Orioles’ ‘Five-Inning Club’ an unpopular honor


Chris Tillman pitches in the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards Wednesday night. Photot: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

If you believe the first month of the season is for getting the inconsistencies out of your system, the Baltimore Orioles are having a picture-perfect April.

Tuesday night, when the hot-and-cold Jake Arrieta turned in his third straight start of no more than 5 innings, some members of the media asked both him and Buck Showalter if they saw a pattern. Arrieta said no, because rain had something to do with the second of those three abbreviated outings.

Last night it was Chris Tillman‘s turn; he followed suit and joined the Five Inning Club – again, for his third straight time. By losing, 6-2, to Tampa Bay, the Orioles fell to 7-7, and in half of their 14 games, the starter has failed to go six full innings. He acknowledged the starters have to start picking it up for an overworked bullpen. Yet the team is 4-2 in the combined six starts of Tillman and Arrieta. Stop us if you’ve heard this before.

Tillman also followed in Arrieta’s footsteps by allowing a 1st-inning, solo home run, this time to Kelly Johnson. The Rays stretched the lead to 2-0 on a Shelly Duncan homer in the second, before Adam Jones tied it with a 2-run homer in the third. But Jones gave that psychological lift right back in the fourth.

With a runner on second, Jones overthrew the cutoff man on a hit, holding the runner at third but allowing the hitter to reach second. Then James Loney came up and lined a hit to center that Jones let skip past him for a generously scored double, scoring both runs.

The benefit of Jones’ powerful arm is becoming debatable, if it has not been so for the better part of his career. Are teams running on him more often than not, knowing his arm, though strong, is erratic? His habit of coasting under a deep drive and catching it still drifting back, rather than getting under it, has sometimes cost him the chance to step into the throw and beat a runner trying to advance.

It is evident, and this is hardly a recent trend, opponents are alert to the opportunity to take the extra base on his tendency to overthrow the cutoff. Even a less than expert eye would note that heaving it all the way to the plate, even though he has nailed a few runners, has always held a certain appeal for him. His intent no doubt was cutting off the run, but the accepted wisdom has always been keeping the throw low to hold the hitter at first and keep the force in order. The other half of the story is that Chris Davis may have been late getting into cutoff position and could otherwise have leaped for it, but the throw in was high.

The series of events vitiated the positive effect of his home run, and the Orioles would not score again. The effectiveness of the Rays’ pitching made them seem as though the starch had been taken out. Matt Moore, who left after 6 2/3, had opened the season with 14 scoreless innings despite the Rays’ poor early record of 4-9 entering the game.

The previous night, Arrieta was all over the map, not giving the Rays anything after Desmond Jennings‘ first-pitch homer to lead off the game. But the walks – one per inning – the deep counts, and Tampa Bay’s maddening habit of fouling him off on the way to the deep counts, pushed his pitch count to 112 in just five frames – five innings plus a walk to the leadoff batter in the sixth. It is worth noting that not attacking the strike zone is what makes a pitcher run a count full, and the Rays were hitting .207 as a team coming in.

Miguel Gonzalez opposes David Price tonight, the Orioles’ third game in a stretch of 20 in 20 days.

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