Thursday Thoughts: O’s Feeling Zach Britton’s Absence Already

Chris Davis walks away as Nationals players celebrate behind him.

This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. This year, I’ll be cutting it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl WeaverBrooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.

1. Well, that sure didn’t go as planned. I try not to be too “immediate” in this weekly piece, but Wednesday night’s Orioles’ loss sure stunk. It wasn’t just that Brad Brach blew a two-run lead in the ninth, it was that Matt Wieters came through with the deciding hit for the Nationals. That stings a bit more than the normal loss.

The bullpen is proving leaky once again, just as it was early in the season. Regardless of reputation, the bullpen is going to have to be better in the absence of Zach Britton.

2. Let’s talk a little more about Britton, shall we? I wrote extensively about how Britton’s absence will impact the Orioles over at MASNSports.com this week. What’s more concerning is the way this injury developed. It stems from his oblique injury in spring training. Just like Welington Castillo’s injury stems from spring training. Just like Chris Tillman’s shoulder injury stemmed from something that started last season and carried into the offseason. That’s a disturbing trend of ailments that it appears weren’t properly handled.

I was accused in the comments section of that piece for MASN of pointing blame to the training staff, but that’s hardly what I’m attempting to do. I’m merely pointing out a trend that seems negative. Every team deals with injuries. Not many teams deal with three injuries in the way that the Orioles have seem them go down.

Britton’s absence stretches a bullpen that really only has four proper pieces to it. Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart are the stalwarts behind an array of practical nobodies. Dan Duquette has done a very nice job with the so-called “Norfolk Shuttle” and making sure there are healthy arms up each day behind those four relievers, but I’m concerned it’s not going to be enough over the long haul.

3. Okay, I’ve had enough doom and gloom. The Orioles have been one of the best teams in the American League, let alone all of baseball. Prior to Wednesday’s loss, they did indeed hold the best record in MLB. One thing I’ve noticed already early in this season is that there have been “signature wins.” These may not be victories that are talked about two years down the road, but at the end of the season, they’ll be looked at as key factors.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the 6-3 win over the Rays on April 24 as being enormous. It came right after the emotion of Manny Machado being thrown at by the Red Sox the day before. It also came in a nasty rain storm with virtually no one in the stands against Chris Archer. I thought that would be one of the better wins of the season, but days later, the Orioles went out and beat the Yankees on the road in extra innings after losing two awful games earlier in the weekend. Then the O’s did it again that week in Boston, amid all of the Machado-beanball nonsense.

Tuesday’s win over the Nationals goes into the category as well. With Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound and up against Max Scherzer, the O’s battled back late for a 5-4 win in 12 innings. That’s the kind of win that can be looked back on at the end of a season with a smile.

The Orioles have faced a ton of adversity this season, and they are only six weeks in. The fact that so much has been thrown at them and they are still sitting near the top of the standings is a positive way to look at things.

4. Hyun-Soo Kim has turned into a hot-button issue in Baltimore.

Why doesn’t he get more playing time?

Why does Buck Showalter hate him?

Do the Orioles really value his on-base potential?

The Orioles certainly have more depth in the outfield than they have in years past. I am pretty sure that’s a good thing, but the way some people would act, you’d believe it’s an issue. Except…it may actually be an issue.

The rub right now with the Orioles’ outfield depth is that it’s creating bullpen scarcity. The O’s have done a decent job of hiding the fact that they’ve been going with a five-man bench and six-man bullpen for some time now, but those chickens may be coming home to roost. This isn’t Kim’s fault. It’s no one’s fault, really. The fact that Kim is in a crowded outfield mix along with Trey Mancini, Joey Rickard, Seth Smith, Craig Gentry and even Mark Trumbo, is just a matter of roster manipulation.

Let’s not forget that there are names like Michael Bourn and even Pedro Alvarez looming in Triple-A. Something probably has to be done in order to make all of these puzzle pieces fit, whether it’s trades or outright releases. But the Orioles are going to struggle to maintain a six-man bullpen, which is really just a four-man bullpen with two rotating “Norfolk Shuttle” arms at this point.

They need someone else to step up in that department.

As for Kim, there’s really not much more he can do at this point. He’s going to be challenged to step up in the few spots he gets and play well. It feels very similar to last year. Right now, Mancini also deserves a chance to prove himself against right-handed pitching. The way he’s hitting the ball, I’d find it hard to put him on the bench as well.

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