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The Orioles bullpen remains on the rise. Will the starters ever catch up?

Baltimore’s bullpen has consistently risen the bar. When will the Orioles hold starters to a higher standard?

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Changes are coming in Baltimore’s bullpen. Mychal Givens and Dillon Tate should boost a bunch that has already benefited from a few surprise performances. The Orioles rank in the top third of innings pitched by relievers, and a pair of fresh arms should help offset any early fatigue.

Yennier Cano and Michael Baumann went from overlooked Orioles to staples in the bullpen. Cano’s hitless streak has garnered national attention, and Baumann has quietly put together one of the better starts by an Oriole this year. Baumann held a 1.15 ERA through 15.2 innings prior to yesterday’s opener against Kansas City.

Danny Coulombe quickly transformed from a last minute edition to a linchpin, and Bryan Baker has filled a familiar late-inning role. Félix Bautista entered the week with 25 strikeouts in 13.2 innings.

Keegan Akin, Austin Voth and Cionel Pérez appear to be the weakest links so far. Pérez has struggled the most with a 5.23 ERA (4.06 FIP) in 10.1 innings, but new dad Keegan Akin’s 8.10 ERA (3.09 FIP) jumps off the page.

Akin has worked as a traditional lefty specialist and has yet to complete two innings in an appearance. Brandon Hyde has turned to Voth for length, and the former starter has delivered of late. Voth allowed at least one home run in his first five outings, but only allowed one run in his next four appearances. Voth’s rebound, Pérez’s track record and Akin’s arm of choice leave no clear move to make.

The conundrum, and it’s certainly a good one to have, speaks to a higher standard on the mound this season. The Orioles need their bullpen to be a weapon. They’re not hiding a Rule 5 reliever, and the long men are no longer failed starters transforming into failed relievers. Baltimore has officially elevated the bar.

The Orioles expect great things from their bullpen, but the same standards have yet to apply to the starting rotation. Baltimore has taken a step in the right direction, and it would love to take another.

Baltimore sent Cole Irvin to Norfolk after only three starts. Irvin allowed 15 runs in 12.2 innings, and the Orioles identified an issue with his mechanics. The big league roster is no longer a place to work out command issues, but it remains to be seen how long the club will tolerate poor performance.

Dean Kremer has allowed four runs or more in five of six starts. Kyle Bradish deserves a longer leash after an injury, but his only impressive performance came against the Nationals.

Grayson Rodrigue has not allowed a run in his last 10 innings. Kyle Gibson (4-0, 3.93 ERA) has bested former inning-eater Jordan Lyles (0-5, 6.11 ERA), and Tyler Wells has demonstrated why Baltimore wanted him in the rotation to start the year. John Means will not return until the middle of the summer, but the Orioles have reinforcements available now if they deem necessary.

Bruce Zimmermann only allowed two home runs in his first 22.1 innings at Norfolk. The once homer-happy lefty boasts a 2.56 K/BB ratio and appears to have solved at least some of his long ball blues. He already occupies a spot on the 40-man roster, and the lefty holds a 2.49 ERA. The Orioles are willing to play matchups with Terrin Vavra, Kyle Stowers and Joey Ortiz. How long before they want a lefty in the rotation?

There are more pitchers in Norfolk with a legitimate argument for another audition. Chris Vallimont and Drew Rom want to pitch their way to Baltimore. Spenser Watkins could easily make a spot start or provide long relief. Irvin and Hall appear destined to return at some point.

The Orioles recalled Hall as the extra man for a doubleheader in Detroit but utilized him as a long reliever. He has yet to pitch more than five innings after a delayed start, and a doubleheader is no time to risk extra work for the bullpen, but the swing-and-miss lefty should start during his next appearance in Baltimore.

There’s plenty of season left, and nobody should expect the Orioles to play musical chairs all year, but guys like Zimmermann and Hall are waiting in the wings. It all comes down to if/when Baltimore increases its expectations for starting pitchers.