I’m not exactly sure what was more impressive in this afternoon’s game; Jason Hammel’s no-hit bid going into the 8th inning, or the fact that Hammel actually got through the 8th inning. With the Orioles harboring a 3-0 lead over Minnesota in the 8th, people started getting excited. MLB Network actually picked up MASN’s feed of the game and tweeted that there was a no-hit bid going on. However Justin Morneau’s no-out double off the scoreboard in right field ended the no-hit bid, which rightfully brought the Camden faithful to their feet to show their appreciation to Hammel for a spectacular effort.
However what the fans didn’t know was that the double was in effect no fluke. As great as Hammel’s effort was, he was starting to tire. After another double (which scored Morneau), everyone knew that Hammel’s tank was reaching empty. The issue with low-scoring no-hit bids is that the manager can’t (justifiably) get someone up behind the guy to warm up. If he tires out of the blue, you might not only lose the no-hitter but also the game. So with Kevin Gregg trying to quickly get warm, Buck Showalter made the decision to stick with Hammel to try to get through the inning. When Nick Markakis caught the final out of the inning the crowd gave Hammel a well-deserved standing O. Not only did he give them a thrill with the no-hit bid, but he reached down deep when the team needed him the most and found a way to get out of the inning. With the Yankees’ series looming, that saved the bullpen for an inning.
The one thing that stands out to me after the first weekend is that the starting pitching is much better. The Orioles started 2011 with a similar three-game sweep of Tampa at Tropicana Field. However save from Jeremy Guthrie’s Opening Day effort, the pitching didn’t stand out nearly as solid as it did this time around. Chris Tillman actually had a “no-hit bid” in game two of that series, however he had to depart the game after five innings due to a high pitch count. In the final game of that series Zach Britton made his major league debut as a result of the fact that Brian Matusz had been sent to the DL. All in all, that high pitch count, injury problems, and inconsistency set the tone for the season.
Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, and now Jason Hammel combined this weekend to give Oriole fans a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins, and in doing so looked incredibly good. Who would have thought that Oriole pitching would have been the story on this sun-soaked afternoon at Camden Yards? The idea was to come out of spring training with the five best pitchers as part of the starting rotation. It looks as if Buck Showalter, Rick Adair, and Dan Duquette made the right decisions…about the first three guys that is. Over the course of the weekend in monitoring twitter and some other sites the underlying sentiment was that “it was only the Twins.” While the Twins are hardly the ’27 Yankees, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the likes of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are hardly pushovers. More importantly than the individual names, the Twins are still a clubhouse of professionals, which is at the very least worth a lot of respect.
We would be naive to think that all of these guys’ starts will go like this. As I said in spring training, a pitcher’s really going to be on for 10 games, off for 10, and somewhere in the middle for 10 (on average). However the fact is that if the entire pitching staff and the entire team handles adversity with the same moxie shown by Hammel as his control was waning in the 8th inning today, the Orioles might well have some bright days ahead. However again, it’s only three games. One thing that I touched briefly upon above that’s worth noting is that in these three games the bullpen only pitched five innings. With NY coming to town, a rested bullpen is a huge advantage for the home-standing Birds. (In the above-mentioned Chris Tillman start in Tampa on opening weekend last year, the ‘pen pitched four innings in that one game.)
At the time that this article is being published, Tampa leads NY 3-0 at Tropicana Field. If that score holds NY will come to Camden Yards this week after being swept in their opening series. The same thing applies; it’s only three games. However you can look at this one of two ways…either NY is going to be angry and take their frustrations out on the Orioles, or the Orioles are catching them at the right time. However one thing is certain regardless of which Yankee team shows up in Baltimore: the Orioles are playing good baseball right now.
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