WSH@BAL: Johnson shuts the door on the Nationals

BALTIMORE -- One of the biggest reasons for the Orioles' early season success has been their bullpen, which leads the Majors in ERA. Led by closer Jim Johnson, who notched his 22nd save Sunday, Baltimore has four relievers with ERAs below 2.00, with all four ranking among the American League's top 20.

Johnson's ERA stands at 1.10, with setup man Pedro Strop (1.32), sidearmer Darren O'Day (1.67) and veteran Luis Ayala (1.89) making up an impressive relief corps that also features Troy Patton, Kevin Gregg and Dana Eveland -- who left the team Sunday on paternity leave.

"We don't have too many [big] names," said Ayala, who called the current O's bullpen a "family," and said it's the closest group he's ever been a part of in his eight big league seasons. "Last year, [while pitching] with the Yankees, we had a good bullpen, but we had a lot of [big] names over there. We don't have big names, but we have big numbers."

The O's bullpen, which tossed four scoreless innings Saturday night and three more Sunday, leads the AL with 15 wins -- Strop recorded the victory Sunday -- and has tossed the third-most innings in the league, thanks in part to 11 extra-innings game.

Manager Buck Showalter prides himself on limiting the number of "ups" each pitcher gets without getting in the game, an element of bullpen management that he found was typically among relievers' biggest complaints. By trying to avoid wasting warm-ups, Showalter hopes the O's bullpen can stay healthier during the dog days of the season and continue to be a strength.

It's a far cry from a bullpen that ended last season with a 4.18 ERA and was forced to pick up the most relief innings in baseball (565 2/3) due to an ineffective and inconsistent starting rotation. The Orioles improved the depth of their rotation, and new additions to the relief corps -- only Johnson and Gregg were on last year's Opening Day roster -- have turned the bullpen into a lockdown group, confident that they can hold leads and outlast the opposition.

"This year, with this team, no one really knew what to expect for us," said O'Day, who tossed a scoreless sixth inning Saturday. "We were kind of an unknown quantity. So, for us to come out and perform like we have, and not have those expectations tied to us, is pretty surprising. We all knew we were good pitchers, and everyone has just fit together really well."

Eveland away from Orioles on paternity leave

BALTIMORE -- Dana Eveland was not available out of the Orioles' bullpen on Sunday as he was traveling to California to be with his wife for the birth of their second child.

Manager Buck Showalter said the team will not begin his three-day paternity leave until Tuesday, and the Orioles will have Tommy Hunter available out of the bullpen if the need for a long reliever were to arise on Sunday.

"We're fine," Showalter said. "Everybody is available in the bullpen today."

Once Eveland officially begins paternity leave, the O's will be able to replace him on the 25-man roster for up to three days.

Showalter said one option is to bring back reliever Matt Lindstrom, who has been on the 15-day disabled list since May 11 with a partially torn ligament in his right middle finger.

Lindstrom made a pair of rehab outings in the Gulf Coast League before moving to Double-A Bowie and pitching for them on Friday. He is scheduled to throw again on Sunday.

"It depends on what everybody thinks, if Lindstrom is ready or not," Showatler said. "We're not going to do it just because it's convenient. I know we've obviously got the staff there, and one of the scouts is going over to the Bowie game to help make that decision. So that'll probably be something that'll be decided after he pitches today."

Slumping Davis out of Orioles' starting lineup

BALTIMORE -- Chris Davis was held out of the Orioles' lineup on Sunday, a decision manager Buck Showalter attributed to Davis' 0-for-28 slump and a tough matchup with Nationals left-hander Ross Detwiler.

Davis had made seven starts in right field over the Orioles' past eight games, but he sat in favor of Steve Pearce on Sunday. Ronny Paulino served as the team's designated hitter.

"We've got some other people who need to play and are going to play," Showalter said. "He's not the only guy that's not swinging the bat right now. He's capable of better."

The Orioles hit just .167 in their past eight contests entering Sunday, and Davis' 0-for-28 skid with nine strikeouts has been a big part of that.

Davis' slide began June 15 in Atlanta, the first game he played right field.

"When I was DHing, it took me a few games to really find out a routine that worked for me, and I think it's kind of the same thing with right field," Davis said. "I've obviously got a lot on my plate with learning how to line up against guys out there and kind of where I can and where I can't go, so I'm sure I'll figure it out."

Despite his recent slump, Davis seemed to be in good spirits Sunday. Speaking to a group of reporters, Davis cracked jokes about how he would use his off-day to tan and work on his "beach muscles" before adding that if things don't work out, he could always "go back to the bullpen."

Although he admitted to missing a few pitches he would normally hit, Davis wasn't discouraged by the way he's been swinging the bat. On Saturday against the Nationals, Davis smashed a pair of line drives that found gloves.

"I hit the ball hard a couple of times last night, didn't really have anything to show for it," Davis said. "That's just the way it goes sometimes. The positive thing I can take away from it is I am still having good at-bats. I'm not just going up there, seeing three pitches and sitting down. I'm still driving the ball and hitting it hard."

Even so, Showalter can see that Davis and many other members of his team are pressing and "trying to get it all back in one at-bat."

That's part of the reason Davis got the day off, and although he said he expects that taking a day to watch from the bench could be helpful, he'd rather be out there to work through his slump.

"I want in there every day. I want 100 at-bats even if I go 0-for-100," Davis said. "I'm sure it'll turn around. That's just the way the game is."

Tidbits

• Brian Matusz will be Tuesday's starter, the Orioles announced on Sunday. Jason Hammel is scheduled to pitch Wednesday, and Wei-Yin Chen will likely start on normal rest Thursday.

• Endy Chavez's right hamstring strain is "about the same," Showalter said on Sunday. Chavez is rehabbing in Sarasota, Fla., and has been on the 15-day disabled list since June 14.