The Baltimore Orioles this morning find themselves in the rare position of having lost three straight games in 2013. I suppose that the most concerning thing about last night’s 12-10 loss was the in which the game unfolded, with starter Jason Hammel getting beaten around the way that he did. Hammel’s line: 4.2 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 2 BB, 4 K. Hall of famer and MASN broadcaster Jim Palmer said on several different occasions that Hammel’s issue was command-related. Not one to disagree with Palmer on pitching, I would tend to accept that analysis. What Hammel is now taxed with is how to correct the mistakes prior to his next start.
After Hammel surrendered a run in the first inning, the Orioles seized the lead in the last of the inning on Chris Davis‘ two-RBI single. Davis and Machado (who naturally doubled in that sequence) continue to just rake the ball all over the field offensively which bodes well for the Birds. Another thing that bodes well for the O’s is the fact that J.J. Hardy is starting to heat up, as he hit a solo homer in the third to give the O’s a 3-1 lead. However the Orioles seem to struggle when facing mirror images of themselves; Tampa likes to think of itself as the original team that “plays ’till the final out.” Kelly Johnson‘s three-run homer in the third gave Tampa the lead back at 4-3. (Hammel appeared to have a called strike three on the previous pitch, however it was ruled ball three.)
Tampa also put up a four-run fifth inning and a three-run sixth inning; going to the last of the eighth the O’s had little hope left of winning a game that they trailed 12-4. And for the record, they didn’t win the game. But they sure tried to do it. The Orioles put up a six-run eighth inning to close to within 12-10. Nate McLouth (who showed signs of coming out of his mini-slump) started the inning off with a triple, And he scored on a Manny Machado groundout. With two runners on, Matt Wieters singled up the middle to cut the Tampa lead to 12-7. Chris Dickerson also turned in a three-run home run to right field, and suddenly the Orioles were back in the game at 12-10, but they couldn’t get any closer than that.
The way that most Orioles fans are looking at this game is that the team scored ten runs and still lost. And the fact is that it seems that Orioles pitching is rapidly taking a hit. It’s fair to point out that Chen and Gonzalez are on the DL, but this game was started by Jason Hammel who’s supposed to be the staff ace. Those issues are something that Hammel and pitching coach Rick Adair are going to have to get worked out – and quickly at that. However in saying that the team put up ten runs and lost, you can’t discount the fact that the team put up ten runs. Granted they put those runs up against a starter in Jeremy Hellickson that was also starting to tire. But the fact that he was still in the game as it was should also tell the Orioles something; Tampa manager Joe Maddon feels his bullpen is a bit suspect at times. The fact that in a save situation he opted to keep Joel Peralta in the game as opposed to going to his closer (Fernando Rodney) is telling. Perhaps he wanted to give Rodney a night off, however he also blew a two-run lead on Thursday against Boston in the ninth.
Why is this even noteworthy in a game that admittedly wasn’t as close as the score indicates? Regardless of who was tired and who the opposing manager purposely kept out of the game last night, Oriole bats came to life in the end. So moving forward in this series that tells us that if the Orioles can knock the Tampa starter out of the game by putting some runs on the board things might get easier as they progress through the Tampa ‘pen. This isn’t an exact science, and I recognize that. However as I said, Oriole bats were lively at the end of last night’s game. Coming out of a series against San Diego in which they struggled to put up runs, that’s a good sign.
With all of that said, it still boils down to starting pitching for the Orioles. If you get quality starting pitching in a game, you won’t find yourself in a position to need a six-run inning to pull to within two runs at 12-10. Moving forward the Orioles could really use a quality outing in today’s game to save some of the arms in the ‘pen who got worked yesterday. That’s all a ripple effect of a starter having to depart early; the O’s find themselves in a position where coming out of an off day on Thursday they’re already worried about wearing the bullpen too thin. The O’s will have a bit of the unknown on their side this afternoon as Jair Jurrjens makes his first start of the season, filling in for the injured Wei-Yin Chen. Jurrjens, two years removed from an all-star appearance, has worked hard in the minors where he generated a lot of swings and misses. If that translates over to the big leagues, the Orioles will be in a position to win today. Tampa will counter with Roberto Hernandez (the former Fausto Carmona), who’s had his struggles on the road this year. This afternoon’s 4 PM game will also air on FOX as part of their Saturday baseball docket.