If the Orioles’ comeback win against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday proved one thing, it’s that the club’s offense and bullpen are strong enough to help them overcome early deficits.
If it proved another thing, it’s that the Orioles’ starting rotation still isn’t good enough.
The Orioles, who have been operating with a six-man rotation for the past couple of weeks, tend to get competitive outings from their starters two-thirds of the time. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are capable of stellar outings, while Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson can at least keep the team in the game more often than not.
But the same can’t be said for the other two starters, Ubaldo Jimenez (6.85 ERA) and Chris Tillman (7.91). On Wednesday, Jimenez struggled yet again.
He turned in his second-shortest start of the season, working only 2 2/3 innings before a six-run Mariners explosion in the third inning brought his afternoon to a quick end.
In fairness, Jimenez fell victim to some rotten luck. With runners at the corners and a 3-2 count to Yonder Alonso, Jimenez threw a pitch on the inside corner that was called ball four. Home plate ump Mark Carlson might’ve been screened by catcher Welington Castillo, who rose out of his crouch to make a throw to second base.
Nelson Cruz followed with a slow grounder up the middle that looked like a tailor-made double play ball … until it deflected off second base and out of the reach of Orioles infielders. Two runs scored on the gift single.
Still, Jimenez let the inning get away from him. He coughed up two more hits — including Mitch Haniger’s bases-loaded, two-run double — and manager Buck Showalter had seen enough. After facing just 15 batters and throwing 54 pitches, Jimenez was pulled.
“As a starting pitcher, you don’t want to come out of that game, especially having (50)-something pitches,” Jimenez said. “But it’s not up to me. I just work to get ready for as long as they allow me. It’s part of the game.”
Jimenez also had some bad luck after he left. Miguel Castro induced a sky-high pop-up with two runners aboard, but shortstop Tim Beckham took a circuitous route ranging backwards and Adam Jones got a late start breaking in from center. The ball fell in for a hit, adding two more runs to Jimenez’s ledger.
Showalter regretted having to remove Jimenez so early.
“I don’t like doing that,” Showalter said. “Sometimes, you take into consideration the fact that a potential double play ball hits the bag, and the other two runs we had a popup that just got in no-man’s land. That’s unfortunate, what the numbers will read like. I thought he was carrying decent stuff. You’ve got [Mike] Zunino up there, who’s 3-for-4 off him with some damage.”
Jimenez disagreed with his manager’s reasoning.
“I struck [Zunino] out before, right? I struck him out in the second inning,” he said. “But, like I said, it’s not up to me. Of course, I want to be able to throw more innings. I know I gave up that big hit, but every pitcher wants to be there.”
Early hook or not, bad luck or not, it was another ineffective outing from Jimenez. Fortunately for the Orioles, their offense and bullpen stepped up their games to turn the tide and bag a win.
But the club can’t always rely on being able to overcome their starting pitching deficiencies. If the Orioles are going to be true contenders down the stretch, they need to patch the holes in their starting rotation.
Castillo’s hot bat
Castillo, at times, has become a forgotten man for the Orioles. He’s had a pair of stints on the disabled list, and with Caleb Joseph playing well, the two have entered a time-share arrangement behind the plate instead of Castillo being the undisputed starter.
Still, Castillo can be a game changer with the bat. He had four hits Wednesday, tying a career high, including his 15th home run. He’s now batting an even .300 for the season with an .838 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
Combined with Joseph, who is hitting .274 with a .749 OPS and eight home runs, the Orioles have gotten a lot of production out of their catching position.
“He and Caleb, what do they have, 24 or 25 home runs between them?” Showalter said. “And on the defensive side of it, we don’t have to think about one guy versus another. All the pitchers are comfortable throwing to both of them.”
Sharing the burden behind the plate might be keeping both Castillo and Joseph fresh down the stretch.
“At the end of the day, me or him want to play every day, but that’s not our decision,” Castillo said. “We just come every day here to play, prepared to play, but the decision has to be made by the skipper. [Joseph] is prepared to play every day. Me, too. That’s the [only] way every player can think about it.”
Miranda and Camden Yards: A bad combination
There’s been much discussion around these parts about the trade of Ariel Miranda for Miley last July. In my review of Dan Duquette’s trade history earlier this month, I gave Duquette a failing grade for trading a cheap, controllable lefty for a struggling, expensive Miley.
Well, after witnessing Miranda’s ugly Camden Yards debut, my opinion on the trade has softened.
Miranda, as Dan Connolly and others have frequently noted, has very much benefited from pitching his home games at spacious Safeco Field. He entered Wednesday with a 3.61 ERA in 12 starts at home and a 5.77 mark in 14 road outings this year.
Miranda also was tied for third in the majors with 31 homers allowed, despite his favorable home stadium. So, it stands to reason that if he played for the Orioles, or another team with a less pitcher-friendly ballpark, his stat line would look at lot worse.
That theory certainly played out Wednesday. The Orioles crushed Miranda for four more homers, vaulting him into the major lead with 35. The long fly balls that would’ve died at Safeco found their way into the seats at Camden Yards. Miranda, despite being staked to a 6-2 advantage, squandered the lead and couldn’t get out of the fifth inning.
OK, so maybe Miranda wouldn’t have been the solution to the Orioles’ rotation woes after all. And Miranda’s latest blowup inflated his season ERA to 4.85, just 14 points better than Miley, who has a 2.76 ERA since July 30.
Considering Miley’s unremarkable Baltimore career so far, the Miranda/Miley swap still can’t be considered a success for the Orioles by any means. But with Miranda struggling to keep his head above water in the majors, the deal no longer looks as lopsided as it once appeared.