Orioles manager Buck Showalter said before Saturday afternoon’s game that the hamstring injury that has sidelined set-up man Darren O’Day affects the club the most when lefties are coming to the plate late in games.
The Orioles haven’t really needed a true, left-handed set-up man in the past few years because O’Day can handle both righties and lefties. Brian Matusz was the club’s primary lefty reliever (not including closer Zach Britton), but he struggled so much this year he was dealt away for two minor leaguers.
Without a lefty specialist (Brian Duensing was up briefly and is now on the DL) and without O’Day, right-handed reliever Mychal Givens has been put in situations where he’s had to pick up O’Day’s slack.
Givens, a converted shortstop who has only been a professional pitcher for four seasons, previously was used in lower-leverage situations, with the occasional trial by fire. Now, he’s in the middle of the fray a lot more.
“I think (the O’Day injury) has hurt Mychal more than most people because he was kind of in that, ‘Come in and nothing to lose and kind of ambush’ mode,” Showalter said. “Now when you start counting on that with that (lack of) experience, it kind of comes and goes. I think that’s been a challenge for us.”
In the sixth inning of Saturday’s 3-2 win against the Los Angeles Angels, the Orioles could have crumbled. Givens was asked to relieve starter Yovani Gallardo with his club trailing by one run, 2-1.
He entered with runners on the corners and no outs and immediately uncorked a wild pitch to make it second and third. Givens then walked lefty Ji-Man Choi to load the bases before inducing a shallow fly out to right and an inning-ending double play.
“I like the adrenaline and I like that situation,” Givens said. “They gave me opportunities last year and this year to get comfortable and used to that situation. I will take whatever they give me. And being able to go into that situation gives confidence to the manager about me, and that’s really good.”
The next inning, Givens allowed a leadoff single before getting three straight outs, including an inning-ending strikeout of all-world outfielder Mike Trout.
“Mike might have been the difference, Givens,” Showalter said. “As good as Yovani was, that shouldn’t go unnoticed, the job Mike did coming into that situation.”
Showalter said he may have brought Givens in earlier for Gallardo, but Givens has struggled against left-handers this season (they’ve hit .426 against him in 47 at-bats).
It’s something Givens said he is working on.
“I just have to make adjustments and battle them like I’ve been doing lately,” Givens said. “That’s what their job is to do, get hits off me. So my job is to make adjustments and find a way to get them out.”
On Saturday, his job was basically to save the game in the sixth inning. And he did that.
“It was a good confidence boost in that inning,” he said. “And it gave our team a chance to win the game.”
Gallardo is good enough
I’m getting the feeling that this is going to be a headline used a decent amount in the second half. The veteran Gallardo lowered his season ERA from 6.10 to 5.82 by allowing two runs on six hits and four walks through five-plus innings.
It wasn’t a great performance, passable really, but it allowed the Orioles’ offense to stay close. And they mustered enough – thanks, in part, to a balk by Angels reliever Joe Smith that tied the game – to claim victory.
“We won. At the end of the day, no matter what the situation is to get that ‘W,’” Gallardo said. “I felt like I was staying under control pretty much throughout the whole game except for that sixth inning when I got into trouble. Got to make the adjustment and keep doing the same thing I was doing throughout the whole game.”
There should be no celebration that Gallardo completed five innings. More needs to be expected from him and the rotation, of course. But, like he said, the Orioles got the W.
So, technically, he was good enough. But he – and the Orioles’ fan base – would like to see him be better than good enough in the second half.
He’ll get the opportunity to start it on sound footing. Showalter said after Saturday’s game that Gallardo would start the second-half opener at Tampa Bay on Friday. Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman are expected to start the rest of that series.
Your AL East leader at the Break
For all the hand-wringing and head-shaking over this team’s rotation, the Orioles will officially remain in first place in the American League East at the All Star Break.
With the Orioles’ victory and the Toronto Blue Jays loss, the Orioles are two games ahead of Toronto and Boston with one to play before the official start of the second half.
It means little. But, then again, it means a little, given the current start of the Orioles, who now, somehow, have 50 wins in 86 games.
“It doesn’t matter at all, right? Just make our guys and fans be able to look at the paper or the internet a little more fondly. I might even look at it,” Showalter said. “Obviously, it’s the endgame we’re after.”