As today’s game moved to the last of the 9th with the O’s trailing 3-2, I admitt that I thought for a moment about last year’s season finale in which the O’s came back to beat Boston.
I suppose that’s a moment that all of Birdland will never forget, least of all me. However the stakes today were much less, and in fact they were next-to-nothing (and that’s being kind). Today was a split squad day for both teams, with Bobby Valentine and most of Boston’s regulars beating the Orioles’ B-squad 7-4 back in Ft. Myers. However Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez, two regulars for the Red Sox, did make the trip to Sarasota to take on the O’s today.
Overall, starter Wei-Yi Chen grabbed the bull by the horns this afternoon. Chen became the first Orioles’ pitcher to pitch into the fifth inning this Grapefruit League season, and finished with a line of : 5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 3 K. The key for Chen was that he gave up a three-run homer in that fifth inning to former Oriole farmhand Nate Spears. (In fairness to Chen, it appeared that the homer was wind-aided.)
The fifth inning was a struggle for Chen overall, as it appeared that he started to tire. Through the first four innings Chen seemed to be cruising on all accounts. He picked off two runners at first base, and almost had a third at second. One thing that I noticed was that his off speed pitches appeared to be very difficult for Boston hitters to pick up. He struck out Josh Kroeger on a low-and-away slider that seemed to leave Kroeger baffled. His fastball was topping out in the 91-93 MPH range, which is extremely positive. Many of his off speed pitches were in the low 70’s, which is also positive. These days many guys seem to have a problem differentiating speeds between fastballs and changes, which works in the hitters’ favor.
On the flip side, Chen seemed to have the same struggle that we’ve seen with countless pitchers out of the Japanese league: finesse. I remember when Koji Uehara came to the Orioles my observation was that he had pin point accuracy until falling apart in the fifth or sixth inning. Japanese league pitchers are on an NFL schedule in that they literally only pitch once a week. Here in the US, pitchers usually take a turn in the rotation every five days or so. It sounds like a minimal difference, but it’s there and it registers. This is the reason why so many Japanese pitchers end up relievers, as might ultimately be the case with Chen (remains to be seen). The most concerning part is that there’s usually very little warning that the guy is starting to tire, as it usually just happens. Chen said after the game that he wasn’t tired in the least, although he threw 75 pitches in the ballgame today after being slated to throw only 65. This is something the Orioles will have to monitor as camp starts to wind up, and obviously it’ll have to figure into Buck Showalter’s decision in terms of where Chen starts the season. With that said, I still can’t stress enough how on point Chen was through the first four innings.
The O’s put two runs across in the last of the 6th on a rally that was started on a Nick Markakis double. Markakis went 2-for-3 in today’s game (his second of the spring), with a run scored. Adam Jones’ single gave the Birds runners at the corners with nobody out, and Boston pitcher Clayton Mortenson committed a throwing error on a pickoff attempt which scored Markakis. Adam Jones scored on a Luis Exposito passed ball. Some people might point out that these two runs were unearned which means that the Orioles didn’t necessarily drive them in. However keep in mind that the whole Moneyball concept is to get guys on base. The more traffic on the base paths, the more chances you have to score runs either by driving them in or by the other team making a mistake.
The Birds were down to their final out in the last of the ninth when Joe Mahoney doubled to left field. He was plated by Steve Tolleson, who continues to have a great spring, to tie the game at three. As has happend several other times this spring, the O’s and BoSox played one extra frame before calling it a day with a 3-3 tie. I suppose there’s a part of me that would like to see them continue the game, however the fact is that the visiting team only brings so many pitchers for road games in the spring. Plus it’s not about wins and losses yet, just skills and acumen. However needless to say, a tie always has been and always will be like kissing your sister.
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