A lot of people don’t like the fact that writers like me (among others) keep comparing this season to 2012. Like it or not, 2012 is the standard-bearer among contemporary seasons in Baltimore Orioles baseball…for the time being. However here’s one mini-category in which the 2012 O’s struggled: knuckleballers. Granted they only faced one, but it was the same R.A. Dickey that they’ve faced twice this year. The O’s faced Dickey and the NY Mets on June 18, 2012, and not only did the knuckleballer shut them out, but he held them to one hit (in a complete game). So going into 2013 there was some angst among the faithful in that Dickey was now pitching in the AL East with Toronto.
Yesterday the Orioles faced Dickey for the second time this season, and with the same result: a win. Granted the mix of this team is slightly different than it was last year, but beating the guy twice in the same year is a far cry from losing a one-hit shutout less than a year before. Nate McLouth (who wasn’t on the team when they faced Dickey last year) set the tone right away with a lead off infield single. That should have indicated that Dickey would be pitching with guys on base a lot throughout his outing. A few batters later Chris Davis’ two-RBI double gave the Orioles the lead, which was followed up by a J.J. Hardy RBI-single. Thus for the second time in as many games, the Birds had a 3-0 lead in the first inning at Toronto before their own starting pitcher even took to the mound.
Freddy Garcia got the start for the O’s, and won his first game in an Oriole uniform. Similar to Chris Tillman on Friday, Garcia worked through a tough five innings of work in order to put himself in line to win the game. Garcia’s line: 5 IP, 9 H, 3 R (2 earned), 0 BB, 1 K. In monitoring my twitter feed it seemed that a lot of fans were almost grousing at the fact that the starters have only hit the five inning minimum to win games the past couple of days, and in one manner they’re right. However while Steve Johnson gave up two runs yesterday, the Orioles’ middle relief has been fairly stellar between Tommy Hunter, T.J. McFarland, and now Steve Johnson. Buck Showalter has done a great job of keeping those guys fresh and not using the same guy in the same long relief role too often or on consecutive days for that matter. However it’s also worth mentioning that the Orioles are starting to win these “grind-‘em-out” type of games. Sure the starters are only going the minimum five innings to qualify for the win, however they’re putting their team in a position to win the game, and that’s really what starting pitching is all about.
Toronto put a run on the board against Garcia in both the first and second inning (one on a Bonifacio home run), and J.J. Hardy smacked a two-out double in the top of the third. That brought Danny Valencia to the plate, who hit his second upper deck homer at Rogers Centre in as many games, which gave the O’s a 5-2 lead. Adam Jones would add another of his own in the seventh to close out the Orioles’ scoring for the day. That ended up being a key run as Toronto put two runs across on Steve Johnson in the last of the eighth to close to within 6-5. After the Orioles went down in order in the ninth, Jim Johnson was summoned from the bullpen to close out the game, his first save opportunity since blowing three straight. Many people held their breath; would Johnson’s sinker sink? Would we see the bulldog we were used to seeing, or would it be the version of Johnson that seemed a bit off-kilter? After a few pitches it was evident that Johnson’s sinker was sinking well, and that the Johnson of old was on the mound. He retired Toronto in order to close out the game, including a called strike three for the final out on Brett Lawrie.
Again, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that the Birds defeated Dickey for the second time this year. Knuckleballers are tough to handle, but the Birds put six runs on the board against one of the better ones yesterday. The Orioles made a roster move prior to yesterday’s game, calling up the aforementioned Steve Johnson to take Pedro Strop’s spot on the roster. Strop was sent to the DL with a strained back. He’ll be eligible to come off the DL on June 8th, at which time he can spend up to 30 days in the minors on a rehab assignment. Do the math folks; Strop has been struggling, he has no minor league options available, and the Orioles need sure arms in the ‘pen right now…you’d rather not play manipulative roster games like that, but assuming the O’s are embellishing Strop’s condition a bit they’re far from the only team that’s ever done it.
The series with Toronto wraps up this afternoon with Miguel Gonzalez on the mound. He’ll be opposed by Chad Jenkins, who hasn’t seen the mound for Toronto in two weeks. The Orioles hope that Adam Jones continues to stay hot, as Jones has homered in each of the first three games of the series. The O’s might have a tough task starting today in terms of getting their timing right, as many of the best hitters over the years have said that sometimes it takes a week to get back to normal after facing a knuckleballer. But that didn’t seem to bother the O’s last time around against Dickey, so we’ll have to let things play out. The O’s are averaging 5.6 runs and 11.3 hits over their last 14 games, and they hope they can continue that trend this afternoon against Jenkins before taking off for our nation’s capital after the game.