SEATTLE – Before Tuesday night's game against the Seattle Mariners, the Orioles demoted their previous night's starter, Zach Britton, and called up another arm for their bullpen.
Cycling in fresh relievers has become a necessity for a club that continues to rely on a superb relief corps to keep them going.
In a 7-2 win over the Mariners on Tuesday night, the Orioles posted four runs in the first, had a 13-hit attack and were in control all game.
And yet manager Buck Showalter again had to ask his bullpen to pitch four full innings – using four relievers – to secure the victory, which snapped the club's modest two-game losing streak.
Even when it should be easy, the Orioles' starters have made this month an adventure.
This time, it was No. 1 pitcher Jason Hammel who failed to get any outs in the sixth. In his five previous starts this year, Hammel had gone at least six innings each time, but hadn't completed seven once.
"We've got to give these guys in the bullpen a day off one of these days," Hammel said. "Six innings isn't enough, and that's what I have been camped at and then today five innings. So I am obviously very frustrated because that's not the way to build a winning team, because after a while those innings will start to chew up the bullpen no matter how good they are. And they have been outstanding. So I've got to get deeper in the games. That's just the bottom line."
It's a season-long trend.
In their last 12 games, spanning 11 days, the Orioles bullpen has pitched 38 1/3 innings – roughly three-plus innings per contest – and posted a 2.11 ERA. Heading into Tuesday’s games, Orioles’ relievers had the second best ERA in the American League at 2.61 and had thrown the sixth most innings. The Orioles (16-11) and the Oakland A’s were the only winning teams in the top six of most innings pitched by a relief corps.
Perhaps most startling, the Orioles have now completed their first month of the season – and 27 games – with only one start that has lasted at least seven innings: An eight-inning gem by Wei-Yin Chen on Friday in Oakland.
And yet they are five games over .500 this season.
That speaks to the Orioles' strong bullpen and to an offense that continues to put up runs against inferior or inexperienced pitching.
On Tuesday, it took the Orioles four pitches to take the lead on the Mariners' 22-year-old rookie right-hander Brandon Maurer. Six batters into the game, they were up 4-0.
Leadoff hitter Nate McLouth, as he has done for the better part of two weeks, scalded the ball. On a 2-1 count, McLouth smashed a 91-mph fastball over the right field wall for his second homer of the season and 11th as a leadoff hitter in his career.
In his last 10 games, McLouth is batting (16 for 33) with eight walks and 14 runs scored, reaching base 24 of his last 40 plate appearances.
"Nate is a strong man," Showalter said. "Pound for pound he's about as strong as we got. He's put together a good stretch here."
But the left fielder isn't the only Oriole clicking at the plate right now. And Maurer (2-4), in his sixth big league start, found that out quickly.
Manny Machado followed McLouth's blast with a double that extended his hitting streak to nine games. That ties Andres Mora (1976) and Boog Powel (1962) for longest consecutive hitting streak by an Oriole age 21 or younger.
The 20-year-old Machado scored the Orioles' second run when Maurer threw two wild pitches.
With two on and one out, Matt Wieters doubled down the right field line to put the Orioles up by four.
Maurer threw 32 pitches in the first inning before settling down and not allowing another run in the outing. He had pitched six innings or more in four of his previous five big league starts before lasting just four Tuesday.
The Orioles didn't score again until the sixth; and, really, didn't have to. Reserve outfielder Chris Dickerson, who was 1-for-8 coming into Tuesday, blooped a two-run single into center to give the Orioles a 6-0 lead.
Dickerson was making just his third start of the season, and first since the April 20 doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He finished 3-for-5.
"It's difficult when you haven't seen live pitching in five or six days," Dickerson said. "So I wanted to make sure I was short and quick to the ball and put the ball in play and see what happens. And luckily, definitely luckily, it worked out."
The run support was plenty for Hammel (4-1), who again was not crisp, yet did enough to limit the opposing offense and pick up the win.
He took a shutout into the sixth before serving up Mike Morse's eighth homer of the season. Hammel yielded two more singles and was chased from the game.
Tommy Hunter allowed a single and one inherited runner to score on a ground out, before inducing a key, inning-ending double play.
Four relievers combined to shut down the Mariners (12-17).
And kept the Orioles headed in the right direction.
"We're just going out right now and doing our jobs," Hunter said. "That's what you're supposed to do. ... We've been doing a pretty good job collectively as a group, and hopefully it continues."