It was already shaping up to be a good day for the Baltimore Orioles when they announced before last night’s series opener with Houston that they were sending first baseman Chris Davis out on a rehab assignment at double-A Bowie starting today. Buck Showalter wants Davis to get a few at-bats under his belt, along with some reps at first base. Davis is eligible to come off the DL tomorrow; it’s unclear whether he’ll be activated or whether or not they’ll wait for the Detroit series on Monday, but the end to Davis’ DL stint appears to be in sight none the less.
Wei-Yin Chen pitched perhaps the best outing of the season thus far last night for the Birds. Chen’s line: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K. Yes folks, that qualifies as a quality start. My takeaway with Wei-Yin Chen was that his off speed and breaking pitches were getting over for strikes. I’ve had
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several former big league pitchers tell me personally that if you can’t throw a major league fastball you’re not going to make it in the majors. Having said that you also have to know how and when to drop something off speed in and get it by hitters, otherwise your pitches will start getting tagged. Wei-Yin Chen did that very consistently last night.
Houston drew first blood when former Oriole and local native L.J. Hoes sent a sac fly to Nick Markakis in right, giving them a 1-0 lead. In fact, Markakis made a great play on the ball to catch it, turning what appeared to be an RBI-single into a sacrifice fly. However the Baltimore Orioles pushed right back in the last of the inning as Steve Pearce stayed hot and smacked a solo homer which barely made it over the left field wall. With two outs in the inning Manny Machado stepped to the plate, and promptly homered in his own right – Machado’s first extra base hit and first hit overall at home of 2014.
However Houston struck back in the seventh as Chris Carter made the baseball equivalent of a finger-tip catch in the NFL by sening a solo homer to left field to tie the score at two. (Okay c’mon you gotta give me some sort of credit for pulling a reference like that!) Houston may not be a good team in terms of the standings, however to their credit they battled tooth and nail. They appear to have a young team that I feel will make some waves down the line.
J.J. Hardy led off the last of the seventh with a double, which propelled the O’s back into the driver’s seat. Hardy would later score on Jonathan Schoop‘s RBI-double, and Schoop himself would later score on an RBI-double by Nick Markakis. Tommy Hunter came in to close the game in the ninth and to protect a 4-2 lead, and ended up making things interesting. Carter came through for Houston again, this time with an RBI-groundout. However Hunter recorded the final out and the Baltimore Orioles defeated Houston 4-3 at Camden Yards.
Many fans are starting to get frustrated with Hunter in terms of how he makes things more interesting in ninth innings. While that might be true, he’s also bending but not breaking. The fact is that the day’s going to come when the O’s will give him a one-run lead and Hunter’s going to blow a save which will result in an Orioles’ loss. (It’s already happened, but the Birds came back and won.) It happens to every closer. However the fact is that Hunter’s managed to close all but one game thus far – is he the new Don Stanhouse? Perhaps. But as I said, he’s bent but not broken.
The O’s have an interesting dilema facing them when Chris Davis is ready to return (be it tomorrow, Monday, or even beyond). Who goes down? I suspect that Steve Pearce has effectively removed himself as a candidate (for both on-field and contractual reasons). Many folks seem to think that David Lough could be a candidate, and they’re probably correct. I would submit that a lot of that will be answered by Matt Wieters; if he’s able to catch again in the near future, then Caleb Joseph might be the guy sent back down.
The series with Houston continues tonight at Camden Yards with Miguel Gonzalez on the mound for the O’s. He’ll be opposed by Collin McHugh, who enters the game with a 2-1 record and a 2.79 ERA. However in his last start he gave up five earned runs and eight hits. The law of averages says that after a clunker like that he should throw a good game tonight. But he’s also facing a lineup that’s currently specializing in clutch hitting. Time will tell.