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The Orioles bullpen will have a different look as long as Zach Britton is hurt

If the Orioles are lucky, Zach Britton won’t be out for long, but as long as he is gone, they’ll have to figure out who’s stepping up into what role.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles season swerved in an unexpected direction on Sunday afternoon when they announced that closer Zach Britton was being placed on the disabled list with left forearm soreness. Of all of the problem areas you might have worried about with the team this year, this was probably not one of them.

The team will have to find out quickly whether they can get by without Britton. They were helped out by a blowout win on Sunday against the Blue Jays in which a storm of late runs left them in no real danger of having a save situation. There will be at least another week and a half where they will be figuring out their alternate plan.

The first hope is that the injury doesn’t turn out to be a serious one. Any time you hear about forearm soreness, you have to worry that the next step is going to be a consultation with Dr. James Andrews or another big name in the Tommy John industry. That fear will be there until Britton is back and looking like his old self.

Britton, at least, does not seem worried, insisting to Orioles reporters after Sunday’s game that it’s definitely not his elbow:

“Never had anything there. It’s not elbow. I think everybody thinks elbow initially, but it’s definitely forearm. The elbow stuff looks good. It looks strong. There’s no issues in there. So, hopefully, we can just treat it and knock it out and get my delivery a little bit in order as well, use the 10 days to fine-tune some things I want to fine-tune anyway and then be ready to go for the rest of year.”

Let’s hope he’s right. As everyone who’s been watching Britton’s early 2017 outings has noticed, things haven’t been where they need to be. He’s certainly right about that part.

There’s no MRI scheduled for Britton, which is at least an initial encouraging sign. Another good sign is that Britton did not lose velocity on his fastball after the pitch that he identified as when he strained the forearm. But whether it turns out to be serious or not, the Britton-less bullpen is going to be tested. How do things figure to look until he’s back?

The closer

This is the easy one, and based on the season so far, the least worrisome. Manager Buck Showalter signaled that his substitute closer is probably going to be Brad Brach when he had Brach warming for the save situation that never arose during Saturday’s loss.

It’s a small sample size, of course, but Brach looks ready for the big time for the balance of the time he’s needed. He’s looked practically unhittable to start this season.

The eighth inning

Here’s where it starts to get hairy. And set aside the question of whether or not there should be an eighth inning guy, because whether or not you think the Orioles should, the pattern we have is that there’s going to be one. So who is it going to be?

Darren O’Day is in that Britton category of, “Is there something wrong with him?” Although as of yet he hasn’t landed on the disabled list, one thing he has done is walk five of the 27 batters he’s faced. Another eight have gotten hits off of him, leading to a 9.64 ERA and a 2.786 WHIP.

O’Day is better than that, but if he’s not still as good as he was from 2012-15, he might not be an automatic choice here despite his past experience.

Is it Mychal Givens instead? He might not be in the clear for injuries either. Givens didn’t pitch at all in the four-game set in Toronto, with MASN’s Gary Thorne on Sunday alluding to some kind of injury having had Givens unavailable for at least a couple of days.

This followed on the heels of Jim Palmer expressing concerns about Givens’s velocity in his last outing on April 12 in Boston. When he entered that game, Givens was throwing fastballs as soft as 90mph. It’s worth noting that Givens went on to pitch two innings in the game, so the Orioles, at least, weren’t worried at the time. But he still hasn’t been on a mound since.

I think O’Day will end up getting the eighth and I’ll be nervous until he looks better. Which makes Givens the seventh-inning guy. Unless he’s hitting the disabled list next.

The specialist

Donnie Hart remains the lefty who is going to be summoned to try to get out lefties. Will he be summoned for more?

Actually, Hart has already faced more righties than lefties this season, thus far holding righties to a .200 average while lefties are batting .429. The small sample size warning still applies. Over a larger sample, the numbers will probably switch, though if Hart can get out righties as well as lefties, he might find himself pushing for one of the late-inning roles.

The rest

All three of Tyler Wilson, Vidal Nuno, and Stefan Crichton pitched in Sunday’s 11-4 win over the Blue Jays. I think that says about all we need to know about the likelihood of these guys pitching key innings.

Then again, Wilson was on the wrong end of Saturday’s loss, a surprising choice until it turned out that all of Britton, O’Day, and Givens were unavailable in the game. If there are other games where needed rest days or minor injuries create that situation, they might matter after all, or, if any one of them gets optioned, whoever gets called up to replace the fallen.


There’s no way to pretend that the Orioles bullpen could possibly be better off without Britton than it was with him. Do you think that they’ll be in good hands? O’Day and Givens have certainly had success in the past, as has Hart in the role he’s been used in. And every other team in baseball is probably envious of the Orioles for being able to put a guy as good as Brach in for as long as Britton is out.

Cross your fingers there aren’t any setbacks and we don’t have to find out what will happen with the back end of the bullpen if anyone else gets hurt.