BALTIMORE -- One of the biggest reasons for the Orioles' early season success has been their bullpen, which leads the Majors in ERA. Led by closer Jim Johnson, who notched his 22nd save Sunday, Baltimore has four relievers with ERAs below 2.00, with all four ranking among the American League's top 20.
Johnson's ERA stands at 1.10, with setup man Pedro Strop (1.32), sidearmer Darren O'Day (1.67) and veteran Luis Ayala (1.89) making up an impressive relief corps that also features Troy Patton, Kevin Gregg and Dana Eveland -- who left the team Sunday on paternity leave.
"We don't have too many [big] names," said Ayala, who called the current O's bullpen a "family," and said it's the closest group he's ever been a part of in his eight big league seasons. "Last year, [while pitching] with the Yankees, we had a good bullpen, but we had a lot of [big] names over there. We don't have big names, but we have big numbers."
The O's bullpen, which tossed four scoreless innings Saturday night and three more Sunday, leads the AL with 15 wins -- Strop recorded the victory Sunday -- and has tossed the third-most innings in the league, thanks in part to 11 extra-innings game.
Manager Buck Showalter prides himself on limiting the number of "ups" each pitcher gets without getting in the game, an element of bullpen management that he found was typically among relievers' biggest complaints. By trying to avoid wasting warm-ups, Showalter hopes the O's bullpen can stay healthier during the dog days of the season and continue to be a strength.
It's a far cry from a bullpen that ended last season with a 4.18 ERA and was forced to pick up the most relief innings in baseball (565 2/3) due to an ineffective and inconsistent starting rotation. The Orioles improved the depth of their rotation, and new additions to the relief corps -- only Johnson and Gregg were on last year's Opening Day roster -- have turned the bullpen into a lockdown group, confident that they can hold leads and outlast the opposition.
"This year, with this team, no one really knew what to expect for us," said O'Day, who tossed a scoreless sixth inning Saturday. "We were kind of an unknown quantity. So, for us to come out and perform like we have, and not have those expectations tied to us, is pretty surprising. We all knew we were good pitchers, and everyone has just fit together really well."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.