In this rebuilding 2019 season for the Orioles, few aspects of the team have been more disappointing than the bullpen, which entered Memorial Day with an AL-worst 6.09 ERA. And after a particularly painful three-game series against the Rockies, in which the bullpen blew a late lead in each contest, the O’s were a team in need of a change. The only solution, it seemed, was to blow up the conventional routine and try using guys in completely different roles than ever before.
That’s precisely what the Orioles did on this day. And danged if it didn’t work to perfection.
Dan Straily, newly shifted to the bullpen, worked four solid innings of long relief, and Shawn Armstrong handled ninth-inning duties in place of deposed closer Mychal Givens. Straily and Armstrong combined to allow just one run, preserving a 5-3 win over the Tigers.
The duo wasn’t perfect, it should be noted. The shakiest frame was the fifth, Straily’s first inning of work. The first two batters attacked him for base hits, including a Nicholas Castellanos RBI double, that shaved a two-run lead to one. But Straily got some help from his defense. Right fielder Stevie Wilkerson caught Castellanos breaking too far off second base on a Miguel Cabrera flyout to right and threw behind the runner to complete a double play.
That play seemed to relieve some pressure off Straily. Starting with Cabrera, Straily retired 11 of the next 12 batters he faced. His only blemish in that span was a sixth-inning walk, but he struck out the side in that inning. Straily, whose 8.10 ERA in eight starts got him booted from the rotation, looked reinvigorated as a reliever. Pitching against the now 19-32 Tigers probably didn’t hurt, either.
Then there’s Armstrong, who’s been quite a find since the O’s claimed him on waivers April 28. He’s been scored upon in only two of his 11 outings as an Oriole. With Givens coming off an atrocious week of pitching — one that has prompted Brandon Hyde to relegate him to lower-leverage situations for now — Armstrong appears to be the next man up as closer.
In true closer fashion, Armstrong raised fans’ blood pressure by working himself into — and out of — trouble. Holding a two-run lead in the ninth, he put the first two runners on base with a single and a walk. Here we go again, Birdland groaned in unison.
Armstrong bounced back to strike out JaCoby Jones and retire Niko Goodrum on a fly to left. Then, with Christin Stewart at the plate, both runners advanced on what the play-by-play tells me is defensive indifference. I feel like maybe the defense shouldn’t be so indifferent about letting the tying run advance into scoring position!
It didn’t matter. Armstrong prompted a game-ending popout from Stewart, and the Orioles were in the win column at Camden Yards for the first time since May 12. Armstrong notched his first save, making him the seventh Oriole this season to do so. That’s a lot of saves for a team with not a lot of wins.
That bullpen effort capped a game that the Orioles led from the first inning. They jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead on Renato Nunez’s club-leading 13th home run, his sixth in his last eight games. Look who’s getting hot again! I mean, Nunez still has a .286 OBP, but the dingers are nice.
The Tigers gifted the Orioles two more runs in the third. With Trey Mancini at first, Nunez grounded to third, and Ronny Rodriguez — trying to get the force at second — uncorked a throw so wild that Mancini scored all the way from first and Nunez ended up at third. Pedro Severino then plated him with a sac fly.
Jonathan Villar completed the Orioles’ scoring with a leadoff home run in the seventh, a 456-foot blast for his seventh of the year.
Gabriel Ynoa, the man who replaced Straily in the Orioles’ rotation, got the starting assignment for the first time since 2017. He’d failed to go five innings in six of his seven previous major league starts, and that pattern continued today. It took Ynoa 85 pitches to get through four innings, during which time he allowed a pair of runs, on RBI singles by Grayson Greiner and Jones. Meh. A forgettable effort.
But in a welcome change of pace, the bullpen made it stand up.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Monday, May 27?
This poll is closed
Shawn Armstrong (scoreless ninth, first save)
Renato Nunez (sixth HR in eight games)
Dan Straily (4 IP, 1 ER, 4 K, win in long relief)