Getting a win at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night was obviously key for the Orioles and their fans.
It snapped the club’s five-game losing streak that began after the Opening Day comeback victory on March 29. It showed them they can win in New York after last season’s disaster.
And it allowed fans to breathe again, even though it is, um, April 6.
See, the Orioles won’t go 1-161 after all.
Anyway, the result was important, as was the offense having a big inning (five runs in the seventh) and the bullpen holding the lead (Brad Brach picked up his first save of the year).
To me, though, Thursday was all about Andrew Cashner’s pitchability.
We didn’t see much of that in the veteran right-hander’s Orioles’ debut Saturday at Camden Yards.
Thursday was a different story.
Cashner lasted six innings, allowing two hits (including a solo homer by Aaron Judge), three walks and one run while striking out five batters.
It was against a tough Yankees lineup, and the performance was strong enough to give Cashner his first win as an Oriole.
What it also did is provide a glimpse as to why the Orioles were so interested in landing Cashner this offseason: The guy pitched Thursday.
Known as a sinkerballer, Cashner didn’t rely only on his two-seam fastball. He threw a four-seamer, a cutter/slider, a curve, a change-up and kept moving the ball all around the plate. He hit spots, mixed speeds and looks, and kept a formidable lineup guessing.
In the second, when he briefly lost his command and walked two, he induced rookie Tyler Austin to ground into an inning-ending double play.
In his last outing, Cashner allowed three homers. Thursday, he gave up one – to Judge, which snapped a 0-0 tie.
That’s when some pitchers would have fallen apart. But Cashner calmly attacked the next hitter, slugger Giancarlo Stanton, throwing four of five pitches for strikes and ultimately getting Stanton to ground out to complete the sixth.
It wasn’t a masterpiece. It wasn’t dominating. It was simply good pitching by a guy who has done this thing before.
I’m sure the rest of the rotation was watching. Because, frankly, with the exception of Kevin Gausman, who occasionally can overpower hitters, the rotation is made up of guys who have to hit spots and keep hitters guessing.
Dylan Bundy, for one, has really upped his pitching acumen in the last year. Cashner’s presence, and smart performances like Thursday, can only solidify the notion that pitching is far more effective than throwing.
The ongoing leadoff dilemma
I have a feeling we are gonna be discussing this one for a chunk of the 2018 season.
Chris Davis, who led off for the first five games of the year and was 1-for-20, sat on Wednesday against Houston lefty Dallas Keuchel and was back in the lineup hitting fifth Thursday.
Tim Beckham, who hit leadoff for much of the second half of last season for the Orioles, was in the role Wednesday in Houston and then Trey Mancini led off Thursday.
So, what’s the plan going forward?
I don’t think anyone knows for sure.
Beckham has the speed to do it, but he’s an aggressive hitter who strikes out a lot and has a career .308 on-base percentage (though he had a .348 OBP for the Orioles last year).
Mancini has shown a solid eye and some plate discipline early on his career, but he doesn’t have the speed typical of a leadoff hitter — or of Beckham. We saw that in the first inning Thursday, when he tried to score from first on a two-out double to left and was thrown out at the plate.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter also mentioned that he felt like Mancini changed his approach some when he was hitting leadoff in the spring, and the Orioles want Mancini to keep doing what he did last year. He did that on Thursday at leadoff, compiling three hits, including a two-run single, and so I’m sure he’ll get more opportunities atop the lineup, probably as soon as tonight.
You’d have to assume that the experiment with Davis has ended after he had never done it previously in his lengthy career and struggled mightily with the opportunity.
I’m sure there will be others who will get the occasional shot to leadoff – Craig Gentry, maybe Colby Rasmus – because there’s not a true leadoff hitter on this roster. (This is where I’ll write my obligatory swipe at not signing Jon Jay this offseason to a reasonable deal. OK, moving on.)
Some argue that a player only leads off once per night, but it’s also about being in the order directly in front of your best hitters – Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones – throughout the game. You need a guy who can get on base and routinely score from first on a double or second on a single.
If it were me, I’d go with Beckham at leadoff. He’s not ideal (far from it), but he’s probably the best fit on this current 25-man roster. I can accept Mancini there, too, given the options.
Asher claimed; Kelly outrighted to Bowie
The Orioles designated four young pitchers for assignment on Opening Day, essentially taking them off the 40-man roster to make room for veterans Gentry, Rasmus, Danny Valencia and Pedro Alvarez.
Two of the pitchers – Stefan Crichton and Jesus Liranzo – were dealt in minor trades earlier this week (and Liranzo was subsequently waived by the Los Angeles Dodgers and claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday).
Now, the other two have landed.
Alec Asher was claimed off waivers by the Dodgers, and Michael Kelly cleared waivers and was outrighted to Double-A Bowie.
Asher is only 26 ad he’s had some success in the majors. And because he can pitch out of the bullpen and also can make spot starts, he has some value to a big league team. I was somewhat surprised he was claimed, but he has an option remaining, so he’s a nice Triple-A insurance policy.
Kelly going unclaimed wasn’t surprising, but it made the Orioles’ decision to offer him a 40-man spot when he signed in December even more befuddling. The organization didn’t know that the free agent market would collapse, but Kelly, 25, had never pitched in the majors and the Orioles gave him a 40-man spot while plenty of seasoned major league pitchers had to settle for minors deals in January and February.
At the time, executive vice president Dan Duquette believed the only way to land Kelly was placing him on the 40-man. Perhaps that was true then.
A few months later, Kelly remains with the organization, but off the roster.