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The Orioles bullpen has less room for error without the Tate and Givens insurance policy

The Orioles lost their late-inning insurance policy when Dillon Tate and Mychal Givens experienced setbacks. Who will help Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano cross the finish line?

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles bullpen survived a deadline departure from Jorge López last season, and the group entered 2023 looking to exceed expectations once again. Félix Bautista and Cionel Pérez appeared destined to anchor the back end, and Dillon Tate received World Baseball Classic buzz before being sidelined with an injury.

The Orioles added a veteran to the mix when they inked Mychal Givens to a one-year deal. With the benefit of hindsight, Tate’s injury may have incentivized the move. Givens experienced modest success with multiple teams after leaving Baltimore, and the right-hander had plenty of experience pitching in high-leverage situations.

Givens never had the chance to help balance out the Tate injury. Givens missed the start of the season with knee fatigue, while Tate continued to rehab a a forearm flexor strain. Baltimore had to make due without both late-inning relievers.

The Orioles responded by acquiring Danny Coulombe from the Twins at the end of March. Logan Gillaspie broke camp with the team, and Bryan Baker hoped to build off a strong start to 2022.

The Givens injury was unexpected, but the true shock came two weeks into the season. Baltimore recalled Yennier Cano on April 14 and the 29-year-old took the league by storm. Cano blossomed from an overachiever to a national headline in only a few weeks. His scoreless streak emerged as one of the best storylines on a red-hot Orioles team.

Everyone assumed Cano would eventually come back down to earth. Fortunately, the Orioles had both Tate and Givens making rehab appearances on the farm. Even if Cano faltered, the reinforcements were coming. Not so fast, my friend.

Both relievers struggled in several rehab outings. Tate never returned to Baltimore and eventually found himself on the 60-day IL. The Orioles have yet to give a true timeline for Tate’s return, but continued talk about his elbow has elicited some concern.

The Orioles were still able to activate Givens on May 21. The Birds threw their $5-million man to the fire against the Blue Jays in his first outing, but things went downhill from there. Givens allowed three runs and failed to record an out against Cleveland.

Givens allowed six runs (five earned) in only four total innings, and the Orioles placed him on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation earlier this week.

It’s unclear how the inflammation impacted his pitching, but Givens never looked right this season. The Birds will give him an opportunity to rest before taking another stab at rehab appearances in the minors.

Both injuries essentially robbed Baltimore of its insurance policy. The same thing happened to the rotation when John Means experienced a setback. Means, Givens or Tate could still return and make an impact this season, but the Orioles can no longer bank on the three arms.

Brandon Hyde as already expressed some concern about managing the workload. The Orioles seem to only play in close games, and both Cano and Bautista have shouldered the load to this point. Pérez and Austin Voth have struggled this season, and Baker’s success has come in streaks. Gillaspie is back at Triple-A, and Keegan Akin does not resemble a high-leverage reliever.

Michael Baumann has delivered mostly impressive performances with the exception of a few bad outings. The Orioles could turn to Nick Vespi at some point, and Bruce Zimmermann recently arrived to provide some length.

Coulombe has dazzled with his ability to move the ball. The 33-year-old held a 2-1 record and 2.08 ERA prior to last night. He ranks in the 100th% (100th!!) in hard hit percentage and the 99th (99th!!) percentile in average exit velocity according to Baseball Savant. His 12.9 K/BB rate helps him navigate out of jams, and his .259 FIP furthers his cause as a reliable reliever.

Coulombe may not throw the ball hard—he ranks in the 19th percentile in fastball velocity—but his arsenal includes more than just a dead fish changeup. He spins the ball, and he sends batters back to the dugout. The sweeper, slider, sinker, curveball and changeup all keep batters guessing along with his four-seam fastball. He’s the third best reliever on the team right now, and would likely receive more praise if it were not for Cano’s dominant start.

The Orioles need to navigate through games when Cano and Bautista are unavailable. Coulombe, Baumann and Baker represent the best chance for success with Tate and Givens still out of the picture.

Baltimore traded away Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser, and it survived the López deal last year. The Orioles have practically pulled relievers out of thin air, but they will be tested down the stretch. DL Hall remains at Triple-A, but Baltimore could find itself active at the deadline if Baumann or Baker fail to match Coulombe, Cano and Bautista.