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Arms, doubles lead O's to win over Blue Jays

@JoeTrezz
June 11, 2019

BALTIMORE -- Statistically one of the most combustible units in baseball history over the season’s first two months, things are beginning to stabilize within the walls of the Orioles’ bullpen. Fresh off a series lauded by manager Brandon Hyde as its best of the year, Baltimore’s relief corps strung together

BALTIMORE -- Statistically one of the most combustible units in baseball history over the season’s first two months, things are beginning to stabilize within the walls of the Orioles’ bullpen.

Fresh off a series lauded by manager Brandon Hyde as its best of the year, Baltimore’s relief corps strung together another quartet of strong innings to secure Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Blue Jays at Oriole Park, providing the type of effort Hyde has all but begged to see at various points this season.

Box score

“Over the last seven games, six games were outstanding,” Hyde said. “We had that one hiccup in Arlington, but besides that, the other six games, our bullpen has thrown the ball great. They’re kind of feeding off each other a little bit now. They’re pitching with more purpose. They’re attacking hitters more. They’re able to get to two strikes and put guys away.”

That’s translated to a 3.73 ERA for Orioles relievers over the past two weeks, a far cry from the 5.94 mark they posted over the eight prior. Toss out their six-run near collapse against the Rangers last week and that first number is sliced to 2.74, which would stand as the best in baseball if such concessions were permitted. Consider it progress for a group that spent much of April and May coughing up leads and giving its skipper fits.

“We’re playing looser, we’re gelling as a team,” said Mychal Givens, who worked a 1-2-3 ninth Tuesday for his sixth save, and second straight without a hiccup. “It’s good tempo, good rhythm. We’re doing a better job as a whole in the bullpen. I think we’re passing the baton and allowing everybody to feed off each other.”

The Orioles’ whole late-inning operation centers around Givens, whose nightmarish May sent the entire unit into a tailspin last month. It’s no coincidence how others have prospered since his struggles subsided, notably Paul Fry, Miguel Castro and Shawn Armstrong, who all own sub-2.00 ERAs this month. Richard Bleier has also returned to form after working through a shoulder injury, posting scoreless appearances five of the past six times out.

“We’ve made adjustments as a whole,” Givens said. “It’s everybody in the bullpen making adjustments.”

The latest example came Tuesday, when Armstrong, Castro and Bleier created the sort of bridge to Givens the Orioles hope becomes routine. Armstrong struck out three over a clean sixth and seventh, Bleier helped Castro out of a jam in the eighth. Together, they took a close game and secured it to make a winner out of John Means, who pitched well but inefficiently.

Means needed 103 pitches to complete five innings, yet allowed only one run and next to nothing after Eric Sogard’s leadoff homer in the first. The rookie southpaw matched a career high by striking out seven, lowering his ERA to 2.60 on a night he came one out away from qualifying for the league title. Trey Mancini, Chance Sisco, Anthony Santander and Jonathan Villar provided run-scoring doubles, four of the season-high six the Orioles hit off losing pitcher Trent Thornton and three Jays relievers.

“My pitch count was up every inning. It seemed like there was some long at-bat or a runner getting on. I just couldn’t get that clean inning,” Means said. “Thanks to the bullpen for helping me out.”

The headliner Tuesday was Armstrong, whose been a revelation since coming over on a waiver claim from Seattle in early May. Designated for assignment by the Mariners after an oblique injury ravished his spring, Armstrong owns a 1.69 ERA across 16 games for the Orioles thus far. Eleven of his past 14 appearances have been scoreless.

“It’s hard to jump right back in the heat of the fire like that,” Armstrong said, who posted a 14.73 ERA in four appearances with Seattle. “Luckily I had a good opportunity here. I love the coaching staff and the guys in the bullpen as well. Us working collectively as a group is really paying off for all of us.

“We’ve been through the ups and downs already this year,” Armstrong added. “Anytime [the starters] can come in and set the tone like that, it’s our job to come in and keep the game to a minimum. We did a great job of that today.”

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.