The Orioles are in a bit of a rut and — as fans have become accustomed to — the cavalry is on its way.

It was gutting, of course, to see Craig Kimbrel struggle on the mound this weekend against the Oakland Athletics. After blowing a save on Friday night, the 35-year-old struggled through a short ninth-inning stint Sunday afternoon before finally giving up a two-run homer and heading to the dugout with the team trainer.

What luck: The Orioles are expecting a pitching infusion this week.

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Kyle Bradish could make his first start of the season on Thursday against the Yankees. John Means just finished a rehab stint in Norfolk by twirling seven shutout innings with a hit and a walk. Depending on how manager Brandon Hyde wants to use his starters, he may be able to slip some of the team’s arms into more relief-oriented roles if Kimbrel misses time (as of Monday morning, that was unknown).

“Hopefully we got some guys coming off the IL soon,” Hyde said Sunday, not betraying any deep concerns.

But the more closely you examine the Orioles pitching situation, the more it feels fragile — something that could upend the good times of the last two years and make the season a lot more challenging.

It’s not all that clear how much the Orioles can do to fix it except continue to shuffle around arms — and pray.

So far, Baltimore has been a run-creating machine. They lead the league in runs per game (5.59), thanks in large part to their MLB-best 41 home runs. It’s not just power, but how their hitters see the ball: They’re also leading the MLB in barrel percentage (10.7%) and rank top three in hard-hit ball percentage (44.7%). Aside from great seasons at the plate so far from Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman, Ryan O’Hearn and Ryan Mountcastle, young guns Jordan Westburg and Colton Cowser are also making great contact and getting the offense rolling.

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Even accounting for variance, it’s a rock-solid offense. But the pitching is far more variable: Even though Baltimore has the fifth-lowest on-base percentage, their runs-against average is just middle of the pack (4.33) and they’re also giving up homers. Opposing batters notch hard-hit balls against Baltimore 43.5% of the time, the second-highest rate in the league.

The bullpen is a particular concern: In 14 save opportunities, the Orioles have blown half of them. Of course you miss an arm like Felix Bautista — how could you not?

Without the Mountain, Baltimore has taxed their core relievers a lot: Before leaving Sunday’s game with an injury, Kimbrel had pitched in five of the Orioles’ previous eight games without more than one day of rest in between. Hyde is also leaning hard on Yennier Cano, Danny Coulombe and Keegan Akin, who all, incidentally, pitched on Sunday as well.

Hyde could use a long reliever or two, roles that might ideally suit Cole Irvin or Albert Suarez, who have been covering for injuries to starters. But so much hinges on health, and three possible starters have concerns related to their throwing arms: Means from a flare-up of discomfort at the end of last season after he spent months rehabbing from Tommy John surgery; Bradish from a UCL injury in January; Tyler Wells from elbow inflammation.

When you start to realize just how much needs to go right for the Orioles’ hurlers, how many guys need to pitch without aggravating old wounds, how many innings Baltimore needs out of players who have already been hurt — that’s when the whole enterprise starts to feel a little dicey.

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To be clear: Pitching injuries are a league-wide problem. The Orioles are about to host the Yankees, who are hoping Gerrit Cole is up to returning in June, and have three other pitchers who hope to possibly return from Tommy John this season. Aces like Spencer Strider and Shane Biebers are already done for the year, and the general uptick in injuries has led the MLB and the players’ union to bicker over whether the pitch clock is to blame.

The rash of injuries, on the one hand, seems to put the Orioles on a relatively even playing field: Everybody’s struggling to keep their staff healthy. But the widespread issues also could drive up the price of healthy arms at the trade deadline, which could force the Orioles into bidding wars that they’ll be hard-pressed to win (or, perhaps more precisely, want to win).

Baltimore, of course, has a number of dynamic prospects sitting in Triple A that they can use as trade capital, but imagine Mike Elias trying to decide if he should pay premiums. Giving up a position player as promising as, say, Connor Norby, might not appeal to the Orioles in an effort to upgrade their relievers, even if Baltimore’s talent keeps backing up in the pipeline. In this organization, overpaying seems to be a greater sin than making no moves at all.

The cavalry is, indeed, coming — Bradish and Means could be back in the starting rotation within the next week. But beyond that, the reinforcements are going to be some familiar names if the Orioles need other arms: Nick Vespi, Cionel Perez, and Bruce Zimmerman among them. Cade Povich has impressed with a fast start in Norfolk this year, but he’s still just a 24-year-old rookie.

Last year’s team was tremendous at pulling out one-run games, a reflection in part of its electric bullpen. This year, the Orioles are 2-4 in one-run games — in all four losses, the Orioles gave up runs in the final frame.

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It might be nitpicky, it might smack of fidgety speculation for a team that is still one of the MLB’s best, but the margins for winning in baseball are especially narrow. Baltimore has to hope their arms can cover the gap to get them back to October.

Given the limited options, crossing their fingers might be one of their best bets.

Kyle joined The Baltimore Banner in 2023 as a sports columnist. He previously covered the L.A. Lakers for The Orange County Register and myriad sports at The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s a Mt. Hebron High and University of Maryland alum.

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