Johnson, O'Day carry load for overworked bullpen

Johnson, O'Day carry load for overworked bullpen
May 1, 2013, 9:00 am
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Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Darren O'Day (56) pitches to the Seattle Mariners during the 9th inning at Safeco Field.

(Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports)

Buck Showalter was proud of the job his bullpen did last year. He’s happy with how they’re doing in the first 27 games this season, too.

As good as the bullpen was last year, none of the Orioles relievers finished in the top 10 in most appearances in the majors. So far this year, Jim Johnson and Darren O’Day are tied for the American League lead with three others.

Both Johnson and O’Day have been in 14 of the 27 games. Last year, despite missing a week when he was hospitalized, Johnson was in the most, 71. Pedro Strop was in 70, O’Day 69, and Luis Ayala, who was placed on the disabled list by the Atlanta Braves yesterday for an anxiety disorder, had 66.

O’Day pitched a scoreless inning on Tuesday night in the Orioles’ 7-2 win in Seattle . He’s allowed just one earned run and seven hits in 13 2/3 innings and not faced more than six batters. Eleven of his 14 appearances have come in Orioles’ wins.

Johnson, who hasn’t pitched since Saturday, has also allowed just one earned run on 10 hits in 14 innings. He has 10 saves and a win. He’s been directly responsible in 11 of the team’s 16 wins.

Only one time has Johnson pitched to more than six batters, and that was in last Wednesday’s loss that snapped the team’s 17-game extra-inning winning streak.

Showalter is clearly backing off Johnson to make sure he doesn’t overuse him, and he’ll have to do the same with O’Day, but he’s going to need some cooperation.

For the first time in six starts, Jason Hammel failed to complete six innings, and the bullpen had to get 12 outs. Tommy Hunter, Troy Patton, O’Day and Brian Matusz combined to allow just three hits in four innings after Hammel didn’t get an out in the sixth.

While the Orioles clearly have capable arms in the bullpen and at Norfolk, the starters are going to have to go deeper. There was joy in Birdland when Wei-Yin Chen became the first pitcher to complete seven innings last Friday. Chen went eight, and Showalter hoped the rest of the rotation would pick up.

It hasn’t, and having Strop struggle has made it hard on the rest of the bullpen.

Chen pitches on Wednesday night, and another long outing is imperative.