Orioles' rotation subjected to intense scrutiny

The Orioles filed off the field last night with their first loss since July 4. The winning streak expired at eight games.

It didn’t influence their standing as the team with the third-best record in baseball.

The trade deadline arrives in two weeks. The club isn’t broken, so why fix it?

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is intent on strengthening it. There’s a difference. He’s finally free to operate as a buyer, and he’s got the prospect resources to keep his phone ringing.

A partner is necessary to consummate a deal, and the Orioles will be active in the search. But what exactly do they need?

A frontline starting pitcher is the popular response. Every scout I talk to questions whether the rotation is built for a deep run in the playoffs. They weren’t unanimously sold on the Orioles reaching the postseason, but the opinion changed as the wins kept coming, pushing the club 22 games above .500 before last night.

The Athletic’s Jim Bowden predicted yesterday that the Orioles would “make a play for” starters such as Jack Flaherty, Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Jordan Montgomery or Marcus Stroman. All of them potential rentals, with the White Sox holding an option on Lynn’s contract for 2024 and Stroman’s deal with the Cubs including a player option.

MLB Network’s Jon Morosi also tossed out Mike Lorenzen’s name yesterday during a segment highlighting how the Orioles could make a play for Angels’ two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, which seems highly unlikely based on the exorbitant cost for a rental. But it got people talking.

“Baltimore’s need is pitching,” Morosi said. Many others in the industry would agree.

What’s missing from the deadline analysis beyond the rotation’s improved production is an explanation of how the Orioles would fit another starter into it.

The unit has compiled 36 quality starts and allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of the last nine games. The starters have worked six innings or more in nine of 11, and they’ve registered 18 quality starts in the past 31 games.

Grayson Rodriguez came back from the minors last night and held the Dodgers to one run through the fifth before the game fell apart for the Orioles in the sixth. He isn’t here to fill a temporary role. The Orioles have fingers crossed that his skilled right arm keeps him in the majors.

“I think we’re in the mindset of winning games right now,” manager Brandon Hyde said on Sunday, “and hopefully he sticks in the rotation the rest of the summer.”

That’s the plan, anyway.

Kyle Gibson took the ball on Opening Day, and he’s done more than just eat innings and provide leadership. Kyle Bradish shaved his ERA to 3.05 Sunday, lowest among starters, and has allowed one run this month in 19 1/3 innings and six in his last six starts over 38 1/3.

Tyler Wells has registered a 3.18 ERA in 18 games, and his 0.927 WHIP leads the majors. Dean Kremer has allowed two earned runs in 13 innings this month in his two starts, and he’s limited opponents to one earned run or fewer in seven outings.

Gibson and Kremer have the highest ERAs among the four primary starters at 4.77 and 4.59, respectively, but those numbers don’t tell the entire story. Kremer leads the club with 10 wins and Gibson is next with nine. They both have nine quality starts. Kremer’s 100 strikeouts rank second to Wells’ 103. Gibson averages only seven per nine innings but twice has fanned 11 this season.

He also brings a rarity to the roster – playoff experience.

Cole Irvin held opponents to two runs in 11 1/3 innings this month in his two starts and he was sent to the bullpen, a victim of overcrowding.

“We just had a really good month. We’re certainly throwing the ball well this month,” Irvin said.

“Whatever the team needs is out of our control. We certainly think we’re capable here in the clubhouse to get the job done, no matter what role we’re in. We focus on our job and winning as many games as we can and bring that playoff number a little closer to us. That’s the goal.”

The Orioles could go with some variation of a six-man rotation, giving Rodriguez extra rest to control his innings. They could make a hard choice and remove a starter.

Or they could keep checking the market and decide to strengthen the bullpen and the bridge to setup man Yennier Cano. A move similar to the 2014 acquisition of left-hander Andrew Miller.

“We’ll see,” Hyde said yesterday. “The draft’s over, so I’m sure things are really picking up around the league. I really can’t go any further than that. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re excited to be in this position and love the club that we have right now, and if we can add to it, that would be great.”

The starters may not be insulted by industry chatter about rotation deficiencies, but they don’t agree with it. They accept the challenge.

Proving the doubters wrong fuels them.

“I think whenever you look at the rotation, we have been doing a great job this year,” Wells said. “I think Bradish is a prime example of what we’re capable of after Sunday. Gibby’s been providing consistency. I’ve been able to provide consistency. Bradish has been able to provide consistency. Dean had been able to provide consistency.

“If you’re talking about four starters, it is hard to sit there and be like, ‘Oh, that’s a weak spot.’ But I understand where people are coming from in the aspect of, that fifth spot’s kind of been wavering throughout the year, so maybe that’s the case. But I don’t think there’s any reason for us to be concerned about that. I think that, if people look at it from the inside out or the outside in, you can definitely say that the starting rotation has been doing a great job this year and we continue to push each other forward and really try to improve.”

The eight-game winning streak was the longest of the season. The primary reason for its existence?

The rotation could take a collective bow, going 6-0 with a 2.12 ERA in 51 innings.

“You have to pitch, and if look, our starting pitching numbers this month have been really good,” Hyde said. “The majority of our starts this month have been outstanding, kept us in games and allowed us to score enough runs to win.”

Meanwhile, get ready for daily reports on teams “listening” on players, as if it’s breaking news. As if executives block numbers or refuse to engage in certain discussions.

They all listen. And they reserve the right to say “no.”

Listening isn’t shopping.

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