Yes it's early, but this Orioles pitching is something different

Matt Lindstrom came over in a trade and has been a find for the Orioles. (Getty Images)

NEW YORK -- Ask anyone about the Orioles and their reworked and revived pitching staff, and you get the same answer.

It's early.

Even the Orioles themselves say it. It's early.

"Things worked out well the first month," said closer Jim Johnson, one of three Oriole relievers who have yet to allow an earned run. "But we have to continue doing the right things."

It's early, and the Orioles are just beginning a stretch that will see them face the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Rays and the Yankees again in five consecutive series.

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It's early, and the Orioles have started the seasons well before, only to see everything fall apart.

It's all true, but you know what else is true: usually, by this "early" in the season, the Orioles pitching staff has already proven itself to be one of the league's worst.

This year, the O's finished April with the fifth-best team ERA in the majors, and the second-best in the American League behind the Rangers (3.03). Their bullpen ERA of 1.83 was baseball's best, and the best for an Oriole bullpen in April since 1966.

By this time last year, the Orioles already ranked 22nd in the majors in ERA (4.47). By year's end, they were in their customary spot, 30th.

That's 30th, as in last. The last six years, Orioles pitching has ranked 29th, 29th, 29th, 30th, 27th and 30th in the majors.

So this is better, much better, even if it is early.

Can it last?

"I don't know," manager Buck Showalter said, before his team opened May with another strong pitching performance in a 7-1 Tuesday night win over the Yankees. "I don't have a crystal ball."

It might last, because these aren't the same Oriole pitchers who failed for all those years. They're not even the same ones who failed last year.

Johnson is the only key member of the bullpen who began last year with the team. Jake Arrieta is the only holdover from the rotation that opened 2011. The turnover began under former general manager Andy MacPhail, and continued after Dan Duquette took over last fall.

Duquette traded Jeremy Guthrie to the Rockies for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, both of whom were outstanding in April. He signed Taiwanese left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who was also outstanding in April.

Chen and Hammel are part of a rotation that has made it through the sixth inning with regularity, and Showalter has taken advantage by keeping his relievers from being overused. When Brian Matusz finished the sixth inning Tuesday night against the Yankees, he became the eighth Orioles starter in the last nine games to go that deep in a game, and the 15th in 24 games this year.

"It starts with them," Johnson said. "They set the tone. They pitch deep into games. Last year, we were having to carry multiple long men."

It's hard to believe now how unsettled the Orioles rotation seemed in the late days of spring training. Showalter waited until deep into camp to name his starters, and the Orioles lost both Zach Britton and Tsuyoshi Wada to injuries.

Britton is on the way back, but Wada may well need Tommy John surgery.

Britton should help at some point this season. Dylan Bundy won't, but Bundy's minor-league numbers (17 innings, 1 hit, no runs, 2 walks, 25 strikeouts) are the talk of baseball. Duquette said Bundy has set a goal of making it to Double-A by the end of the year.

The end of the season is a long way away.

Remember, it's early.
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