Miguel Castro: 2017 Most Valuable Oriole?
OK, maybe that’s going too far. But as the club won its seventh consecutive game and finished a sweep of the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, the 22-year-old right-hander played a pivotal role yet again.
After starter Ubaldo Jimenez’s third-inning exit, Castro turned in another stellar, long relief outing, soaking up 3 1/3 scoreless innings to allow the Orioles to rally back from a 6-2 deficit.
Castro wasn’t credited with the win, as the Mariners tied the game in the eighth before the Orioles regained the lead in the bottom half. But Castro’s efforts were crucial.
“He’s been good all year,” Jimenez said. “He’s not scared to go out there and pitch and throw strikes. He’s been really good for us.”
Castro has become an expert in cleaning up other pitchers’ messes and keeping the Orioles alive in games that could’ve gotten out of hand.
He’s been especially valuable in August. Castro started the month with a scoreless, six-inning relief performance against the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 3. The Orioles lost the game, but Castro’s superb effort saved the bullpen from getting overworked.
On Aug. 18, Castro worked 2 1/3 shutout innings against the Los Angeles Angels, giving the Orioles the opportunity to overcome a 5-0 deficit and win in a walkoff.
And last Thursday, in the first victory of the Orioles’ now seven-game winning streak, Castro kept the Oakland Athletics off the board from the ninth inning through the 12th, again setting up a walkoff win.
With his fifth straight scoreless outing — four of them of at least 2 1/3 innings — Castro now holds a 2.47 ERA for the season.
Castro was something of an afterthought when the Orioles acquired him from the Colorado Rockies for a player to be named or cash on April 7. He was a talented but erratic righty who had struggled in his brief big league experience. He was expected to ride the minor league shuttle for much of the season like the Stefan Crichtons, Tyler Wilsons and Logan Verretts of the world.
And that’s what Castro did for a while. He didn’t make his Orioles debut until May 17, and he was shipped back to Double-A Bowie four days later. He had another up-and-down trek in June.
Since July, though, Castro has cemented his place on the major league roster and become an essential part of the bullpen. His extended outings have given the Orioles hope that Castro could be converted back to a starting pitcher — which is how he began his professional career in the Toronto Blue Jays’ system — but he’s been so valuable in his long relief role that the Orioles aren’t in a hurry to make the change.
“It’s one of those things, you take him out [of the bullpen], who’s going to fill his shoes?” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s been an important role for us. But certainly I think everybody, in the back of their minds, [when] you see a pitcher with three pitches pitch extended innings, you certainly consider that.”
Castro is one of many contributors who have buoyed the Orioles during this streak.
“We’ve been able to dial up what was needed on any given day,” Showalter said. “I think we kind of know, ‘OK, what do we need to do tonight to win?’ It’s been that way every night. There’s a lot of things that are contributing, whether it’s defense or a good baserunning play or a good relay or throw out somebody stealing or a really well pitched game. It’s that time of year, and you can see the finish line a little bit now.”
With Wednesday’s victory, the Orioles are just one game back of the Minnesota Twins for the second wild card, prior to the Twins’ game against the Chicago White Sox Wednesday night.
“It’s a very mature group, and they’ve been through these battles in August and September,” Showalter said. “This is a battle-tested team, and I think they realize what has to happen for us to get an opportunity to roll the dice in October. And there’s a lot of bridges to cross, obviously. We’re still not where we need to be.”