When Brad Brach ran into trouble in the eighth inning Wednesday night, loading the bases with one out and a two-run lead, Orioles manager Buck Showalter summoned closer Zach Britton to the mound.
Some people cringe at asking a closer to go more than one inning. And Britton had to throw 28 pitches to get five outs, not his typical workload.
But it was absolutely, positively the right decision in the Orioles’ 5-2 win over the Seattle Mariners.
With no disrespect meant toward a tremendous bullpen, Britton is the Orioles best reliever. And that was a situation that screamed for the team’s top arm.
Also, Britton hadn’t pitched since May 13 – that’s four full days off. Showalter wanted Britton to pitch even if it meant appearing in a blowout.
So Showalter wasn’t concerned at all about extending Britton a little.
“Physically, he hasn’t pitched in four days. This would have been five,” Showalter said. “We knew going into the game that he’d be available in the eighth inning.”
A former starter, Britton, of course, loved the opportunity. He has recorded more than three outs one other time this season, May 5 versus the Yankees. He pitched beyond one inning several times last year, including Aug. 10 against these same lefty-heavy Mariners at Safeco Field.
“I like it to kind of be an option, definitely. Sometimes, I like going back out there, sitting down (in the dugout). I don’t get to do that very often,” Britton said. “I knew with the way their lineup kind of shakes out, with the lefties, that that was a possibility. I did it against them last year, so I was just prepared to do it.”
He could be available again Thursday afternoon if needed. And if he is not, Darren O’Day could sub in. But Showalter, whose biggest strength may be the way he handles a bullpen’s workload, played this one perfectly.
Britton got a strikeout and grounder in the eighth to escape the bases loaded jam and then, after a leadoff double in the ninth, picked up another strikeout and two groundouts for the save, his 11th in 11 tries. He tilted his head and let out a yell after that final out (picture above).
After the game, the closer then delivered the line of the night. Moved to the bullpen in 2014 because he was out of options and then became an All Star closer, was asked if the chance to sit in the dugout in between innings reminded him of his days as a starter.
His hilarious, self-deprecating response:
“Yeah, I think an inning and two thirds was like my forte as a starter, so yeah, it was a lot like it.”
Tillman stays perfect against old organization
You have to figure by now it is just coincidence. Chris Tillman was drafted by the Mariners in 2006. He hasn’t been with that organization since he, Adam Jones and three others were dealt to the Orioles for lefty Erik Bedard before the 2008 season.
So the fact he has never lost to the Mariners in nine starts is pretty astounding.
On Wednesday, Tillman allowed just two runs in 6 1/3 innings, giving him his seventh win and sixth quality start versus Seattle. He’s now 7-0 with a 2.96 ERA against the Mariners.
Tillman’s a proud guy. And he certainly may have had some extra incentive early on versus the Mariners. But I can’t imagine that still lingers. More than anything, I think his past successes against any given team just fuels his confidence for the next start. And he’s certainly pitching with confidence now; he has six straight quality starts and is 6-1 with a 2.61 ERA on the season.
But I still gave him a chance to explain his perfect record against Seattle.
“I got nothing for you,” Tillman said. “We seem to swing the bats well every time I face these guys.”
Compliments from the other dugout for Trumbo
The manager on the other side of the dugout this week is plenty familiar with Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo even though he and Trumbo weren’t together for games in Seattle.
Scott Servais, the Mariners rookie skipper, was the assistant general manager and player development director for the Los Angeles Angels while Trumbo was there in 2012 and 2013. Servais landed the managerial job with the Mariners in October, and the Mariners traded Trumbo to the Orioles in December.
“It does not surprise me one bit,” Servais said about Trumbo’s hot start. “When we decided to move him on, of all the places he could have landed for him and his future, this one was probably a pretty good landing spot. We knew that when we traded him over here, that this ballpark was going to help him.”
It definitely has. Trumbo’s homer Wednesday night was his team-leading 12th in 38 games. He hit 13 in 96 games for the Mariners in 2015.
“He’s just been a better hitter,” Servais said. “He’s controlling the strike zone better. He’s swinging at more strikes. He’s laying off some pitches. He’s a tougher out.”
Third base coaching props
Third base coach is probably the most thankless job in baseball. You get noticed only when you screw up. And so some fans complain about Orioles’ third base coach Bobby Dickerson every time he sends someone home that gets thrown out at the plate.
Twice Dickerson made aggressive sends Wednesday: One that pushed Trumbo home all the way from first on a Matt Wieters’ double in the fourth, and a sacrifice fly in the eighth to shallow right that scored Wieters.
These aren’t the fastest guys – Wieters especially – but they were ready to run and Dickerson pushed the envelope a tad. And those two runs were important in the scope of the game.