and induced a double play with one pitch, an emergency move that Hyde didn’t want to make.

The Orioles have played 12 games and their starters recorded an out in the sixth inning only three times. Kyle Gibson, signed for $10 million in the offseason, has gone seven and 6 1/3 in his last two starts. Wells worked six innings on Sunday.

Gibson has moved onto the list of Orioles with the most consecutive winning starts after joining the team. He’s won each of his first three decisions, including Opening Day in Boston, when he went five-plus innings.

Ben McDonald, now a MASN analyst, owns the record with five wins from July 21-Aug. 13, 1990, according to STATS. However, he made six relief appearances in 1989, the year he was chosen as the first-overall draft pick, and six more the following season before joining the rotation.

“I’m trying to remember back to my 22-year-old self,” McDonald said yesterday. “You knew you won your first start because everybody wants to win. I think we put more emphasis on winning as a starting pitcher back then. These guys want to win, but it seems like it’s a little bit different feel now to it. I didn’t even think about it until I started off 3-0 and the media started talking about it. I remember it eventually got to five in my first five starts, which was really cool.

“I started the year on the IL. I blew out an oblique and I was just trying to get back, so I actually started in the bullpen, and then eventually I went into the starting rotation from there.”

Jack Harshman, traded by the White Sox to the Orioles in December 1957, won four consecutive starts from April 22-May 10. But his first appearance came in relief, when he tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings with one hit and six walks and also earned the win.

Rodrigo Lopez also won four starts in a row from April 24-May 10, 2002, but after five relief appearances.

Dave McNally (1962-63), Roy Smith (1991), Willis Roberts (2001), and Steve Johnson (2012) won their first three starts.

McNally tossed a two-hit shutout in his first major league outing, and his only appearance in ’62. He came out of the bullpen for the first game in ’63 at Yankee Stadium, threw a scoreless sixth inning and hopped back into the rotation.

Smith finished his major league career with the Orioles in ’91. His three winning starts in a row came after he failed to retire a batter in a relief outing. Roberts made six relief appearances before his first start.

Johnson began his major league career after the trade with the Dodgers by pitching once in relief, winning his first start, pitching twice in relief, winning his second start, pitching five times in relief (with one victory), winning his third start, and getting a no decision in his fourth start.

Gibson is taking his own path. Three games, three starts, three wins.

No one else has done it in modern franchise history.

“You want to be that sounding board, you want to be here for the younger guys, and we all have a bigger purpose to this whole team, whether it’s a veteran or a rookie,” Gibson said yesterday.

“First and foremost, if I’m not helping the team on the field, I’m probably not going to be here for very long. Obviously, that’s one of my main focuses is making sure that every five days the team’s in the game and has a chance to win.”

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