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The Orioles’ bullpen is an amalgamation of waiver claims, failed starters and longtime minor leaguers getting their first extended major league opportunities. Unexpectedly tasked with a rubber game against the Tampa Bay Rays, that relief corps again delivered for Baltimore.
After the Orioles learned about 8 a.m. that Jordan Lyles would be unable to start because of a stomach virus, seven of Baltimore’s relievers combined to cover all nine innings of Sunday’s 2-1 series-clinching victory at Camden Yards, coming in front of a Father’s Day crowd of 23,004. Four of those pitchers came to Baltimore via waiver claims. Another was a late-round draft pick. One spent a decade in the minors and was once released before finally getting a major league shot.
“It’s almost like we’re the misfits,” right-hander Bryan Baker said earlier this season, describing a group of pitchers that held Tampa Bay to two runs in 16 2/3 innings for Baltimore’s second straight series win against the Rays after winning only one of the prior 22 games between the American League East foes.
The victory was the Orioles’ 30th, coming in their 68th game. They hadn’t earned their 30th win earlier than the 92nd game of any of the previous four seasons.
Now in his fourth year as the Orioles’ manager, Brandon Hyde has frequently had bullpens stocked with waiver claims and castoffs. Asked what makes this year’s group different, Hyde responded, “Where do I start?” before listing off attributes he felt were absent in prior years.
“Makeup. Toughness. Stuff. Grit. López,” Hyde said, the last of those referring to closer Jorge López, who recorded the final four outs Sunday for his league-leading sixth multi-inning save.
Claimed from Kansas City in 2020, López struggled in the Orioles’ rotation for much of last year and had a relief audition cut short when he suffered a right ankle sprain covering first base. With the Orioles trading closing candidates Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott late in spring training, López has assumed the role and ran with it. With an arsenal built around high 90s sinkers, he’s recorded 11 saves while posting a 0.79 ERA, the second-lowest among major league relievers with at least 30 innings pitched.
He quipped “Am I?” when asked what it means to be the team’s closer, then added, “I don’t take that as being my role because everybody can take that role and execute it. I’m just thankful to have that opportunity and just be out there and give the win to the boys.”
Sunday, Baker was the lone member of the group to give up a run. Austin Voth, making his second start among 72 appearances over the previous two seasons and fourth outing for Baltimore after Washington put him on waivers, recorded the first eight outs, with one coming at home plate on an excellent relay from right fielder Ryan McKenna to second baseman Rougned Odor to catcher Adley Rutschman to end the second. With two outs and a man on in the second, Voth gave way to Baker, who issued two walks to load the bases. But he struck out frequent Orioles killer Randy Arozarena to leave them that way. Arozarena, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, went 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the series.
Already holding a 1-0 lead after Anthony Santander’s first-inning home run, the Orioles added a run in the third when McKenna scored from first on Cedric Mullins’ double to left-center field, though Baker gave it back in the fourth. Neither team scored from there. Nick Vespi and Mike Baumann, a pair of Orioles draftees, got Baltimore through the sixth, with Baumann getting an assist from Odor when the second baseman charged in and threw underhand to first base while falling to the ground to leave runners on the corners.
Hyde then turned to his regular late-inning trio of Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez and López. Bautista, who originally signed with Miami in 2012 as a teenager, reached the majors for the first time a decade later and has a 1.59 ERA. Pérez, claimed from Cincinnati this offseason, has a 1.31 ERA. Baltimore’s bullpen as a whole leads the majors in relief innings and ranks second in both wins above replacement and win probability added among relief corps.
“Guys are just kind of falling in,” Hyde said. “They have really good stuff and they’re showing it. They’re pitching with a ton of confidence on the plate, and we haven’t had that.”
Mateo’s wild ride
Trying to dodge an inside pitch from Luke Bard in the bottom of the eighth, Orioles shortstop Jorge Mateo instead took it to the neck. He remained in the game, but Bard twice tried to pick him off before throwing another pitch. Mateo then stole second base with ease on Bard’s next throw home.
He was thrown out at third on Mullins’ subsequent ground ball to the right side, with Hyde saying it was a case of the speedster being caught between on a one-hopper before breaking for third too late. Mateo has 17 steals, one off the MLB lead.
“He’s trying to make something happen,” Hyde said. “I’m gonna let Jorge Mateo run. If I’m going to handcuff him, that’s not smart on my part. Jorgie’s got the green light to do what he wants on the bases.”
‘Best Dad Ever’
The Orioles hope that Lyles will feel well enough to pitch in the coming days. His illness cost the other members of the rotation a Father’s Day celebration.
Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer and Tyler Wells wore T-shirts pregame featuring Lyles’ face and the words “Best Dad Ever,” a reference to his veteran status among Baltimore’s starters. Lyles is 31 years old, while Wells is 27, Kremer is 26 and Bradish is 25, but Lyles prides himself on being able to pitch deep into games and cover innings to make life easier on the bullpen and the team’s younger starters.
He wasn’t able to do that Sunday, but this time, the relievers picked him up.
Around the horn
Trey Mancini is still dealing with soreness in his right hand after a pitch hit it Monday, keeping him out of Sunday’s lineup. He missed the final three games of the team’s series in Toronto and went 1-for-9 in Friday and Saturday’s game.
Starting Monday, teams can have a maximum of 13 pitchers on their rosters. The Orioles have 14 and will need to make a roster move to add a position player before Tuesday’s game against Washington.
Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.
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