We got a glimpse last night of how the Orioles’ lineup was potentially supposed to work over the course of the last few seasons (granted the personnel is different in some aspects, and of course Nick Markakis is injured at the moment as well). With the return of Brian Roberts, the Orioles lineup became much more streamline in that they had a true lead off guy at the top of the order. However I’m sure that neither Roberts, the Orioles, or the fans expected him (Roberts) to have the type of night that he had. Roberts went 3-for-4 with an RBI. After the game Roberts said that he was just trying to contribute, and he never expected to get three hits in the game.
The thing that struck me was that he worked the count in each of his at-bats. In his first plate appearance in the last of the first he worked the count to 3-2 before getting a base hit up the middle. In his second at-bat he worked the count to 2-2. That’s a far cry from some of the first-pitch swinging at-bats we’ve seen this year. With Pittsburgh leading 1-0 in the third, Mark Reynolds answered the lingering questions regarding when he’d start to hit-for-power by sending a two-run homer over the left field fence. After an Adam Jones RBI-single in the third, Jones sent one over the wall as well, giving the Birds two homers on the night.
Wei-Yin Chen pitched fairly effectively, spreading 4 runs over eight hits in 6.1 innings. He walked one batter and struck out three. Chen located his fastball very well in this game, which is a good sign after struggling a bit with that earlier in the year. Speaking of pitching, Brian Matusz injured himself during bunting drills. Get this – he bopped one off his nose. The Orioles of course will leave home after tomorrow’s game and head to Atlanta and then to NY to play the Mets…both National League cities, so the pitches will have to bat. X-rays on Matusz’s nose appeared to be negative, however Buck Showalter said that there was some swelling. A decision on Matusz’s pending start tonight against Pittsburgh was apparently made prior to Showalter leaving the ballpark, however it has not been announced to the media as of yet. What game would be complete without another injury? Survey says: there’s more! Endy Chavez strained his right hamstring running the bases last night as well. Showalter said that he’d wait to see how Chavez was this morning before making any decisions, however he could be DL-bound.
Roberts’ lone RBI on the night came on a sac-fly in the sixth. The Orioles put up four runs total in that inning, but were aided by two Pittsburgh errors. You take runs anyway that you can get them in baseball. Nursing an 8-4 lead, the Orioles brought in Kevin Gregg to pitch the ninth inning in a non-save situation. After walking a batter, Gregg “didn’t give in to Neil Walker,” who homered to make the game 8-6. Jim Johnson had continued to warm up in the bullpen, and no sooner did Walker cross home plate that Showalter emerged from the dugout to lift Gregg. Interesting. Johnson got the final two outs of the game to preserve the win in Brian Roberts’ return.
Roberts admitted after the game how special of a moment this was for him. He was only trying to contribute and help the team in anyway that he can, and he ended up going 3-for-4. As I said above, we saw shades of how this lineup was supposed to work over time with Roberts at the top. In 2010 he hurt himself in game four and didn’t return until late July. He then proceeded to injure himself again (concussion) in the last week of the season. Then of course last year he suffered the second concussion on May 16th in Boston. Since then, it seems that the top of the lineup had often had more holes than the bottom. However with a true lead off guy at the top setting the offensive trends, you suddenly have Hardy and Davis going 2-for-5, and Adam Jones going 4-for-5 (with a home run). That kind of production makes a huge difference.
Pittsburgh will throw Kevin Correia out against the O’s tonight in game two of this series at the yard. Correia will give up the long ball on occasion, so Oriole bats might well have the opportunity to remain hot. As for the Birds, it’s unclear whether or not Brian Matusz will make the start tonight. My gut says that he will, however that remains to be seen. If he’s deemed unable to go (and Buck Showalter mentioned the possibility of pushing him back to make tomorrow’s start), the Orioles could bring Jake Arrieta back into the rotation to make the start on normal rest. They could also ask Dana Eveland to make a spot start as a reliever. Unless Matusz goes to the DL (which I feel is unlikely), I don’t foresee the team having to make another roster move in order to have a starter in place for tonight’s game. As soon as we find out what’s going on with Matusz, I’ll offer an update to this column. Stay tuned!
Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala
(Update): According to Roch Kubatko of MASN, Matusz is in fact being moved back from tonight’s start in favor of Jake Arrieta. Endy Chavez is available off the bench tonight, however it still remains to be seen whether or not he’ll see time on the DL. (I would think that the fact that he’s not already there is a good sign.) Arrieta’s stint in the ‘pen appears to have been fairly short up to this point; for the record, a quality start out of him tonight would do wonders for his status.