We’ve spoken so much this past week about Steve Pearce, but Nelson Cruz has quietly had a great week at the plate. That came to a head in last night’s game when Cruz went 5-for-5 at the plate, and barely missed hitting for the cycle. Cruz doubled in the eighth inning, and knowing that he needed a triple to complete the cycle (on a night when Mike Yastrzemski did just that in the Orioles’ minor league system) tried to stretch it into a triple. Cruz was thrown out at third base by a hair – and the Orioles’ dugout loved it. Even Buck Showalter cracked a smile; that’s how loose a clubhouse can be in a winning effort.
One start after turning in his best outing as an Oriole, Ubaldo Jimenez returned to his old struggles. Jimenez’s line: 3.2 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 6 BB, 4 K. Those six walks and four strikeouts will add to your pitch total, however I suspect that Jimenez was removed when he was due to ineffectiveness. Buck Showalter said that he thought Jimenez was “effectively wild,” which probably helped him to garner those four K’s. After the game Jimenez said he felt it was a mechanical issue, which means that it’s something that’s fixable. What “fixable” entails is another story that we can debate at another time. Having said that, for those of you who say just DFA him, that’s fine and dandy if you’re willing to have the Orioles pay him to play elsewhere for the next three plus years.
The Baltimore Orioles struck first in this game, which ended up being somewhat of a back-and-forth affair. Manny Machado singled to center in the top of the fourth, and Nick Hundley followed that up with a homer to give the Birds a 2-0 lead. However as they’re so good at doing, Boston provided a big inning in their home yard. Mike Napoli drew a walk off of Jimenez to lead off the last of the fourth, which was followed by a Stephen Drew homer which tied the score at two. Nothing good happens after a walk, remember? Brock Holt would add an RBI-double later in the inning, and Daniel Nava an RBI-single, and suddenly Boston had chased Jimenez and held a 4-2 lead.
Ideally a team has done it’s job at the plate when they chase a starter after 3.2 innings. However as strong as the Oriole bullpen is, that’s not always the case against the Baltimore Orioles. Boston couldn’t have known that the Oriole ‘pen would pitch 5.1 innings of scoreless baseball – but that’s what they did. And while they did that Oriole bats started heating up again, and as per usual it started with the longball. I mentioned above that Nelson Cruz almost hit for the cycle – his solo homer in the fifth brought the O’s to within 4-3.
Having said that, what shouldn’t go lost is the heads-up defense that we saw from Jonathan Schoop in the last of the inning. After David Ortiz led off with a double, he made a fatal base running mistake by trying to take third on a grounder hit to his left. I think that many second basemen might be so shocked to see the runner going in that situation, that they might hesitate for a moment and the runner would end up being safe at third (kind of similar to a pitcher being effectively wild). However Schoop threw Ortiz out at third base, which bought the Orioles a key out.
Following a Schoop single and a Nick Markakis walk in the sixth, Steve Pearce burned an Oriole opponent for the upteenth time this week and sent an RBI-single up the middle tying the game at four. Markakis would later take third on Adam Jones‘ single, and he would score on an error by Daniel Nava. Pearce would later score on an infield RBI-single by Nelson Cruz, and Jones on a bases loaded fielder’s choice-RBI by J.J. Hardy.
When the smoke cleared, the O’s held a 7-4 lead. As I said above, when you have a bullpen as strong as that of the Orioles, you relax when you have a lead like that. However one can rarely relax in a park like Fenway, that is until the final out is recorded. Zach Britton pitched a clean ninth inning, earning the O’s a hard-fought 7-4 lead and a split in yesterday’s doubleheader.
That sets up a rubber match this afternoon at “the Fens,” with Kevin Gausman on the bump. The O’s will need to make a roster move to bring Gausman up, and I suspect that a reliever will be optioned to make room. The Orioles optioned Preston Guilmet back to triple-A Norfolk following last night’s game; Guilmet had been called up as the 26th man on the roster as is allowed by MLB rules in doubleheaders. Gausman will be opposed by Jake Peavy this afternoon.
Bud Norris is expected to start either Tuesday at Washington or Wednesday against Washington at Camden Yards. (My advice would be to start him on Tuesday given that he’s pitched in the NL and probably has more plate appearances than any other Oriole pitcher…!) So another roster move will have to be made to bring Norris off the DL – one has to hope that it isn’t Gausman who’s sent back down again, but time will tell. My prediction is that it ends up being a reliever, and with the all-star break forthcoming the O’s will have a chance to re-shuffle their rotation a bit.