Is the Oriole bullpen suspect?


One of the marks of the 2012 Orioles was their ability to win one-run games, and that was largely due to their bullpen being stellar. If game two of 2013 is any indication, the Orioles might have a bit tougher of a road once their starters leave the game. In the last of the ninth with the game tied at eight Matt Joyce beat the Orioles with a solo home run in walk off fashion, off of Tommy Hunter. There are a couple of ways to look at this; first off and most importantly, it’s one game (just as Tuesday’s win was one game). However let’s give Tampa a bit of credit also…like the Orioles, this is a team that battles to the final out.

Courtesy of Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The game started in grand fashion for the Orioles with Chris Davis plating Nick Markakis and Adam Jones on a three-run homer in the first inning. Davis would go 4-for 4 in the game (with a single and two doubles on top of the homer); the fact that he’s killing the ball so early is great news for the O’s. Perhaps more importantly, he’s playing solid defense. Davis was originally brought in via trade in August of 2011 in hopes that he could be a power-hitting first baseman of the future in Baltimore. His defense was lackluster at best in spring training and through 36 games last year before he was removed from his first base duties. During spring training this year I wrote that if his defense was poor again this year (to the point to where they couldn’t justify keeping him in the field), the Orioles would risk losing 30+ home runs in their order. So far so good in that department.

Wei-Yin Chen got the start, and looked good through five plus innings. Chen’s line: 5.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 4 K. Chen started to tire in the sixth inning which is when Showalter pulled him in favor of Luis Ayala. Chen gave up a double to Desmond Jennings and a single to Ben Zobrist to allow Tampa to pull to 4-1. Following a Longoria single (allowed by Ayala), Shelley Duncan homered to tie the game at four. However keep in mind that the Orioles play to the final out; the good news is that they fought back. Nolan Reimold scored in the last of the seventh on a Nate McLouth RBI-single to take the lead back for the Orioles…

…that lead however was short-lived, as Tampa plays to the final out as well. Tampa was able to put three runs on the board off of Pedro Strop to take a 7-5 lead in the eighth. The thing that should stick in Orioles’ fans craws is that the Tampa rally was started by a failure of common sense in a manner of speaking. With one out Matt Joyce came up as a pinch-hitter, and as common sense dictated the O’s employed a shift towards right field. The spray charts indicate that Joyce hits most of his balls on that side of the field, so the shift was a smart move by Showalter. Of course in response to that Joyce went ahead and bunted against the shift, right to the spot where third baseman Manny Machado would have been standing if not for the shift. That’s when this game can be really frustrating, as it seems you’ve almost outsmarted yourself by trying to outsmart the opponent. Nine times out of ten that move works like a charm (it certainly did on Tuesday); this one time somehow that common sense failed Showalter and the Birds.

The O’s still scratched back and scored on a Matt Wieters RBI-single in the eighth and a Brian Roberts RBI-double in the ninth to tie the game. With both Tommy Hunter and Jim Johnson warming in the pen, Buck Showalter opted for Hunter so as to save Johnson if the Orioles took the lead. The possibility of that was short-lived however as Hunter threw a home run to the aforementioned Joyce, the first batter he saw. Three different Oriole relievers (Ayala, Strop, and Hunter) blew leads or ties, which is a somewhat concerning stat. However the same can be said on the other side, and from Tampa’s perspective I’m sure they aren’t fretting about their bullpen after winning a game as such. These are the types of games where you have to just shrug it off and get back to playing the next day. Having said that, it’ll be interesting to see who the corresponding roster move will be when the O’s have to call up Chris Tillman (off the DL) to make Saturday’s start. Could Hunter be in jeapardy of going back to Norfolk? I would hope that the Orioles wouldn’t base that decision on one outing, and the same goes for Luis Ayala and Pedro Strop (both of whom we know were solid last year). Knowing Buck Showalter however, they had a plan in mind going into everything.

The good news is that the Orioles still have an opportunity to win the series with a rubber match this afternoon. It’ll be interesting to see if Buck Showalter employs a shift on Matt Joyce if given the opportunity. My vote would be for yes, as the spray charts still don’t lie even after Joyce showed he could bunt. Miguel Gonzalez will head to the mound for his first start of 2013, and he’ll be opposed by Roberto Hernandez (the “former” Fausto Carmona). Showalter led off with Nate McLouth yesterday after tabbing Nick Markakis for the job on Tuesday, so it’ll be interesting to see who trots out there to start the game this afternoon. Just a scheduling note; today’s game is at 3 PM, after which the Orioles will head back to Baltimore for tomorrow’s home opener against Minnesota (also at 3 PM). The Birds play at 7 PM on Saturday evening, and 1:30 on Sunday before heading back out on the road.