Putting more credit on the pitching

Pitching is the No. 1 reason why the Orioles are better in 2022 than past years of the rebuild. And it’s inexplicable in a sense.

We can break down the numbers, but how is the rotation able to withstand the loss of ace John Means for the rest of the season? Followed by the demotion of left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, who allowed 17 home runs in his last seven starts, and rookie Kyle Bradish’s slump and placement on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation.

Bullpen games are plotted and won. Tyler Wells, last year’s Rule 5 reliever who earned the closer’s job, entered last night’s game in Seattle as easily the most dependable starter on the staff.

Spenser Watkins was No. 5 in the rotation, injured and optioned. He returned Saturday in Chicago, the guy who re-signed with the Orioles in November as a minor league free agent, and allowed just an unearned run in five innings. The Tigers released him in 2020.

Austin Voth was a waiver claim, which made him a perfect fit on this team, and viewed as a potential starter down the line. He was needed more as a long reliever, to stretch him out as much as anything.

He was an emergency starter on June 19 with Jordan Lyles floored by a stomach virus, and two outings later is in the rotation and taking the ball Wednesday night in the series finale against the Mariners.

Because these are your 2022 Orioles. Always finding a way. With total distain for excuses, no matter how high they’re stacked.

Now, to the bullpen, where Voth’s removal still leaves four relievers claimed off waivers and one signed as a free agent after being released. The taxi squad includes Beau Sulser, also a waiver claim.

Dillon Tate, Keegan Akin and Nick Vespi are the outsiders. Tate was obtained in a 2018 deadline trade with the Yankees that sent Zack Britton to the Bronx. Vespi was drafted in the 18th round in 2015 and Akin in the second round in 2016.

The Orioles signed Félix Bautista in 2016 after the Marlins released him. His own rejection story. And like Vespi, he finally was able to make his major league debut this year.

Bryan Baker was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays on Nov. 8.

Joey Krehbiel was claimed from the Rays on Sept. 21.

Jorge López was claimed from the Royals on Aug. 9, 2020.

Cionel Pérez was claimed from the Reds on Nov. 24.

Voth was claimed from the Nationals on June 7 and could return to the bullpen when Bradish is activated or if someone else hops into the rotation. This unit is far from set.  

The Orioles optioned Logan Gillaspie on June 18 while activating Krehbiel from the injured list. Gillaspie signed as a minor league free agent on May 6, 2021, two years after the Brewers released him.

Denyi Reyes is at Triple-A Norfolk, back on the active roster after going on paternity leave. He’s made three appearances with the Orioles, including a start, since signing a minor league contract in November. The Red Sox gave up on him.

The bullpen registered a 3.06 ERA before last night that ranked fourth in the majors. They were last in 2021 at 5.70 and in 2019 at 5.79.

The 2022 unit allowed 24 home runs before last night that tied for sixth-fewest in the majors. They topped the majors with 109 last summer and 126 in 2019.

López left Chicago with no home runs surrendered in 36 innings, Tate with one in 35 2/3, Baker with one in 29 2/3, Pérez with one in 23, Bautista with three in 29 2/3, Krehbiel with three in 26 2/3, and Vespi with none in 11 1/3. The last five are new to the team this season. López mainly was a starter after coming from Kansas City.

Krehbiel, Baker, Pérez and López combined to retire all 18 White Sox batters Friday night, and the ‘pen tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings the following day until Tate allowed a run in the ninth after hitting two batters. Pérez escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth Sunday for another scoreless inning.

“Our shortstop (Jorge Mateo) was a DFA and our second baseman (Richie Martin) was a Rule 5,” manager Brandon Hyde said after Saturday’s game, noting the spread of rejected contributors on the roster.

“Guys that get claimed off waivers are looking for a second chance and it’s something, we’ve talked about opportunity here for three or four years and there’s definitely been opportunity for guys. But I think that there are certain guys who are really taking advantage of a second opportunity, a second chance, guys with good stuff.”

There are pitchers here who moved beyond just a second chance. Try three or four.

“Sometimes, things don’t work out the first time through. Teams have to make tough decisions, we have to make tough decisions roster-wise,” Hyde said.

“The guys have great stuff. It was just maybe one guy, maybe the command wasn’t the same, maybe just changing a role, maybe hearing a different voice. Those are all things that come into play.”

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