As the Orioles concluded their nine-game homestand, Koji Uehara gave the starting rotation a much needed deep outing. Uehara pitched 6.1 innings in a tough luck 3-2 loss to the Angels.
Getting deep into games has been a consistent dilemma for the Orioles rotation and that has put the bullpen on overload to pick up the innings the starters can't complete.
The O's bullpen went into Wednesday's game against the Angels having pitched 78 innings, the most of any bullpen in the American League. The O's starters had worked 107 innings. Only the Oakland Athletics starting staff had pitched fewer innings.
If the starters don't begin to get deeper in games and eat up innings, the bullpen will begin to wear down. O's starters have pitched 5 innings or less in 12 starts this season. That's more than half of the Orioles games. The bullpen has had 10 games in which it's had to pitch 4 or more innings.
Short starts are part of the game. It happens to every club and to every pitching staff. But the danger for the O's long term is the frequency of their short starts.
Even with today's specialized relievers being utilized in specific roles, the key number for the starters is 7 innings. If the bullpen is asked to get 6 outs per game, manager Dave Trembley can maneuver his way through the back part of the game.
But O's starters have pitched into the 7th inning in back-to-back starts only once all season. On April 23 Adam Eaton went 7 1/3 innings in a win over the White Sox. In the O's next game, Koji Uehara pitched 6 2/3 in a no-decision against Texas.
Effectiveness in each start is a key to the O's being competitive and it's directly related to pitch counts mounting too high too soon in games. The Orioles are doing a much better job of keeping the walk totals down after leading the league in walks in 2008. But overall the early pitch counts have been consistently too high for the starting staff.
The O's have had only four starters this season record at least one out into the 7th inning and Uehara owns three of those. (7-innings April 19 @ Boston, 6.2 April 24 vs Texas, and 6.1-innings April 29 vs Los Angeles). Adam Eaton with 7.1-innings April 23 vs Chicago is the only other starter to have pitched a game at least one out into the 7th inning.
The Orioles' bullpen is finding itself, settling into roles and pitching better and better. Now the starters need to pick up the pace so the relief corps doesn't get overused and burned out. And taking on a larger share of the innings is where it needs to start.