The Orioles couldn’t have asked for a better start from Tommy Hunter in the wake of everything that’s happened in the past few days. Hunter of course was called back up from the minors to make the start last night in Minnesota. Keep in mind that this was not done because Hunter was in essence beating down the door to get back to the big leagues, but because the Orioles needed someone to start. The bullpen came into this game heavily taxed; so Hunter went out and pitched seven and one-third innings. Hunter’s final line: 7.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 1 K.
I didn’t notice the zero walks until I sat down and looked at the line score to write this article. Here’s the other thing that sticks out at me: one strikeout. Hunter pitched-to-contact all night, which kept his pitch count down. I’ve said this in the past, however pitchers that pitch-to-strikeout generally have higher pitch counts because in theory it takes at least three pitches to strike someone out. If you pitch-to-contact you have a chance to get the guy out in fewer pitches. To illustrate that point, Minnesota starter Francisco Liriano struck out ten Orioles last night (there’s 30 pitches right there at a minimum). He pitched six innings and threw exactly 100 pitches. Hunter struck out just the one batter, and went 7.1 innings; he threw 106 pitches in the game.
I suppose that if it’s not one thing in a game it’s another; the Orioles were only able to push two runs across last night. But then again that’s all they needed. Adam Jones followed a J.J. Hardy single in the first inning with a two-run homer to left field which I think landed in Duluth (MN). The Birds were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, however that’s something that barely deserves a mention when the opponent was o-for-6. Josh Willingham continued his dominance over the Orioles with a solo home run in the fourth inning, and that closed the scoring. Adam Jones also legged out a triple with one out in the eighth, however the Birds couldn’t plate him. Again, that’s somewhat concerning because those are situations where you really want to put runs across. They got away with it last night…but that won’t always be the case.
Troy Patton came in from the ‘pen with one out in the 8th, and after putting a couple of guys on base the Orioles intentionally walked Josh Willingham to get to the struggling lefty Justin Morneau. The O’s put a shift on in the infield and Morneau hit the ball square to the shifted J.J. Hardy who threw him out at first base. In the last of the 9th with closer Jim Johnson in the game Minnesota’s Brian Dozier made a poor attempt to bunt a base runner over the second. He popped the bunt up and first baseman Mark Reynolds made a diving catch for the first out of the inning. Reynolds has been a punching bag for Oriole fans over the past year-and-a-half, however give credit when it’s due; a play like that is huge in the 9th inning of a one-run game.
The Orioles came across as Mother Goose’s “Humpty-Dumpty” in this one; they had a great fall, and they got up. This was a huge win given that the Birds have been beaten around of late. As I said, they do need to improve on the runners in scoring position stat, however often a win like that will start to give a team confidence. Going back to Mark Reynolds for a moment, I get it folks; the guy’s hitting .206 with numerous strikeouts. However that diving play to record the first out in the 9th last night tells me that he wants to win. While he needs to step up his game at the plate, I find it difficult to criticize the effort of a guy that shows no apparent regard for his own well-being in laying out like that for a ball with the game on the line. If I were a member of the Orioles, that in itself would give me confidence.
The O’s will get a relatively short amount of time to enjoy this win, as they’re right back at it early this afternoon with a “getaway day matinee.” Today’s game starts just after 1 PM on the east coast (noon out in Minnesota), and the Orioles will send Wei-Yin Chen to the mound. He was great his last time out, however he recorded a no-decision after Detoit rallied in the 9th inning. He’ll be opposed by Cole De Vries of Minnesota, who’s had a tough time keeping the ball in the ballpark if his previous start against Oakland has anything to do with things. Going back to Tommy Hunter for a moment, I think we’ll see starting today what a service he did for his team (especially the bullpen). Due to his 7.1 IP last night, the Orioles’ ‘pen is coming off of throwing exactly five outs. With a quick turnaround today and the Orioles heading to a hitters park this weekend (Cleveland), that’s huge. As Buck Showalter says, hopefully everyone slept quickly last night because today brings an afternoon game!
Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala