Cleveland’s ‘pen loses scoreless streak vs. O’s

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CLEVELAND — It doesn’t get more dominant than what the Guardians’ bullpen has been able to do over the past couple of weeks.

Eli Morgan and Bryan Shaw each gave up a pair of runs on Aug. 15 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Tigers. But the relief corps did not give up an earned run from then until Morgan allowed a two-run homer in the eighth inning of Wednesday night’s 4-0 loss to the Orioles at Progressive Field.

That stretch of 11 games without a reliever permitting an earned run was the longest for Cleveland since a 12-game stretch at the tail end of the 22-game win streak in September 2017. The bullpen went 32 1/3 consecutive frames without an earned run, which marked the longest stretch in the Majors since the Cubs’ bullpen went 38 innings from May 15-28, 2021.

“All the guys I feel like from the beginning of the season to now, they’ve been the almost epitome of consistency,” Guardians starter Triston McKenzie said.

The ‘pen has been effective for the majority of the season, entering Wednesday with the fourth-best ERA in the Majors. But this scorching stretch highlighted a few key points for the club as it continues to try to hold its lead atop the American League Central.

1. Sandlin is reliableThis point was up in the air at the beginning of the season, as Nick Sandlin struggled to find his footing. The sidearmer spent all of May battling command, permitting at least one walk in six of his seven outings. But since the second half of the season rolled around, Sandlin has found a second gear — something Guardians manager Terry Francona continues to credit to confidence.

This is the type of hurler the Guardians expected Sandlin to be entering the season after his solid rookie season last year (2.94 ERA in 34 games). Sandlin hasn’t given up a run since July 9 — a stretch of 15 1/3 innings (16 outings) with 16 strikeouts and two walks.

2. Morgan isn’t the same weapon as he was at the beginning of the seasonFrancona was clear that he thought Wednesday was different from the last hiccups Morgan endured. This time, he came in with a runner on first and one out and immediately got a strikeout. But after getting to a full count against Ram?n Ur?as, he gave up a two-run blast that put the game a little more out of reach.

“I think he didn’t know what pitch to throw,” Francona said. “He ended up throwing the fastball and got hit. … He got the ball by the left-hander for a strikeout. No, I just think he gave up a home run. He got to the full count, that was probably the problem.”

Morgan hasn’t been as solid as he was to start the season. In the early weeks, he was electric out of the bullpen, as opponents failed to figure out his fastball-changeup combination. His ERA hit its lowest point on June 19 at 1.62. Since then, it’s ballooned to 4.21.

3. Morris could bring a boostIf Morgan isn’t consistently reliable, maybe this is where Cody Morris can step in. We know he’ll be added to Cleveland’s roster on Thursday as part of the roster expansion in September. He’s a starter (like Morgan), but he’s working his way back from injury and has only stretched himself out to 60 pitches so far. And with a need for more depth in this ‘pen, it’s worth a shot to have yet another rookie try to help keep this team in first place.

Morris, the Guardians’ No. 15 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has a four-seamer, cutter, changeup and curveball — a four-pitch mix that led to a 2.35 ERA in six rehab appearances with Triple-A Columbus over the past month. If the positive reports the club has gotten on him translate to the big league level, he can just be another rookie success story Cleveland can brag about at the end of the year.

“As long as the game’s not going too fast — and that, you never really know,” Francona said. “If the stuff plays and the kid gets confidence, [it provides a boost].”