Perhaps it was too much to ask Orioles’ right-hander Kevin Gausman to deliver a dominating performance Tuesday night in the club’s 5-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
He hadn’t pitched in more than a week, having his start pushed back from Sunday to Tuesday due to intercostal muscle discomfort.
Gausman is still only 25 and has now passed the 180-inning mark this season (majors and minors), by far the most innings he’s logged in his career.
And his assignment Tuesday was to face the Blue Jays in Toronto with the Orioles’ chances of claiming the top Wild Card spot at stake.
That’s a whole lot to handle, and, frankly, Gausman, given the circumstances, was OK. He gave up two homers and five total runs (four earned) in six innings pitched. He yielded seven hits, two walks and struck out five.
It certainly wasn’t what Gausman wanted, but it might have been solid enough if the Orioles’ swing-and-miss offense hadn’t missed so much (Blue Jays’ starter Aaron Sanchez fanned 10 in six innings; the team struck out a total of 13 times).
Gausman entered Tuesday with a spotty track record at Rogers Centre. In seven previous games (four starts), he was 0-2 with a 5.48 ERA, allowing 14 earned runs on 28 hits, nine walks and five homers in 23 innings.
Those numbers, of course, are skewed by his previous start, when he allowed six runs in three innings in a loss July 29. In that game, he allowed three solo homers to the first five batters he faced.
So Tuesday’s outing was better. He only allowed one home run in the first, a two-run shot by Josh Donaldson before he recorded an out. Gausman got into a better rhythm after that, but it was too late.
The Blue Jays can hit – they’ve smashed 29 homers in their last 17 games.
And we all know what happens when the Orioles don’t homer in bunches.
That happened again Tuesday.
Will Ramos’ injury affect Wieters’ market?
There was rough news out of the Nation’s Capital on Tuesday that Washington Nationals’ All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos has torn the ACL in his right knee and will have surgery.
The 29-year-old Ramos is an adept defender who was having a tremendous year with the bat, a .307 average, .356 on-base percentage and 22 homers. He’ll miss the rest of the season and the postseason. No set timetable has been set for his return next year, partially because he had surgery on the same ligament back in 2012, so the rehab and recovery could be tricky.
So how does this affect the Orioles?
Well, Ramos was a free agent at season’s end and was considered the best available catcher on the market. The second best? The Orioles’ Matt Wieters, who hit .240 with 15 homers in his first 118 games this season.
The dropoff after Wieters is pretty significant among free agent catchers who don’t have contract options for 2017. Houston’s Jason Castro, who is hitting .211 this year, and former Oriole Nick Hundley, who was limited by injury, are arguably the next best options.
Wieters needed to prove he was healthy this year, and he has done that. And though his offensive numbers and defensive prowess have slipped some after missing parts of two seasons due to elbow surgery, he is clearly still a coveted option in a weak market that just became weaker.
Due to Ramos’ size – listed as 6-foot-1, 251 pounds – and injury history, there was some concern whether he would be a good investment for a long-term deal. This news makes that potential investment even riskier.
There have been similar questions about Wieters, simply because catcher is such a grueling position and he has caught more than 800 games in the past eight seasons. There is also concern that his bat won’t play elsewhere if Wieters can’t catch 120 gamers per season in the future.
Regardless, there are plenty of clubs out there that could use catching help – Atlanta, New York Mets, Houston and maybe the Nationals, to name a few – and Wieters is now positioned to be their No. 1 option. And I don’t see the Orioles winning a bidding war for Wieters despite what his leadership capabilities and solid all-around play has meant to the club over the years.
So it’s a major gut punch for Ramos and the Nationals that may land a glancing blow up I-95, too.
Interesting pitching decisions in New York
Because they’ve ended the season with a six-man rotation and had an off day Monday, the Orioles have some interesting musical chairs that could be shifted around for the final, three-game series of the regular season at Yankee Stadium.
If the rotation stays on turn, the Orioles would have Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley and Dylan Bundy pitch from Friday to Sunday.
But Gausman, who has excelled against the Yankees in his career (5-3, 1.87 ERA), would be on regular rest for the Sunday season finale, which could end up as a ‘win-and-you’re-in’ for the playoffs.
Miley has left the team for paternity leave to be with his wife, who gave birth to their first child. He’s expected back later this week and so he could pitch Friday or Saturday. He’s been excellent in his last two starts (one run in 12 2/3 innings) but has never beaten the Yankees in six starts and has a 4.76 ERA in three games in the Bronx.
Gallardo has also struggled against the Yankees and specifically at Yankee Stadium, where he is 1-2 with an 8.16 ERA in three starts.
Bundy allowed four runs in a five-inning outing in his lone start in New York, and he has now pitched more innings this season than in any other in his pro career. But I’d be surprised if he didn’t get the ball one more time if the postseason is on the line – given that he was solid in his last start and the Orioles need to put their best team out there during crunch time.
Now, if the Orioles are out of contention or have clinched a spot by this weekend, then Gausman wouldn’t go Sunday and it’s possible the Orioles wouldn’t pitch Bundy either.
But I think this thing is going down to the wire.