Baltimore Orioles: The Comeback Kids
It seems like ages ago Tommy Hunter took to the mound at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City to take on the Kansas City Royals. I suppose that’s what happens in these longer extra inning games. This sounds somewhat familiar for some reason; strange, huh? Ultimately it doesn’t matter how many innings it takes, but if you have more runs than the other team at the end of the game you win. But back to Tommy Hunter for a moment; Hunter’s line: 7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K. Hunter only threw 82 pitches in those seven innings, and I’m sure that had manager Buck Showalter known the game would go 15 he would have tried to get more out of him. You’ll also notice that Hunter only struck out one batter; that’s what pitching to contact will do. In theory a strikeout pitcher is going to work harder because it takes him at least three pitches to get the guy out. If you’re getting them to put it in play, that’s not necessarily the case.
Hunter really grabbed the bull by the horns in this game, and he deserved the win tonight in my opinion. However until very late in the game it looked like he was going to be a hard-luck loser. With the Birds trailing 3-1 in the top of the ninth, Wilson Betemit hit a solo home run with one down to bring the O’s to within 3-2. Chris Davis singled to center field, and the comeback was suddenly on. Davis was lifted for pinch-runner Ryan Flaherty, who later scored from second (after being moved over) on J.J. Hardy’s single. It ended up being one of those bang-bang plays at the plate, and home plate umpire Angel Hernandez ruled that Flaherty slid just under the tag to tie the game.
Going into the season we talked a lot about the depth on this team being so much better. This isn’t more true than in the bullpen. If you play this same set of circumstances last year or in 2010 the ‘pen would have blown it in the last of the ninth and Kansas City would be celebrating at the Orioles’ expense. Dana Eveland pitched three innings in relief (following Troy Patton and Darren O’Day), which in retrospect possibly saved the Orioles from having to burn another pitcher. Eveland allowed one hit and struck out two. The much maligned Kevin Gregg also was good for two innings (potentially saving another pitcher), walking one and striking out two. I feel that manager Buck Showalter managed the bullpen a bit more stringently in this extra-inning game as opposed to the 17 inning deal in Boston. (Although granted when you go 17 innings it’s tough to criticize someone’s handling of the bullpen.) The O’s ended up with some relievers to spare, this after only a mere 15 innings!
In marathon games as such, it really comes down to who’s bullpen folds first. Based on what we’ve seen thus far from the Orioles’ pen, I’ll take the Birds every time in these situations. Speaking of mismanaging the pen, I feel that Kansas City manager Ned Yost perhaps managed himself out of a potential win. He called on reliever Nate Adcock to pitch five innings of the game in relief. Even for a long man, that’s a long time to be in the game as a relief pitcher. There’s no doubt that thoughts of burning the pen out in a game like this crosses every skipper’s mind, and it’s a valid issue to weigh. However the short of it is that after getting the first out in the top of the 15th, Adcock hung a fastball to Adam Jones on a 2-2 count which Jones deposited in the left field bleachers. Jim Johnson stranded the tying run at second in the last of the inning to complete the unlikely comeback win for the O’s.
Going back to managing the bullpen in these kinds of games, I’m not overly concerned about today’s game in Kansas City because their bullpen is in the same taxed situation as the Orioles’ might be. However moving forward one has to hope that Oriole starters can continue to go deeper into games to avoid using the bullpen too much in the next couple of days as the O’s head to DC after this afternoon’s matinee. The good news in the interim is that as I said above the Orioles have two relievers in Ayala and Strop that weren’t used last night. I would expect them to be the first ones out of the pen today if needed, and if the Orioles can get out of Kansas City without having to use anyone else (other than perhaps Jim Johnson) everyone that pitched last night will be fairly rested heading to DC.
Ultimately that means that the Orioles need Brian Matusz to go deep into this afternoon’s game. If he struggles and ends up getting yanked after four innings or so, that might put the entire relief staff at risk for some burn out in the aftermath of this series. However Matusz did look good in his last start against Tampa, although he only pitched 5.2 innings. The Orioles are probably looking for him to go somewhere in the neighborhood of seven tonight. I would also expect that Matt Wieters will not play today given the day game after a very long night game scenario. Matusz will be opposed by Luke Hochevar, who went deep into his last start against Chicago. However in his career, Hochevar is only 1-4 against the O’s with a 6.63 ERA.
On a side note, manager Buck Showalter apparently was taken ill during the day yesterday due to an undisclosed reason. He went “someplace” with trainer Richie Bancells to get it “checked out,” and apparently everything is fine. I’m not going to speculate on what it was, however I’ll just leave it at the fact that I hope all is well with Buck.
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