SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — In the forgettable 2019 season, the Baltimore Orioles' bullpen had a woeful 5.79 ERA, the worst in the major leagues.
That was a far cry from the team's successful run years ago when its relief corps was a strength led by Zack Britton, who converted all 47 of his save chances in 2016, Darren O'Day and Brad Brach.
Brach, Britton and O'Day were all traded in July 2018, leaving Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier as the only veterans in the 'pen.
Givens floundered as a closer, going 2-6 with a 4.57 ERA, blowing eight of 19 save opportunities. In his first three seasons with Baltimore, the right-hander was 18-2, but in his last two seasons, he's only 2-13.
"It was tough," Givens said. "I had a lot of stretches where I was going very well, and unlucky outings that got away from me, and I think just hopefully we can continue to make better pitches."
Bleier, who missed most of 2018 after lat surgery, struggled as well last season, with a 3-0 record with four saves and a 5.37 ERA.
Both Bleier and Givens pitched better late in the season. The left-handed Bleier felt stronger as his June 2018 surgery was farther in the past, and Givens was helped by the arrival of Hunter Harvey.
Harvey, the Orioles' No. 1 draft choice in 2013, was hampered by a variety of injuries, including Tommy John surgery, and was converted to a reliever last June. He finally made his major league debut in August 2019.
The 25-year-old Harvey excited Baltimore in his seven appearances. He pitched only 6 1/3 innings, allowing a run and three hits.
"I think you saw last year what he brings," manager Brandon Hyde said. "How much better our entire bullpen was when he was here and healthy."
Hyde hasn't set on bullpen roles, but Givens pitches better when he's in a set-up role, and Bleier thinks the bullpen will be much better with Harvey on hand.
"We saw signs, just when Hunter came how it helped everyone else," Bleier said. "Just that one guy we can lean one so Mike doesn't haven't to take such a big workload."
The Orioles brought back nearly everyone from the beleaguered bullpen, including right-handers Shawn Armstrong, Miguel Castro and left-handers Paul Fry and Tanner Scott.
"Just watching these guys throw now in spring, it's really encouraging," Bleier said. "Everybody is looking really good, especially this early in the season."
Harvey, the son of former All-Star closer Bryan Harvey, has yet to pitch this spring. He missed five days early in camp due to illness, and Hyde is being cautious with him.
"There were some good moments last year," Harvey said of the bullpen. "I know it was a tough season. If you go back and look there were a couple of good moments out of that bullpen.
"There are good arms. There are good pitchers. If everybody gets rolling on the same page, it's possible that it's going to be a good bullpen. It's just everybody clicking. It's everybody coming together," he said.
Hyde knows his bullpen is better with Harvey as a possible closer.
"You feel really good about it with him on the mound when the score's close or we have the lead," Hyde said. "You take your chances with a guy who throws 100 with that kind of stuff. I just want to see him healthy. I thought the experience he had last year was really going to be beneficial."
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