BALTIMORE -- There was a time this season when the Orioles' bullpen was overworked, with starters consistently struggling to pitch deep in games.
Now, with starters pitching deeper on a regular basis, coupled with the four-day All-Star break, manager Buck Showalter said some relievers have too much rest. It's a delicate balance.
For example, Tommy Hunter and Jim Johnson each pitched Friday night in a game the Orioles won, 6-0, and seemed to control from the early going. Chris Tillman left after seven innings -- and 115 pitches -- after surrendering just two hits. Showalter said after the game that while Tillman at times made it difficult to pull him with the way he was pitching, Showalter entered the game knowing Hunter and Johnson would pitch, since they hadn't thrown in a game in five days.
"We had had five days off, so that's kind of tough to pitch with five days off when you're used to going to [Jim Johnson] every single day and me every once in a while," Hunter said. "So yeah, you try to get the guys in and keep them fresh, keep them going, and Buck does a great job of doing that."
Early in the season, Showalter said, it may be more of a concern that a pitcher would lose his rhythm after not pitching for a while. But as the Orioles approach the two-thirds completed mark, the extra rest can be a big benefit to keeping the bullpen effective as a unit.
"Hopefully they don't need to be effective, if our starters go seven, eight innings every day," Hunter said of the bullpen, only partly joking. "Hopefully they go nine from now on. … [If the bullpen is] never needed, that'd be an ideal situation."
Hunter also said when the starters are effective, it usually means relievers can come in with a clean slate -- no runners on base -- which he said "is so much more fun."
"I'm going to pat those guys on the butt and tell them to keep it going, keep hitting the horse. Maybe we only have to throw one inning [at a time] for the rest of the year, maybe it can come down like that," Hunter added. "That will just make us stronger towards the end of the year when we need to make a push, we need to get a couple wins. It just makes the situation a little easier when your starters go deep like ours have been going."
Hunter also had high praise for the recently acquired Francisco Rodriguez.
"I watched him growing up, you watched him growing up," Hunter said. "The guy strikes out everybody he faces, hence the name [K-Rod]. … He's a leader, he's a guy that has thrown a lot of big games in his career, he strikes a lot of guys out and we'll welcome him with open arms. … Hopefully he's that final piece."
Derek Wetmore is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less