CLEVELAND — A starter having a short outing is worrisome enough.

A starter having a short outing with an overworked bullpen as a team battles for a division title? That’s cause for concern.

On Friday, in the Orioles’ 9-8 loss to the Guardians, Dean Kremer mustered only 3 1/3 innings, inefficiency and errors from the defense driving him to an early exit. That meant the bullpen, which has admitted to feeling fatigued, had a lot of innings to get through.

Baltimore needed six relievers — Tyler Wells, Shintaro Fujinami, Danny Coulombe, Jorge Lopez, DL Hall and Yennier Cano — to finish the game. They seemed to have it under control until the bottom of the ninth when, with one runner on, Cano intentionally walked Will Brennan to put two runners on base. The idea was to get a ground ball to turn into a double play, but that backfired. David Fry hit a walk-off double, both runs scoring to win it for the Guardians.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“It’s a tough loss,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We didn’t pitch well tonight.”

The added bullpen strain was not in the game plan. The Orioles are in the middle of a grueling 17-game stretch without a day off. The bullpen has been a revolving door, the team using 12 relievers and making seven bullpen roster moves during that span.

But, for the Orioles, this is just the start. They will find some refuge on Monday as they enjoy their first off day since Sept. 7, and potentially another five-day span if they clinch the division and earn a first-round bye. Baltimore is 1.5 games ahead of Tampa Bay.

“It’s been a long season,” Cano said. “We are just in one of those stretches right now where the games have been going like that lately.”

Those breaks should help, but they still have an important question hanging over them: How will the bullpen, struggling with the regular season-schedule, make it through the postseason?

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

They are already feeling the pressure without closer Félix Bautista, who is sidelined with a partial UCL tear. He’s throwing bullpen sessions and trying to make it back for the playoffs, but the team will likely not have him at its disposal.

“I think not only us, but baseball overall, just misses him,” Cano said. “He went out there and did that better than anyone. He’s definitely missed, but we try to go out there and get the job done.”

They do have the option to move another starter to the bullpen, because, in a playoff format, they likely won’t need more than four to get through a series. Jack Flaherty is already being used in a relief role, with Kyle Gibson a candidate to move over as well.

That’s two potential arms. Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, Kremer and John Means are expected to make up the postseason rotation. That leaves Cano, Coulombe, Fujinami, Hall, Cionel Perez and Jacob Webb as the other relievers, with one spot for the Orioles to work with.

Because Jorge Lopez was added on waivers after the Aug. 31 deadline, he is not currently eligible for the postseason unless he replaces an injured player, in which case the commissioner’s office would have to approve a petition. Mike Baumann, optioned on Friday to clear space for Wells to return, cannot play in the wild-card round. A player has to wait 15 days after being optioned before returning, even if the minor league season has concluded.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Any player optioned after Sept. 23 is not eligible for the American League Division Series.

That leaves the Orioles with few options. They could keep Wells, who tossed two scoreless innings Friday in his first major league outing since July 29. Or they could bring up Cole Irvin, another starter turned reliever, or Bryan Baker, who has a 3.60 ERA in 45 innings.

For now, focus is still on the regular season. They have two more games until an off day and six more after that to try to wrap up the division. Their magic number is six, which can decrease with any Orioles win or Rays loss.

“I have a 100 percent confidence that we are going to be able to play really well the rest of the way and win the division,” Cano said.

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

More From The Banner