The great Orioles pitching shuffle is working

Starters, relievers continuing to reap rewards of early-season moves by Showalter, Duquette

  • The Orioles bullpen watches Chris Tillman pitch against the Cincinnati Reds earlier this month.
The Orioles bullpen watches Chris Tillman pitch against the… (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore…)
September 14, 2014|By Dan Connolly | The Baltimore Sun

Orioles manager Buck Showalter has been shuffling his pitching staff all season. If he can find a way to get a starter some rest or bring an extra pitcher into the bullpen for a day or two, he’ll do it.

The obvious result is that his relievers, for the most part, have maintained their health while pitching effectively. Heading into Saturday’s game against the New York Yankees, Orioles relievers had the fourth-best ERA in the American League and sixth-most innings pitched. Only closer Zach Britton was among the league's top 10 in appearances, with 66. Darren O’Day was tied for 25th, with 62, and neither pitched in Saturday's 3-2 loss.

But we’re also starting to see the effects of Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette’s moves manifest in the starting rotation.

In their past 12 outings, Orioles starters are 6-1 with a 1.61 ERA and 10 quality starts. They are averaging more than 6 1/3 innings per outing. In other words, they appear to be getting stronger in September.

That makes little sense, except when you consider that the club’s philosophy of sending starters with options to the minors on occasion has kept their major league innings down. Four of the five Orioles starters have been sent briefly to the minors at least once this year.

Chris Tillman is the only one who hasn’t, and he’s the only one who likely will reach 200 innings this year (he has 187 2/3 right now). The next closest is Wei-Yin Chen, with 168 innings.

“First of all, it’s been the innings,” right-hander Miguel Gonzalez said in explaining his six straight quality starts. “I don’t have that many innings this year [148 1/3]. I think that’s been the key and, basically, that’s it.”

Showalter said everyday hitters tend to wear down in the long season, and so fresher pitchers should have the advantage.

“I think this time of year, some of the fatigue of the position players comes into play, too,” Showalter said. “I'm not trying to take anything away from the pitching for us, but baseball, in general  if you look at scores and you get into August and September, it's tough.

“The later it gets in the season, the more it plays, I think. But what do I know?”

I guess we’ll see what he knows in October. But the club’s early-season philosophy of juggling days off and minor league assignments seems to be working in September.

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