Returning 'pen may make O's even mightier

Returning 'pen may make O's even mightier

BALTIMORE -- How good could the Orioles' bullpen be in 2017?

"I might be pitching like the fifth inning or something," setup man Darren O'Day joked of a group that exceeded expectations even without O'Day for most of the 2016 season. "It's exciting, it certainly is."

That Baltimore was able to keep its bullpen intact gives the club a formidable weapon heading into this year. The O's pitched to an American League-best 3.40 relief ERA last year, going 32-15.

"It's exciting, a lot of guys took good steps last year," said closer Zach Britton, who was perfect in save opportunities in 2016 and had one of the best seasons in history for a relief pitcher.

Britton was quick to point to rookie Donnie Hart, who gave the Orioles a left-handed relief option following his Major League debut on July 17 last season, pitching to an 0.49 ERA in 18 1/3 innings over 22 games.

"I'm really excited for Donnie," said Britton. "I'm thinking what he can do for our bullpen, especially late in the season. He got some good innings under his belt in some tough situations Buck [Showalter] put him in and handled himself really well."

Hart wasn't the only one. Mychal Givens took a big step forward in his second season, while Brad Brach pitched himself into a late-inning role, filling in for O'Day and earning his first career All-Star appearance.

"It's cool to see how far Mychal has come since he came up. Brad, too," said O'Day, who owns a career 2.41 ERA in nine seasons. "The club has done a good job. Every year there's a guy like that it seems like, that comes out of nowhere and ends up being a real quality reliever. I don't mind pitching wherever they want us to pitch. I'm excited to shorten games. It's going to be a real strength."

O'Day was limited to just 34 games last year, but he said he's fully healthy heading into camp, giving Showalter another late-inning option and setting things up so that the rotation doesn't necessarily need to go seven or eight innings a night. Thought it would certainly help if Givens, Brady, O'Day and Britton -- who all figure to factor into late, close games -- were able to get more rest early on in the season. The O's bullpen, as good as it was, saw a lot of work last year, pitching 546 innings, fourth most in the league.

"Hopefully we aren't going to need it as much," Britton said of the 'pen.

Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.