May 18, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Johnson (43) leaves the game in the ninth inning after giving up the go-ahead runs against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Rays defeated the Orioles 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Another blown save dooms the O's

Jair Jurrjens became the 10th pitcher to start for the Baltimore Orioles in 2013 yesterday afternoon at the yard against Tampa. Jurrjens’ line: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 4 K. Obviously the O’s ideally wanted Jurrjens to go deeper into the game than the fifth inning. However let’s keep in mind that Jurrjens’ first start in the major leagues since being sent to the minors by the Atlanta Braves last summer. At 75 pitches through five he wasn’t laboring, however I suspect that Buck Showalter didn’t want to press things too much. Incidentally, Tommy Hunter was solid out of the bullpen yesterday, and bridged a gap for the Orioles in a long relief role.

After Jurrjens quickly retired the side 1-2-3 in the first, the Orioles jumped all over Tampa in the last of the inning. Nate McLouth started things off with a single, and was moved to second by Manny Machado. Nick Markakis‘ RBI-double scored McLouth, and the Orioles had an early 1-0 lead. With the count at 0-2 Adam Jones sent a home run into the left field grandstand that I think might have reached Pimlico race track (where they were about to run the Preakness Stakes). That was followed up by Chris Davis‘ home run and suddenly the Orioles had given Jurrjens a 4-0 lead.

However as the Orioles ultimately found out in a big time manner, Tampa has the propensity to come back. Tampa’s three-run third inning which included a home run by Matt Joyce brought Tampa back to within one. Orioles fans are used to seeing the Orioles come back on teams, however as I’ve said previously Tampa is probably the original “play ’till the last out” team. The thing that frustrates a lot of teams about Tampa is that they seem to do everything right in that they force you to throw the ball over the plate and they hang in there until they get the pitch that they want. This comes from their manager, Joe Maddon, who is probably one of the more underrated managers in the game. From the Orioles’ standpoint that can be very frustrating to watch, however Maddon and his players force the opposition to stand up and respect them (and they don’t go away until you do). That’s probably good life advice as well as sound baseball advice.

After the game Jurrjens said that he wanted to work on his command a bit, as well as going deeper into the game. Tommy Hunter came in to start the sixth inning, and as he’s consistently done this year Hunter was lights out. Orioles fans have to be careful not to forget the likes of Hunter and even Pedro Strop, because in focusing so much on results sometimes the performances of middle relievers get lost. Sportscaster Mark Viviano appeared on MASN’s Wall to Wall Baseball program yesterday afternoon, and he equated middle relievers such as Tommy Hunter to offensive linemen in the NFL. People only really recognize them when they make a mistake, and when that happens people’s attitudes are “cut him.” Hunter bridged the gap very well yesterday between the starter and the back end of the bullpen by pitching 2.2 innings. Brian Matusz came in to get the final out in the eighth, and closed Tampa down with two pitches.

The other frustrating thing about the Tampa Rays is that they take what they can get and they seem to appreciate it. With Jim Johnson on in the ninth to close out what was looking like a 6-4 Oriole victory, Kelly Johnson stepped to the plate with one down. Johnson promptly sent a solo home run into the seats to cut the lead to 6-5. Johnson then issued two consecutive walks to put the go-ahead run on base for Tampa. Again, Tampa’s a team that takes what they can get; Joe Maddon has no issue taking a walk because it’s virtually as good as a base hit, and any man on base is just another opportunity to score a run. A single to left field by Dan Jennings loaded the bases; again, Tampa’s a team that takes what it can get and nothing more. Jennings’ single was a blooper that fell into no-man’s land in shallow left field. With the game on the line, many base runners would have taken off running from second base. Instead, Lobaton waited and made sure that the ball fell in and appeared perfectly content standing at third base.

Courtesy of Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Joyce was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as his double with the bases loaded scored two runs and suddenly Tampa had a 7-6 lead (at which point Jim Johnson was pulled). They would go on to score three more runs and defeat the Orioles by a 10-6 final. This was Jim Johnson’s second consecutive blown save, which also snapped the Orioles’ 109-game win streak when leading after seven innings.

Let’s be frank about this; you can’t blow leads like that, especially at home and against AL East opponents. However the good news and the bad news is that this was probably more mental on Johnson’s part than anything else. That’s bad news because mental issues are tough to needle through. However it’s good news because Johnson still has that lights-out stuff that we’ve seen in the past. The best way for Johnson to right the ship would be for the Orioles to call on him in a non-save situation this afternoon so as to let him pitch in a non-pressure situation. You don’t want to use your closer when you have a five or six run lead, however if that pressure isn’t there it might help Johnson to relax on the mound a bit. And once he gets a positive outing under his belt he can start to recover from this bump in the road.

The O’s will try to salvage one game against Tampa this afternoon, and hope that Chris Tillman can act as a stopper in this four-game losing streak. He’ll be opposed by Tampa’s Matt Moore…who go figure, is 7-0.

Tags: Baltimore Orioles Jim Johnson

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