Last season during an interleague series against the Mets, the Baltimore Orioles were stifled by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to the tune of a three-hit shutout. Hearts in Birdland were thus probably a bit heavy when Dickey ended up in Toronto this year; however the fact is that he hasn’t been quite as good as advertised thus far. That continued last night, as the Orioles defeated Toronto and all of their “knuckleball demons” 4-3. Miguel Gonzalez turned in the Orioles’ second consecutive quality start in a winning effort for the Birds. Gonzalez’s line: 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 4 K. All three of those runs came on a Juan Encarnacion home run which certainly appeared as if it could be a turning point in the game. However Brian Matusz, Pedro Strop, and Jim Johnson closed the door on Toronto, keeping them in check.
From a pitching perspective they say you should stay out of the big inning. Therefore from the point of view of a hitter a big inning is exactly what you want to induce. The Orioles got that in the second, and it was all they needed. Adam Jones started the inning off with an infield single, and was able to advance to second base on an error. Following singles by Chris Davis and Matt Wieters, Jones came into score and gave the Birds a 1-0 lead. Nolan Reimold was eventually able to sacrifice Davis home, and Manny Machado‘s two-RBI single scored two more. That accounts for all four of the Orioles’ runs. Dickey put a couple of guys on in the first inning, and then gave up the four runs in the second. Ironically after that he seemed to zone in and at one point retired eight consecutive Orioles.
The difference between Gonzalez’s start this time around and his previous few were that he attacked the strike zone. In no way am I suggesting that pitching-to-contact isn’t a leap of faith on the part of the pitcher. I recognize that, and I recognize that it takes a special kind of person to take that leap of faith. That said, this was the first time in 2013 we had seen Gonzalez do that, which was his trademark last year. He did seem to tire towards the end of the sixth (when he gave up the home run) however he was able to get out of the inning and preserve the lead. Brian Matusz came in to pitch the seventh, and got a huge strikeout on a nasty curve ball to J.C. Arencibia.
Buck Showalter also showed a lot of confidence in Pedro Strop, who’s been struggling of late. With a man on first and nobody out in the top of the eighth Showalter lifted Matusz and brought in Strop. Generally when a reliever’s struggling managers will bring them into games in low-yield situations so as to not put too much pressure on them and to help them gain confidence back. Strop was brought in with the game on the line and the tying run already on base. (In fairness, he did have a pretty decent outing on Saturday against Los Angeles, however most of the fan base probably held their breath when he came into the game last night.) Strop recorded the first out on a sac bunt, and the second on a ground out before walking Encarnacion and going to a full count on Melky Cabrera. Strop placed a fastball on the inside black which froze Cabrera, and got the Orioles out of the inning. Jim Johnson closed out the ninth inning, moving the Orioles’ record to 12-8.
One area of concern moving forward is that experts are always saying that in some cases it takes a team a week to recover their timing and their swings after facing a knuckleballer. It’s kind of the gift that keeps on giving from the perspective of future opponents. However that’s just something with which the Orioles will have to deal, and the fact that they head out to Oakland immediately following this afternoon’s series finale doesn’t help. Oakland has been a notoriously difficult park for the Orioles to play over the past few years, and the fact that the A’s have been tearing the cover off the ball won’t help either.
The Orioles will make a roster move before the game today, calling up Josh Stinson from the minor leagues. I would expect reliever Alex Burnett to be optioned back to Norfolk as the corresponding roster move, which probably won’t formally occur until just prior to the game. Stinson will presumably remain in the Orioles’ rotation for the time being given that they won’t have an off day until after the completion of the long up coming west coast swing. Stinson will be opposed by Brandon Morrow of Toronto, who’s still searching for his first win of the season. For fans hoping to attend today’s game, please note the 12:30 PM start time. This game is billed as an “afternoon matinee” or “businessman’s special” because the O’s will head out on the aforementioned road trip as soon as the game’s over.