Recalling where Orioles played one year ago and bullpen woes

At the risk of rubbing salt into an open wound caused by the sports shutdown, the Orioles are supposed to be playing the Royals tonight to begin a four-game series at Camden Yards. I would have spent the following weekend in Chicago for the three-game set against the White Sox, as the season rolled merrily along.

A year ago today, the Orioles were in the middle of a series against the Twins in Minnesota that treated them with concrete gloves. No kidding.

The Orioles were swept by a combined score of 19-4. They already had been swept by the Twins in Baltimore to begin a stretch of eight losses in 10 games that lowered their record to 10-20.

A 4-1 start was followed by 11 losses in 14 games. Andrew Cashner was credited with victories in three straight outings, twice during that first brutal stretch.

There would be no “Why Not?” season. Just the expected welts raised in the first year of a rebuild.

The April 27 game unraveled in the middle and late innings, which became a familiar occurrence. The Orioles led 2-1 heading to the bottom of the sixth and allowed eight runs over the next three frames.

Paul Fry retired the side in order in the fifth after replacing Dan Straily and took the loss after surrendering a two-run homer to C.J. Cron in the sixth.

Tanner Scott was called upon in the seventh and issued a leadoff walk before Max Kepler’s two-run shot. Marwin González, Jason Castro and Kepler homered off Jimmy Yacabonis in the eighth.

Hyde-Frustrated-Dugout-Railing-White-Sidebar.jpgManager Brandon Hyde witnessed a lot of bullpen implosions last season. This one was epic.

The Orioles already had allowed 69 home runs on the season, including 34 from their relievers.

“It’s the big leagues,” Hyde said afterward. “We’ve got to be better than that and understand who can beat me and who can’t at appropriate times and who’s on deck. All those sorts of things that go along with winning pitching.

“We’re still learning a lot of things.”

Hyde’s club was attending the school of hard knocks, surrendering 305 home runs that shattered the old record. Relievers were responsible for 126.

One way to aid the bullpen is by getting deeper starts from the rotation. Straily had to be removed after four innings that night with his pitch count at 89.

Hyde tried to push Fry through a second inning and Cron crushed the left-hander’s season-high 30th pitch. Fry had only thrown that many pitches twice in his career, and he wasn’t finished.

As the season progressed and Hyde grew more familiar with this players, he learned their strengths and weaknesses and how to put them in the most advantageous positions. But he couldn’t always do it. There were many moments when he had to roll the dice.

The games and player availability dictated his moves. He’d signal to his bullpen with his hands tied or have to sit on them.

Trading Dylan Bundy removed an innings guy from the rotation and Hyde must hope that Alex Cobb can stay healthy and pick up the slack. And that John Means can pick up right where he left off.

Hyde saw both sides of Asher Wojciechowski and needs much more of the good. And he needs the two veteran left-handers, Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone, to provide some stability, though a truncated season should prevent the club from setting records for most starters used.

And perhaps the most position players used as pitchers.

It’s cute maybe once.

Having an expanded roster and more available relievers could make Hyde’s life a little easier. So would a lightening of the growing pains experienced by so many of the younger pitchers. The inability to work ahead or put away a hitter. And oh, those leadoff walks.

We’ve tossed around bullpen projections over the past few months and naturally, they’ve gone unchanged as baseball remains on hold. Six spots would appear to be set with Fry, Hunter Harvey, Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, Shawn Armstrong and Richard Bleier.

Hector Velázquez didn’t throw a pitch after joining the Orioles in a waiver claim. Eric Hanhold allowed one run and three hits with nine strikeouts in six innings. Cody Carroll allowed one run with no walks and eight strikeouts in six innings. Scott would give Hyde a third left-hander in the bullpen. Dillon Tate would give him an arm that can be a separator in competitions.

Long relief is going to become more valuable with starters needing to be protected in the early stages.

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