Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he’s not worried about de facto closer Brad Brach. Brach simply was a victim of an excellent hitting club on Wednesday night, his manager believes.
“Brad will be all right. He’s good at this,” Showalter said. “Tonight, a very good club just got him.”
Brach is good at being a relief pitcher. He was an All Star last year when he compiled a 2.05 ERA in 71 appearances. And he didn’t allow a run in his first 11 outings this season.
But he’s given up eight runs in his past seven appearances spanning seven innings – including three in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday while registering only one out in a 7-6 loss to the Washington Nationals.
What’s going on with Brach during this recent rough stretch?
“Just not throwing fastballs down in the zone. I think earlier in the year I was kind of getting away with some pitches that maybe (had) a little bit more life on my fastball,” Brach said. “And, now, (I’m) just kind of leaving it up and just not executing when I need to. And falling behind, walking guys.”
Brach has walked eight batters this year; only 25 all of last season. So maybe there is something to a temporary loss of command.
Or maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s the fact that Brach is being asked to be the primary fill- in for closer Zach Britton. (Darren O’Day also will get some save opportunities, but Showalter said he wasn’t available to pitch Wednesday).
Some may argue this point, but pitching in the ninth inning, in my opinion, is just a different beast than in the eighth – or any part of the game. The opposing offense is in do-or-die mode. The concentration is deeper, the adrenaline, higher.
Brach’s not trying to think that way.
“I think it’s just the pressure you put on yourself. I’ve been trying to do my best to not think about the inning,” he said. “I just think it’s more so just not really executing more than anything else. I’m just kind of falling behind a lot of these guys and that’s not doing myself any favors.”
There’s no question in my mind Brach can close – at least solidly – while Britton is out for a month-plus with a strained left forearm. But Brach’s recent rough stretch shows how good Britton has been in the last couple years. And how tough the job is.
“You’d like to say all of the 24 other outs are that way, but we all know there’s a sense of finality with (the ninth),” Showalter said. “Brad’s done a good job with it for us, it just wasn’t there for him tonight.”
A good closer is one that can bounce back from a bad outing and convert the next opportunity. Brach’s aware of that concept, and believes he can do it.
“No one is going to feel sorry for you,” Brach said. “Tomorrow, they’re going to expect you to get outs. What I’ve got to do is have a short memory, forget about it, go out there tomorrow and get the outs.”
A battle Werth watching
The turning point in Wednesday’s game happened before former Oriole Matt Wieters hit the game-winning single against Brach with the bases loaded.
The high drama occurred during the matchup to start the bottom of the ninth: Brach versus veteran Jayson Werth, an original Orioles’ first-rounder back in 1997.
With the count 2-1, Werth fouled off four straight pitches, took ball three and then fouled off two more.
On the 11th offering he saw from Brach, Werth smashed a 96-mph fastball to right center for his sixth homer of the season to make it a one-run game, 6-5.
Not only did it dramatically reduce Brach’s margin for error, but it gave the Nationals’ lineup a taste of what was coming. And it may have rattled Brach a bit, because that’s a terrible way to lose such a taxing battle.
“It was tough,” Brach said. “Looking back at it, I threw some really good pitches. He got the upper hand there toward the end and just was able to drive one out to right-center field. … I think that was the big key to Werth. I fell behind there and had to come back in the zone and he got to see everything that I threw. Unfortunately, when you have 11-pitch at-bats against guys like him, he’s going to take advantage of it.”
Rule 5 updates
The Orioles announced Wednesday that Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander, who is on the 10-day disabled list and had been working out in extended spring training, received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right elbow. He will not throw for at least six weeks.
This will mean Santander, 22, will remain in the organization for a while, but almost certainly won’t fulfill his Rule 5 requirement to stay with the Orioles.
Besides being on the Orioles roster (which includes the disabled list), a Rule 5 player must be on the active 25-man roster for at least 90 days. Given that Santander began the season on the DL and will miss at least two more months after the injection and rehab process, it appears there will be little chance Santander could get the 90 days.
That means the Orioles must either offer him back to his original team, the Cleveland Indians, for $50,000 (half the original price) or they could keep him, but would have to go through the same deal next year to acquire him long-term – MLB roster all year, at least 90 days on the active roster.
That seems like a fairly possible scenario, because Hyun Soo Kim, Seth Smith and Craig Gentry all are not signed to 2018 contracts, so theoretically, there would be open spots in the outfield next year, making it easier to keep (hide) Santander on the active roster
And it also seems like a fairly possible scenario because Orioles’ executive vice president Dan Duquette is obsessed with Rule 5 players – guys that fall through the cracks from other organizations but have legitimate upside like Santander, a switch-hitter who batted .290 with 20 homers in Single-A last year.
So, the Orioles potentially could have a 2018 Rule 5 draftee before the December 2017 Rule 5 draft. You can’t make this up.
And, since you were wondering, the Orioles’ other Rule 5 outfielder this spring, Aneury Tavarez, is hitting .200 through his first seven games with Pawtucket, the Boston Red Sox Triple-A affiliate.
The 25-year-old, who was sent back to Boston in March, batted .377 with a .473 on-base percentage and six steals in 18 games with Double-A Portland before being promoted earlier this month.