Throughout spring training I said a few times that most starting pitchers will generally have 30 starts a year; there’ll be 10 where he’s great, 10 where he’s not-so-great, and 10 “in between.” Within those starts where he’s “in between” lies the success or failure of the season for that pitcher, and possibly the team. Brian Matusz and Wei-Yin Chen had “in between” starts this past week against New York, but the O’s lost. Tommy Hunter had one last night, however even though he didn’t figure into the decision the Orioles won the game. Hunter’s line: 6 IP, 6 H, 5 R (4 earned), 2 BB, 2 K. Those don’t look like horrible numbers by any means (save for the five runs), however of those six hits four of them were solo home runs. Yet, Hunter minimized the damage in each inning and put the bullpen in a position to put the team in line to win. (Reliever Darren O’Day was the pitcher of record when the Birds took the lead so he got
Ironically it was the exact point that I made a couple of days ago which won it for the Orioles: clutch hitting. There was almost a sad round of laughter that went up when the Orioles touted signing Wilson Betemit this past off season. Without a doubt, his .268 career batting average is just that…average (at best). However he also has a career OBP line of .335, and a slugging percentage of .447. Most people only look at batting average and the home run line of someone’s stats for their career; remember folks, there’s always more than meets the eye. Betemit was exactly what the O’s needed last night in the eighth inning of a tie game in Toronto with Reimold and Markakis in scoring position. In 2011 we might have seen Luke Scott come up in that situation and either strike out or drive the ball deep onto the warning track…only to be caught for the final out. (That’s not a knock in anyway on Scott.) The game would have gone into the last of the ninth tied at five, and someone would have hit a walk off homer. Instead last night O’s fans got Betemit’s hit-for-average approach, which netted the winning runs.
In three game series’ it’s amazing what kind of confidence winning the first game can give a team. Certainly you take one game at a time, however the fact is that series’ give teams a way they can measure themselves against their opponents. So in winning the first game of a series (especially on the road), the O’s give themselves a bit of extra looseness going into today’s late-afternoon contest against Toronto. Jason Hammel will be opposed by Henderson Alvarez of the Blue Jays. This will be Alvarez’s 12th big league start, and in his previous 11 he has seven quality starts. In his last outing against Boston, he allowed one run over four hits. Hammel of course is coming off of his first Oriole start last week in which he took a no-no into the 8th inning.
A series win in Toronto would go a long way towards erasing or easing the memory of the three-game sweep by NY. More importantly, it would also give the O’s a great start to a very long road trip. After tomorrow’s game the Birds head to Chicago for four games, and then to L.A. for three. On another note according to mlb.com’s Brittany Ghiroli, the Orioles are giving Mark Reynolds some work at first base. Reynolds of course led the league in errors last year with 31, and has already made two at third this season. It’s unclear what will happen with Chris Davis who’s been the everyday first baseman thus far in 2012. I suspect that Reynolds will continue to see the majority of his time at third, however Buck Showalter certainly has versatility and options at both corner infield positions. If Reynolds starts seeing time at first or at DH as he did last night, I’d like to see Ryan Flaherty get some reps at the hot corner. Flaherty made the team out of camp as a rule five draftee, and played third base for a half-inning last Saturday night in his major league debut.
As I said above, today’s game is a late-afternoon start with first pitch scheduled for just after 4 PM. At various points we’ll see some odd Saturday start times due to FOX’s game window being at different times each week. I believe that Toronto normally schedules their Saturday games in the early afternoon, however they bumped the start time back for this one so that MASN (and the Blue Jays’ TV network) could televise the game.
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