Jordan Lyles with some props for the 'pen

The Orioles bullpen, by just about any standard, is having a great year. It’s been one of the best in the majors this season, dramatically improved over the past and a big reason this club is around .500 this late in the year.

The O's bullpen ERA in 2021 was 5.70 to rank last in the majors. Through Sunday's game, the O's ERA in the bullpen is 3.14 to rank fourth.

“It’s been fun to watch,” O’s starter Jordan Lyles said Sunday morning. “I know there were probably a lot of questions coming out of spring training. We had that spring trade where we dealt two relievers (Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser). But guys have just stepped up, and done more than step up. We have one of the best bullpens in baseball and it’s fun to hand the ball over to them every fifth day.”

It is a bullpen that is probably not getting enough credit nationally for the O’s improved play. The team as a whole is getting props, but it seems some are slow to notice that a ‘pen filled with waiver claims is featuring some real gas throwers and getting a lot of outs. And has been all year.

Lyles said all that velocity is important but those pitchers have more than just gas to get outs.

“I think having a big arm is a big deal," he said. "It allows guys to get away with a few more mistakes than guys not throwing as hard. But they have secondary pitches too. Félix (Bautista) has one of the best splits in baseball. Joey (Krehbiel) has one of the best changeups. Lopie (Jorge López) not only throws hard but has some of the best movement on a high-velocity pitch in baseball. There are a lot of secondary pitches these guys do well with.” 

Of the key members in the bullpen this year, four came to the team via waiver claims:

* Bryan Baker, claimed Nov. 8, 2021 from Toronto.

* Cionel Pérez, claimed Nov. 24, 2021 from Cincinnati.

* Joey Krehbiel, claimed Sept. 21, 2021 from Tampa Bay.

* Jorge López, claimed Aug. 9, 2020 from Kansas City.

The Marlins signed Bautista originally, then released him in January 2015. On Aug. 4, 2016, the Orioles signed him to a minor league deal. On their watch, he very slowly got better, buzzed through three levels of the Baltimore farm last season and has been dominant in several games this year.

“A lot of teams claim a lot of people,” said Lyles. “Over the years, we have not had a great record and so got first dibs at some guys. But a lot of quality, talent arms were added, and Mike (Elias) has pulled the trigger on getting those talent guys. But a lot of credit also has to go to our pitching coaches, Chris Holt and Darren Holmes. They find out how these guys click, what makes them successful and what allows them to be consistent in the strike zone.

“A lot of guys that get claimed, they have talent and they have things that they can do well. It’s a matter of unlocking that and opening that door for them. I think Darren Holmes and Chris Holt have a lot to do with this as well.

“At the end of the day, they make guys comfortable with trying to throw strikes with their best stuff. Easy to say, but they know a way to translate that and connect with guys.”

Tampa Bay hits town tonight: The Orioles are now 2-4 so far in a 10-game stretch versus the Rays, Yankees and Rays again. The O's and Rays open a four-game series this evening at Oriole Park.

The O's lost the rubber match with the Yankees 6-0 on Sunday as they were shut out for the seventh time this season and first since June 28 at Seattle.

The Orioles (47-48) are now back at one game under the .500 mark. They lost a home game for just the second time in the last 11 games at Camden Yards. They are now 17-23 in games against the American League East.

Tonight in the series opener with Tampa Bay, right-hander Austin Voth (1-1, 6.38 ERA) faces Rays right-hander Corey Kluber (6-5, 3.73 ERA).

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