'Stuff. Grit. López': Winning formula for O's 'pen

June 19th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- A bullpen game is rarely a desire, usually a scramble after a starter’s late scratch and only planned by teams like the Rays, who boast one of the best bullpens in recent history. The Orioles were forced into that reality for Sunday’s Father’s Day tilt with Tampa Bay at Camden Yards, when starter Jordan Lyles was an early morning scratch due to a stomach virus.

• Box score

It worked out fine.

Using the recipe of their American League East rival, the Orioles employed seven arms for a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday, buoyed by staunch defense, a home run from  (with his father in the stands) and a third-inning RBI double from . Opening with spot starter  -- a waiver claim from the Nationals on June 7 -- and ending with potentially All-Star Game-bound Jorge López -- a waiver claim from the Royals in 2020 -- the O’s came away with a gritty victory that emulated the makeup of the surprise bullpen of the season.

"A lot of power. They've done a good job,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said this weekend. “I don't know how they acquired all those guys.”

Here’s how, in order of appearance on Sunday:

• Waiver claim (Voth)
• Waiver claim (Bryan Baker)
• 2015 18th-round pick (Nick Vespi)
• 2017 third-round pick (Mike Baumann)
• 2016 Minor League free agent (Félix Bautista)
• Waiver claim (Cionel Pérez)
• Waiver claim (López)

That doesn’t include Joey Krehbiel, another waiver claim who pitched a day prior, alongside others on the shuttle between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk, several coming from equally scrappy backgrounds.

It’s not necessarily a new trend for the Orioles, who have largely plugged their rotations and bullpens up with waiver claims and other under-the-radar moves over the past several years. But this year’s crop has a different feel, pitchers, position players and coaching staff have long said.


“Where do I start?” asked Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. “Makeup. Toughness. Stuff. Grit. López.”

López has been the sensation of the Orioles’ season, employed as closer out of Spring Training after enduring years of struggle as a starter. With Sunday’s performance -- 1 1/3 innings for his 11th save of the season -- no one in the Majors has more multi-inning saves than his six. Of pitchers with at least 30 innings this season, only one (the Yankees’ Clay Holmes) has a lower ERA than López’s 0.79 mark, to go with a 0.84 WHIP and a .137 batting average against.

“I don't take that as being my role, because everybody can take that role and execute it,” López said. “I'm just thankful to have that opportunity and just be out there and give the win to the boys."

López’s rise is indicative of the Orioles’ bullpen writ large, equally in that it’s not simply a marked improvement from last season but a wholesale soar up the Major League leaderboards. With two earned runs in 14 innings this weekend, Baltimore’s relievers have comfortably thrown the most innings in the Majors with 290 2/3, one spot ahead of their Rays opponents, after finishing at or near the basement largely across the board in 2021.

Orioles’ bullpen ranks in 2022 (including Sunday):
• 3.5 WAR, via Fangraphs (second in Majors)
• 3.19 ERA (sixth)
• 3.66 FIP (seventh)
• 8.4 percent walk rate (eighth)
• 0.71 HR/9 (fifth)
• 4.69 Win Probability Added (second)

“I mean, just the amount of arms that we have -- just have live arms, can throw hard and locate it well with one or two good offspeed pitches,” Voth said. “You don't really see that too often. Just shows this organization is really good at bringing guys in and bringing out the strengths that they have.”

The Orioles have seen it plenty over the past several seasons, much of that the Rays’ doing with an unrelenting “stable” of a bullpen and a rigid defense. That was Baltimore’s recipe on Sunday, the pitching only as steady as it was thanks to the defense behind it. Rougned Odor was at the center, firing home a relay from Ryan McKenna as the Rays threatened in the second inning off Baker and diving belly-first into the grass to corral a grounder and throw to first to end a two-on threat in the sixth.

Sunday only continued a sea change the Orioles feel is taking root, an arm factory that is able to maximize castoffs from other organizations and win in the margins. But it also helped that their prized prospect, Adley Rutschman, was behind the plate, only two earned runs on his ledger while he was shepherding pitchers from far different backgrounds all weekend.